#287 In the Heat of the Night

Watched: December 27 2020

Director: Norman Jewison

Starring: Sidney Poitier, Rod Steiger, Warren Oates, Lee Grant, Larry Gates, James Patterson

Year: 1967

Runtime: 1h 50min

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Officer Sam Woods (Oates) is doing his rounds in a small Mississippi town when he comes across a dead body. The dead man turns out to Mr Colbert – an investor come to build industry and save the town. There also happens to be a black man waiting for a train at the station, so obviously Woods arrests him for the murder.

“Well sir, he was behaving in a very suspect sort of a way. He was reading while being black.”

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Virgil Tibbs (Poitier), the man arrested, is brought to the Chief of Police Gillespie (Steiger) and questioned. It turns out he is far from a suspect – he is in fact a homicide investigator from Philadelphia. Better than that, he is the homicide investigator in Philadelphia. So his boss suggests he stays behind in Sparta to help solve the murder.

“This is a local murder for local people! There’s nothing for you here!”

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Tibbs is great at his job, something Gillespie recognises despite his racist views. In this small Southern town a black investigator meets with a lot of resistance though, and especially the local Angry Young Men™ mob up to kill him. After some potentially lethal encounters, Gillespie advices Tibbs to leave, but he is unable to walk away from a case. Can the unlikely duo solve it and survive the investigation?

“Actually Chief, we’re presidentially sanctioned Proud Angry Young Boys™. We think you’ll find our tiny dicks are proof of this. We suggest you step out of our way and let us deal with our insecurity by letting a rich white man use us for his own benefit.”

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Even on a freezing December evening in Norway, we could feel the oppressive heat of Sparta, Mississippi. In the Heat of the Night is exciting and unnerving, and edge-of-your-seat tense. Unfortunately, it says a lot about the world that it did not even occur to us for the first hour that Tibbs could survive the movie… It’s a sad statement indeed.

Despite being over 50 years old, it’s still a relevant movie. Its themes of racism, prejudice and social distancing seem surprisingly modern and contemporary!

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Sidney Poitier is mesmerising, the chemistry between him and Rod Steiger is great, the mystery is as intriguing as the exploration of racism and prejudice, and the soundtrack is excellent. This is what you get when you combine a fantastic cast, director and script. It’s a sort of buddy-cop movie, a social commentary drama, a character study, and a great murder mystery all wrapped up in one. We loved it!

Trust us, it’s worth watching for this scene alone. Fight the power!

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What we learned: Don’t let your prejudices cloud your judgment.

Next time: Le Samouraï (1967)

#245 The Pawnbroker

Watched: November 28 2019

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Jaime Sánchez, Thelma Oliver

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 56min

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Ready for some holiday cheer? You’ve come to the wrong place. After watching this, we could certainly need some cheering.

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“Falalalala-lala fuck you”

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Sol Nazerman (Steiger) is a holocaust survivor (with a slightly unfortunate name) living in New York. There, he runs a pawnshop while dabbling in whitewashing money for local gangster Rodriguez (Brock). Other than the business, he’s just going through the motions after losing his family, his friends and his will to live in Auschwich.

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No, we’re not able to identify various concentration camps on sight, but we are aware of the not-so-fun-fact that Auschwich was the only camp to use prison number tattoos. And we wish we didn’t have to know this sort of thing.

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Sol’s only employee Jesus (Sánchez) looks up to his boss, but he is also ambitious and has some less-than-savoury contacts. So he’s a bad choice waiting to happen. Meanwhile, Sol has repressed his memories and emotions, and that always ends well. Basically, you’re sitting on tenterhooks for 116 minutes, ready for tragedy.

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Look, we realise that you have nothing left to give to your fellow man, but please be nice to poor old Mr Smith. We love him.

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Ok, while this didn’t exactly get us into the Christmas spirit, The Pawnbroker is a really good movie. Sol, while anti-social and detached, is an intriguing character and we can see why everyone who came into contact with him was drawn to him. Probably mainly due to Steiger’s excellent performance – he’s marvellous.

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“I know you want nothing to do with me or any other human being, but you’re hypnotic and magnetic and I’m dying to be your friend”

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We loved the jazzy soundtrack, the menace of the lawnmower pawners (whose names escapes us), the quick-cut flashbacks with scenes from the camp, Mr Smith, and the contrast of the two sex scenes. It’s heartbreaking and horrible, but oh so good. Watch it, and then take a page out of the book of Penelope Garcia and go stare at pictures of puppies for a good half hour. You’ll need it.

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Alternatively, enjoy this photo of our late, great doggo watching “The Last of Sheila” and trying to figure out who dunnit.

What we learned: Everyone has a breaking point. And pushing people away has consequences…

Next time: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)