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The ground-breaking “In the Heat of the Night” gets the 4K treatment it deserves


1960s renowned actor Sidney Poitier stars as the righteous Philadelphia homicide detective Virgil Tibbs. And, Oscar-winning actor Rod Steiger stars as Good ol’ boy chief of police Bill Gillespie of Sparta, Mississippi. The two men reluctantly team up in the murder investigation of industrialist Philip Colbert.

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4K Ultra HD, 1967, unrated with language and racial comments; Streaming via Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, Vudu, YouTube

Best extra: The two Mr. Tibbs sequels (in HD)

FOR DECADES, “They call me Mr. Tibbs” has been considered one of the greatest on-screen quotes. So, when renowned black actor Sidney Poitier (“Lilies of the Field,” “The Defiant Ones”), as the righteous Philadelphia homicide detective Virgil Tibbs, said that phrase, it was full of anger and pride. By daybreak, the detective would find himself involved in solving the murder of a white businessman in the Deep South, but only after first being arrested as a suspect in the killing.

The body of industrialist Philip Colbert – who had planned to build a factory in town – is found at around 2 a.m. by patrolman Sam Wood (Warren Oates), along Main Street in an alleyway in Sparta, Mississippi. The well-dressed Tibbs is picked up soon afterwards at the train depot, with a wallet full of cash, awaiting the 4:05 a.m. train to Memphis.

Good ol’ boy chief of police Bill Gillespie, played by Rod Steiger, starts the questioning. “What’s a Northern boy like you doin’ all the way down here?” The gum-chewing chief quickly learns Tibbs is a cop who makes $162.39 per week, which is more than Gillespie makes in a month. The two men reluctantly team up in the investigation, as Tibbs conducts a postmortem exam of Colbert. He dismisses Gillespie’s prime suspect, Harvey Oberst (Scott Wilson), as the murderer but considers him the person who stole the wallet from the already dead man. The case eventually leads to Eric Endicott (Larry Gates), a wealthy bigot, and he and Tibbs have a violent confrontation.

(1&2) Diner counterman Ralph Henshaw (Anthony James) kills flies with a rubber band while he serves police officer Sam Wood a soft drink. (3&4) Officer Wood starts his late-night patrol at 2:40 a.m., which included a stop in front of the home of Delores Purdy (Quentin Dean), who stands in front of the window naked.


The enclosed bonus disc (Blu-ray) includes the two lesser sequels. In “They Call Me Mister Tibbs!” (1970), he’s now a detective living in San Francisco with his wife Valerie (Barbara McNair) and their two children, Andy and Ginger. He must confront his good friend Rev. Logan Sharpe (Martin Landau), a community activist, about a murdered prostitute. The film has the feel of a TV episode from “The Streets of San Francisco,” with R-rated content and low-budget production values. In “The Organization” (1971) Tibbs investigates an execution-style murder involving $4 million worth of heroin. Both were filmed in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio and sourced from clean 2K masters.

Producer Walter Mirisch approached director Norman Jewison, who had just made the successful comedy “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming,” for the Mirisch Production Company, to adapt John Ball’s novel about a black Pasadena, Calif. detective. “We were in the middle of a civil rights revolution,” says Jewison in the 2008 carryover featurette, “Turning Up the Heat: Movie Making in the ‘60s.” Tensions in the Deep South were boiling over, so Ball’s storyline was changed from South Carolina to Mississippi. A few years earlier, college students James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who had been registering southern blacks to vote, were murdered by a Ku Klux Klan mob just outside of Philadelphia, Miss.

The featurette includes additional interviews with educators, film historians, and a number of African-American filmmakers who were influenced by both “In the Heat of the Night” and Sidney Poitier’s career. The late director John Singleton (“Boyz n the Hood”) says, “It [“In the Heat of the Night”] was a reflection of what was going on, and there was a whole tide of social change happening.” Dr. Imani Perry, of Princeton University, considers Tibbs, “a symbol of social change. He’s this figure of authority and enters with grace and dignity, as he tries to solve this murder. You see that he’s met with resistance at every moment, and for no reason other than his race.”

The body of Philip Colbert

(1-3) During his night patrol officer Sam Wood (Warren Oates), finds Colbert in a pool of blood with his skull caved in. (4) Dr. Stuart (Fred Stewart) estimates Colbert has been dead for an hour or less.

Jewison originally wanted George C. Scott (“Patton”) as Gillespie, but he was unavailable, so he called Steiger (“On the Waterfront”), who ended up winning the Oscar for Best Actor. Singleton considers Gillespie “the voice of people who’ve lived a certain way so long and are not used to encountering black people. He wants to do the right thing and … doesn’t know how to react to Tibbs.”

By the mid-60s Poitier was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and considered the first major crossover actor with both white and black audiences, says film historian Patricia King Hanson. Poitier had one requirement; the movie had to be filmed above the Mason-Dixon Line. He and his good friend Harry Belafonte had a previous run-in with the KKK during a civil rights protest in Mississippi. The production ended up in the small town of Sparta, Illinois, 50 miles southeast of St. Louis and the Mississippi River.

Two additional featurettes are included: “The Slap Heard Around the World” highlights Tibbs’s return slap to Mr. Endicott after he slapped Tibbs. “That’s the first time it happened in an American film,” says Jewison. It wasn’t in the script, but “Poitier is saying I’m a new black man, and if you slap me, I’m going to slap the shit out of you, because we are equals and I expect to be treated as such,” says Dr. Todd Boyd, professor of critical studies at USC. “It’s a real stunner. A genuine surprise and marvelously executed between Sidney and Larry Gates. And, made greater by the reaction by Steiger,” says Mirisch.

“Quincy Jones: Breaking New Sound” focuses on the soundtrack by Jones, “which cemented him as a powerful dramatic composer and somebody to be reckoned with in Hollywood,” says film music historian Jon Burlingame. At age 15, Jones dreamed of being a movie composer, but was considered a jazz guy even though he was orchestrally trained. “In the Heat of the Night” became his sixth score, “which taps into his jazz vibe of coolness,” says Boyd. The development of the theme song played over the opening credits first started with Jones laying down a melodic line, then the team of Alan and Marilyn Bergman creating the lyrics. It perfectly sets the tone, especially as performed by the great soulful voice of Ray Charles.

(1-3) Hunting for suspects Wood finds Virgil Tibbs at the train depot and brings him to headquarters for questioning. (4) The chief starts the questioning. “What’s a Northern boy like you doin’ all the way down here?” He quickly finds out Tibbs is a top homicide detective. (5&6) Tibbs conducts a postmortem examination of Colbert.

The 4K disc includes two commentaries; the best is with Jewison, co-stars Steiger and Lee Grant, and cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Jewison says he and screenwriter Stirling Silliphant both got their start in New York working with live TV during the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. He convinced Mirisch to shoot the movie on location because of its gritty theme. Originally, it was budgeted to be filmed in Hollywood, since Mirisch wasn’t sure of its commercial success – especially as many theaters in the South might not have shown it. The final production cost was $2.6 million, and it grossed $24 million, landing at 13th among the top-grossing films of the year. In the same year, Poitier starred in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” which was No. 4, and the British production, “To Sir with Love,” at No. 9.

A second commentary is by film historians Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson, and producer – a relative of Walter – Robert Mirisch. It was recorded in January of this year, just days after the death of Sidney Poitier. The three commentators also gave a shoutout to Walter Mirisch who turned 100 in November 2021, and noted that he had also hired Jewison to direct the musical "Fiddler on the Roof" (1971).


This 4K Ultra HD presentation is sourced from a first-rate 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative (1.85:1 aspect ratio), which provides excellent detail of the moody color imagery from Wexler. It was his first color film. He had won the Oscar for Best Black and White Cinematography the year before for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Overall clarity (wide and tight shots) is up several notches over the Criterion 1080p release, which was sourced from the same master. The wide shot from across the street as Wood finds the body provides more detail on the overall scene, such as with the building’s bricks. And, this 4K master provides a good dose of natural film grain without compromise.

Surprisingly Kino and MGM/UA did not finance HDR grading. But honestly, the colors are so saturated and natural the extra HDR toning may not have extracted much more for the added cost. The color palette and levels are nearly identical to the Criterion disc.

(1) Suspect Harvey Oberst (Scott Wilson) is on the run, trying to cross the bridge into Arkansas. (2) Tibbs comforts Mrs. Colbert (Lee Grant), and she wants him to lead the investigation. (3&4) Colbert’s wallet was found on Oberst, and he tells Tibbs how he found it after Mr. Colbert was killed. (5) Tibbs is finished working with Gillespie and wants to leave on the noon train to Memphis.


The original mono soundtrack was restored removing pops and hiss and a reprocessed six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack is also provided. It’s still mostly a front soundstage, while lightly pushing effects and Jones’ music cues to the rear speakers.

Over the years, the American Film Institute has given “In the Heat of the Night” a lot of love. It was selected No. 75 in its Top 100 Greatest American Films list, sandwiched between “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Forrest Gump.” Plus, the “Mr. Tibbs” phrase was selected No. 16 in its 100 Greatest Movie Quotes and No. 21 in the 100 Most Inspiring Films, while the character Virgil Tibbs was selected No. 19 in the Greatest 100 Heroes & Villains list.

This American classic, which won five Academy Awards including Best Picture, shouldn’t be missed. The 4K upgrade is definitely worth your time and money.

Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

(1) Gillespie convinces Tibbs to stay on and their investigation leads to the farm of Eric Endicott (Larry Gates), a wealthy bigot. (2-5) Endicott and Tibbs have a violent exchange, which was a Hollywood first, with a black character slapping a white character.


(1&2) Tibbs is surrounded by a gang of rednecks. (3) Gillespie and Tibbs bicker before backtracking Wood’s patrol the night he found the body. (4&5) Delores Purdy adds a twist to the storyline, as Tibbs contemplates the prime suspect.



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