Tonight: Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, with Warren Oates and Lee Grant in the crime drama In the Heat of the Night.
This superb film about race and murder in the Deep South is one of Sidney Poitier’s most successful and it includes one of Rod Steiger’s finest film performances as well.
It won him an Oscar.
Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to become a major Hollywood star.
Born in poverty, raised in the Bahamas, he dropped out of school at the age of 13 and worked in a variety of menial jobs, and served in the Army, before joining the American Negro Theater, making his Broadway debut in the 1946 all-Negro production of Lysistrata.
He made Blackboard Jungle for our own Richard Brooks in 1955.
He was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor for his co-starring role in The Defiant Ones with Tony Curtis in 1958.
And he won an Academy Award for Lilies of the Field in 1963.
He was at the peak of his popularity when he made In the Heat of the Night in 1967.
He made Guess Who's Coming to Dinner with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn that same year.
Both films were nominated as Best Picture of the Year by the Academy.
In the Heat of the Night was directed by Norman Jewison, who also directed The Cincinnati Kid and The Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen.
Along with Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar.
The screenplay for In the Heat of the Night was written by Stirling Silliphant, from a novel by John Ball.
The director of cinematography was Haskell Wexler, who also shot Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Thomas Crown Affair. As well as Medium Cool and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Quincy Jones provided the haunting score.
The film was shot from September 26 through December 12, 1966 in Illinois and Tennessee. And at the Raleigh Studios (across from Paramount) in Hollywood on a $2 million budget.
Poitier demanded that the shooting be done primarily in the North, because of serious incidents involving film production attempted in the South where the focus was on race relations at the time.
Set in a hot Mississippi summer, but actually shot in Illinois in the fall and winter, the actors often needed to chew ice chips before a scene so that their breath would not show.
The infamous slapping scene was filmed in only two takes, and was not faked.
Jewison asked Steiger to chew gum in the film. Steiger initially resisted, but then agreed, eventually going through 263 packs during the production.
The picture premiered at the Capital and East 86th Street Theaters in New York on August 2, 1967.
An ad line announced: “They’re going to pin something on that smart cop from Philadelphia... Maybe a medal...maybe a murder!”
The picture earned $10.9 million in its initial domestic release. A big hit.
In the Heat of the Night was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
It won five!
Many were surprised when it beat out Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, In Cold Blood and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? as Best Picture of the Year.
And when Rod Steiger beat Spencer Tracy, Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as Best Actor.
The film also won Oscars for the screenplay, sound and editing.
Director Norman Jewison was nominated, but lost to Mike Nichols for The Graduate.
Sidney Poitier played the same character in two sequels—They Call Me Mr. Tibbs (1970) and The Organization (1971)—with less success.
The film was also made into a TV series.
So now—from 1947—
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT