In the Heat of the Night is a film adaptation of the book of the same name, written by John Ball. The book was published in 1965 and the film was released just two years later. The film starred Sidney Poitier, who had won an Oscar for Best Actor in 1964, and Rod Steiger, who won the Oscar for Best Actor for this film. In the Heat of the Night won four other Oscars, including Best Picture.
In the opening of the movie, Sam Wood, a police officer in a small town in the South, is patrolling the streets and finds a body. Bill Gillespie, the chief of police, sends Sam to several areas to look for suspicious characters. At the railway station, Sam finds a nicely dressed black man, Virgil Tibbs, waiting for a train, and arrests him because he has a large amount of cash in his wallet. Eventually it is determined that Tibbs is a homicide cop from Philadelphia and he is coerced into helping out with the investigation.
After reading the novel, I watched this movie again. I had not watched it for a couple of years. I like this movie a lot. Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier were both very good in their roles. I felt like it was a good depiction of the racial prejudices in the South at that time. I did not grow up in a small town, nor did I spend much time in small towns, but I did have relatives that lived in Batesville, Mississippi, a town about the same size as the one in this movie (in the 1960's). The town in the movie seemed realistic to me. I cannot speak to the racial attitudes or tensions at that time in a town like that; but I would guess the scenes in the film were realistic, especially as the 1960's was a time of civil rights demonstrations and unrest.
There are differences between the book and the movie, although the basic story and the intent of the book and the film are the same. The book was set in Wells, South Carolina; the movie is set in Sparta, Mississippi. (The movie was actually filmed in Sparta, Illinois.) The detective, Virgil Tibbs, is from Pasadena, California in the book, and has a much milder manner. In the movie he is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is much more confrontational. In the movie, the main characters are the Chief of Police and Tibbs. Gillespie’s role in the book is minor compared to Sam Woods, his deputy. None of these changes made a huge impact on the story, and probably worked better for the film.
The movie showed more thuggish behavior on the part of townspeople; the novel was more about the shabby treatment Tibbs received from the police and the townspeople, solely based on his color. A key scene in the movie is the visit of Tibbs and Gillespie to the Endicott mansion, where Tibbs is treated poorly. In the book, Mr. Endicott is a highly respected member of the community, originally from the North, and the host of the murder victim; he is not racially prejudiced, and requests that Tibbs continue to help with the investigation.
What I liked about the book over the movie was the role of Sam Woods. The book lets us see a slow transformation as Sam begins to see Tibbs as a human being, and an intelligent, worthy colleague. Although the relationship between Tibbs and Gillespie develops throughout the movie, I found the changes less convincing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed both versions. My review of the book is here.
There is much more interesting background on this film. See this article on 25 Things You Didn't Know About the Sidney Poitier Classic. It is noted in that article that Poitier did not want to film in Mississippi because he and Harry Belafonte had run into some problems while visiting there.
This book and movie review is submitted for Katie’s 2014 Book to Movie Challenge at Doing Dewey.