The 25 Must-See Titles at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

12 of 26

Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night. Image courtesy of MGM.

In the Heat of the Night (1967)

A black police detective (Sidney Poitier) is forced to team up with a prejudiced policeman (Rod Steiger) to investigate a murder in the South.

Norman Jewison’s In the Heat of the Night is a landmark film for race relations in America. Like WWII, Hollywood was late in looking at the African-American experience with any type of nuance. This was one of two prominent films to use Poitier as the eyes through which audiences could see racism, alongside Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. (There’s some interesting criticism both for and against Poitier’s career during this time.) But In the Heat of the Night is different. For starters, the movie plays itself as a police procedural until Steiger’s character realizes how little can be done if everyone is hostile to his partner. Poitier and Steiger are fantastic, though it is frustrating that Poitier wasn’t even nominated for his role as Virgil Tibbs. (Rod Steiger actually won for Best Supporting Actor.)

The film is a Best Picture winner and, again, in these times it’s one everyone should see; it’s aged very well. This is TCM’s opening night film and while I won’t be able to hobnob with celebs at its revival, I’m eager to know it’s being appreciated again.

Next: Lady in the Dark