In the Heat of the Night from 1967 is an Oscar winning film from director Norman Jewison. A murder mystery with a subplot about racial harmony. It’s a good film, with excellent performances from Rod Steiger and Sidney Poitier (it also features a great turn from Warren Oates). As a script writer for hire I’m meant to discuss the script, but instead I’m going to talk about the direction, the editing and the cinematography.
Notably, the film is edited by someone called Hal Ashby who would later go onto direct some of my favourite films – how far his influence spreads in the editing is hard to tell. But, it’s interesting that the scenes move at a slower pace than modern viewers may be used to. There’s time for the actors to actually act and Jewison should be praised for this, he’s in no rush to tell the story, he wants the characters to come alive in longer scenes and often longer static takes.
And while Jewison takes his time, what we’re left with is wonderfully framed and photographed shots. The director of photography (DoP) is the late Haskell Wexler one of the great cameraman of all time. Much of the film takes place at night, and shooting night is hard, you’ll notice when it’s done badly and rushed and you’ll also notice when it’s done wonderfully, and the night looks real. Wexler gives the blacks a real silky feel, and you can really feel the heat. The film looks like an Edward Hopper painting.
Finally, as the film goes on and the plot reaches its end I think the film actually loses strength. I’d prefer to see more of the endless night, and the creeping darkness. The daylight takes over too much as the plot progresses.
It’s a good film and worth watching for the actors, direction, editing and photography.
Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, Eastenders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs. Matthew was winner of the first ever Lloyds Bank Channel Four Film Challenge, the Oscar Moore Screenplay Prize and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on firstname.lastname@example.org