What makes a movie ‘great’? And how can so many ‘great’ movies come out in the same year; movies which have seemingly little to do with each other? For the next few months on Cinema Sips, I’ll be searching for answers to these questions by examining four movies from a particularly pivotal year in the second half of the 20th century. Inspiration for this project comes from the books Pictures at a Revolution: The Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris, as well as Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen by Brian Raftery (two fantastic reads if you’re interested in film studies). Cinema Sips will be covering the years 1967, 1976, 1985, and 1999, and depending on the popularity (and my interest in this project), I may continue into the 21st century, or go back to the early days of cinema. But today, like George Lucas, I feel like starting in the middle. Kicking things off is In the Heat of the Night (Disc/Download), a police-procedural drama that feels all too contemporary fifty-five years later.
Starring cinema icon Sidney Poitier as a Philadelphia detective sent to Mississippi to assist with a murder investigation, In the Heat of the Night is both mystery and tense racial drama. As a black man in the Deep South, Poitier confronts ignorant cops who can’t accept the fact that he’s “one of them”, as well as backward-thinking plantation owners and townsfolk who just want to scare him into returning home. As usual, Sidney is calm and cool in the face of abysmal treatment, making the people surrounding him look like complete idiots. I’ll admit, I didn’t know exactly who the killer was until right when the script wanted me to, which is always refreshing in a mystery. And maybe that was the strength of this movie—it was never about a murder, a one-and-done event, but rather, the ongoing struggle of prejudice and overt oppression in that part of the country. Half a century later and I’m still saying, WTF, Mississippi??!! (and WTF, Alabama, and WTF, Texas, and WTF, Florida…. you get the idea).
This movie, similar to another 1967 release Cool Hand Luke, is an extremely sweaty one. Rod Steiger looks like he’s been sitting in a sauna for most of it, and the title doesn’t help matters- you can practically feel the sun still radiating off the pavement at one o’clock in the morning. That’s why, while watching In the Heat of the Night, I recommend drinking an icy cool Left-handed Lemonade.
1 ½ oz Bourbon
8 oz Lemonade
½ oz Fresh Lemon Juice
Lemon slice (garnish)
Muddle a few basil leaves with lemon juice in the bottom of a shaker. Add ice, bourbon, and lemonade, and shake for about five seconds. Strain into a highball filled with fresh ice. Garnish with a basil leaf and lemon slice.
In the Heat of the Night would later be turned into a TV show starring Carroll O’Connor and Howard E. Rollins, the theme song of which would be my cue to turn the television off after Brady Bunch reruns. Sweaty men standing over a dead body on the asphalt didn’t do it for me as a small child. But apparently, Sidney “They call me Mr. Tibbs” Poitier, and refreshing cocktails are all it takes to make me want to sit and watch as an adult. Cheers!