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Tag Archives: Sidney Poitier

In the Heat of the Night

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Image credit: In the Heat of the Night, 1967

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.

Left-handed Lemonade

1 ½ oz Bourbon

8 oz Lemonade

½ oz Fresh Lemon Juice

Fresh Basil

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!

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Image credit: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967.

This week marks yet another Thanksgiving for Cinema Sips, and although in the past we’ve covered cinema feasts such as those in The Godfather and Giant, I really don’t feel like cooking this year. Luckily, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Disc/Download) features no actual dinner; only cocktails.  In other words, my kind of party!

Made in 1967 during the height of the civil rights movement, this final Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy film collaboration features Sidney Poitier as the fiancé of a white, upper-class daughter of two liberals who have difficulty practicing what they preach.  Sure, they proudly proclaim that African Americans should have equal rights, but when their daughter gets off a plane from Hawaii with a handsome black doctor, those beliefs become complicated.  Directed by Stanley Kramer, this richly drawn film presents all sides to the debate of love vs. societal prejudice.  The daughter (played by Hepburn’s niece Katharine Houghton) comes across as naïve, but with a pure heart untouched by prejudice and hate.  And isn’t that what we all wish for?  That kids would never have to hear ugly racist words, and never be faced with a “pigmentation problem” as Tracy puts it. This girl has found the perfect man, one who’s handsome, smart, and respectful, and looks ever-so-charming with a daisy behind his ear.  I’d say that’s worth fighting a few bigots for.

As this dinner party at a San Francisco mansion grows to include the bride’s parents, the groom’s parents, the central couple, and a priest, the bar cart gets some heavy use. Meanwhile, the sassy maid is hiding in the kitchen with her cauldron of turtle soup, wondering why these crazy people won’t sit down and eat something.  Let’s take our lead from the moms in this movie, those sensible moms with a preference for sherry and young love.  While watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, I recommend drinking a Sherry Cobbler.

Sherry Cobbler

3 ½ oz Sherry

½ oz simple syrup

2 orange slices

2 lemon slices

Cranberries for garnish

Combine simple syrup and one slice each of orange and lemon in the bottom of a shaker.  Muddle oranges, then add sherry and ice.  Shake well, until chilled.  Strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice, then garnish with a fresh orange slice, lemon slice and fresh cranberries.

Sherry Cobbler

As I write this post, many dinner tables across America are still deeply divided.  There is a chasm between young and old, liberal and conservative, much as there was over fifty years ago in this movie.  Equal rights are still a dream we’re fighting for, but as this movie shows us, it’s worth fighting for.  It’s worth it to stand up to your elders and say love is all that matters; hate has no place at the table.  Cheers!