In the Heat of the Night (1967) is one of my favorite films in general, my favorite film about race, and my favorite film about the South. As far as I’m concerned, it’s perfectly made. The title song by Ray Charles, the score by Quincy Jones (Q calls film scores “emotion lotion”). It’s so powerful because it gets deep into the interior of the two protagonists–Tibbs and Gillespie. To me, the most important scene is not the famous slap heard round the world but the scene when Tibbs visits Gillespie at his home. Gillespie starts to like Tibbs in spite of himself. Gillespie confides in Tibbs that he’s unmarried and lonely in a small town that hates him. Tibbs responds that he’s equally lonely. That sudden sense of parity gets Gillespie’s anger up and he calls Tibbs “boy,” that all too common moniker in the South used to reaffirm white supremacy. In my interpretation, it shows that pride is at the root of Gillespie’s racism. The moment Gillespie gets vulnerable he gets scared and, to feel better, he lashes out at Tibbs in a racial way. The rest of the film is about, among other things, returning to that sense of parity. One of the last lines of the script is Gillespie looking directly at Tibbs, “You take care, ya hear?” They’re on the level again, briefly.
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