In the Heat of the Night. Whereas Shane is half cold-hearted killer, the other half of him is looking for love and a family, which he will never find. The hard half, and the way he's lived banish him from that paradise. He will be forever outside, looking in the window at it playing out inside. The best he can do is to place himself on an altar of sacrifice so that Joe Start and his family make it past the immediate menace of the Strykers.
MR. TIBBS, a black detective, comes to a Mississippi town in the sixties.
In Sundown Town Duty Station, the Welcome Wagon Lady tells Jon Zachery, "Our colored people know their place."
Obviously, Mr. Tibbs does not know his place, and that is dramatically demonstrated in the slap scene. In all the gazillions of movies and TV shows I have watched, there is no more dramatic scene than that one (my very humble opinion). And of course Sheriff Rod Steiger struggling to balance the way things have always been with the way they ought to be, which awareness lives in a corner of his soul, just alive enough for him to not be able to ignore it, I thought Rod did a fine job with his part.
In the Heat of the Night. Another great A Stranger Comes to Town Story.
My wife and I saw the movie in a theater in Meridian, Mississippi, in 1968. There were six of us in this theater with seating for a couple hundred or so. I felt the urge to look behind me, and to wish we had sat in the last row. The version we saw had the slap scene sliced and spliced around. Still, watching the movie in that town and at that time turned my wife and I into not just strangers in town, but aliens.
Last installment of a stranger comes to town tomorrow.
John Zerr is the author of four novels, The Ensign Locker, Sundown Town Duty Station, Noble Deeds, and The Happy Life of Preston Katt.
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