#14) In the Heat of the Night (1967)

in_the_heat_of_the_night_xlg#14) In the Heat of the Night (1967)

OR “The ColberT Report”

Directed by Norman Jewison

Written by Stirling Silliphant. Based on the novel by John Ball.

Class of 2002

Enjoy the film’s fast-paced and oddly-cropped trailer.

The Plot: In the sleepy town of Sparta, Mississippi, a man named Colbert is murdered one night, and Police Chief Gillespie (Rod Steiger) investigates. His police bring in a potential suspect named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) who turns out to be an expert homicide detective passing through from Philadelphia. Under circumstances that neither of them can control, the two men must work together to solve the case. Clues unravel and secrets are revealed, as the citizens of Sparta do not take kindly to the “boy” who has come to town.

Why It Matters: The NFR highlights Jewison’s “effectively flashy” direction. Also included is an essay by film expert Michael Schlesinger that praises this film, while putting down Poitier’s other 1967 offering, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”.

But Does It Really?: Oh hell yes. A story of racial tension that doesn’t brutalize its black characters or coddle its white characters, this film is just as edgy and effective as it was in 1967. Part of that is how this country has (or hasn’t) changed, but a lot of it is the actual film. “In the Heat of the Night” is well written without hitting you on the head with it, directed with a fine balance of heavy and light, and acted impeccably by the whole cast. Poitier and Steiger both play complex, flawed men who do not want the other one around, and it makes the whole thing worth watching. A top-notch film that shows us where we were, where we are, and where we still need to go. Now that’s a classic.

Everybody Gets One: Amazingly this is the only film on the registry for Oscar winning actor/producer/director Lee Grant. Also on hand is William Schallert, who had just finished playing Poppo on “The Patty Duke Show”, and Beah Richards, who would go on to play Sidney Poitier’s mother in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”**. And special mention to Jack Teter as Mr. Colbert (aka “The vic” in “Law & Order” parlance).

Wow, That’s Dated: ‘60s phrases like “Ya dig?” and “this scene”.

Wow, That’s Not Dated: Literally everything else about this movie. Come on people, step it up. It’s been 50 years for crying out loud.

Take a Shot: No one actually speaks the phrase “In the heat of the night” in this film, but Ray Charles sings the hell out of it during the opening and closing credits.

Seriously, Oscars?: In a very competitive year, “In the Heat of the Night” managed to snag five Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. In an equally crowded Best Actor category, they gave the award to Steiger (overdue from his work in “The Pawnbroker”) but managed not to nominate Poitier’s more subtle yet equally impressive performance. Also missing out on nominations were Quincy Jones for his score and Haskell Wexler for his cinematography. And despite helming the best picture of the 1967, Norman Jewison did not win Best Director (See “The Graduate”).

Other notes

  • When a film from 1967 begins with a nude woman walking around, it’s their way of saying “Goodbye, Hays Code!”
  • Title number aside, the songs in this film are pretty bad. Mainly because they are Alan & Marilyn Bergman trying to write country lyrics. Stick to “The Way We Were”, kids.
  • The internet says that Steiger’s performance is partially based on the Dodge Sheriff, but I can’t find any evidence of that character’s existence prior to 1969, two years after this film was released. Perhaps it’s the other way around?
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, Officer Shagbag.
  • Speaking of Gillespie’s staff; Peter Whitney (Courtney) has the best eyebrows in the business.
  • There’s a point when the thugs are driving after Virgil that the score turns into the “Jaws” theme just for a second. I mean, two notes aren’t that hard to copy, but Quincy may have a good lawsuit on his hands.
  • I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the iconic moment when uber-racist suspect Endicott slaps Virgil, and Virgil slaps him right back. It’s still quite powerful watching it today, though keep in mind that at the time of this writing Nazi-punching has become America’s favorite pastime again.


  • Two sorta-sequels of Virgil’s further adventures; “They Call Me Mister Tibbs” & “The Organization”. They are sequels in the sense that Sidney Poitier plays a character named Virgil Tibbs.
  • A TV series in the late ‘80s, with Howard Rollins as Virgil and Archie Bunker himself as Gillespie.
  • I blame this film for that time Rod Steiger played W.C. Fields.
  • And that time Sidney Poitier fought Mecha-Streisand.
  • This Sparta resident who is a little too proud of his hometown.
  • Everyone who says, “They call me Mister Tibbs”; most notably this cartoon warthog voiced by Ernie Sabella.

Listen to This: If you can’t get enough of that title song, you’ll enjoy Ray Charles’ first hit, 1959’s “What’d I Say (Parts 1 and 2)”. Widely considered one of the best recordings ever, it was selected for the National Recording Registry in 2002, the same year “In the Heat of the Night” was added to the NFR. Coincidence? I think…yes.

** 2017 Update: And wouldn’t you know it, that’s Beah Richards’ other film on the Registry.

#13) National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)



#13) National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

OR “Frat’s Entertainment!”

Directed by John Landis

Written by Harold Ramis & Douglas Kenney & Chris Miller

Class of 2001

The original trailer, narrated by Otter for some reason, and including footage not in the film.

The Plot: It’s 1962 and Delta House is the lowest, dirtiest, least respected (but most fun) fraternity at Faber College. The film chronicles frat orientation for Pinto & Flounder (Tom Hulce & Stephen Furst), as well as the antics of established members Otter (Tim Matheson), Boon (Peter Riegert) and Bluto (John Belushi) as they rally against preppy frat Omega and the college’s no-nonsense dean (John Vernon).

Why It Matters: “Animal House” was the first film produced by college humor magazine National Lampoon. The NFR also quotes one the film’s reviews by calling it “low humor of a high order”.

But Does It Really?: Oh man. So on one hand, this film is at times side-splittingly funny. On the other hand, there’s something about the whole “Boys will be boys” mentality of frats that just rubs me the wrong way. When the boys at Delta are being the underdog and sticking it to the Dean and the Omegas, the film works for me. When they’re taking advantage of women, it gets a little tougher to root for these guys. Its cultural impact would get “Animal House” on this list sooner or later, but if you’re looking for another film to represent the various combos of Landis and Ramis and producer Ivan Reitman, you could also go with the likes of “The Blues Brothers” or “Caddyshack” or later NFR entry “Ghostbusters”.

Shout Outs: In a continuation of the film’s somewhat morbid humor, the women on the Omega float at the end are dressed like Jackie Kennedy is in the Zapruder film.

Everybody Gets One: This movie launched the careers of a lot of actors who would continue to work in film for the next 30 years; the aforementioned Matheson, Reigert, Hulce and Furst – as well as Karen Allen and Bruce McGill. And at long last, this blog has its first (and so far only) Kevin Bacon sighting.

Wow, That’s Dated: With period pieces it’s always tough to know what’s dated and what’s just commentary on the past. The Dexter Lake Club scene is one such example, but I expect that the film is trying to make a point about race relations – or dare I say just trying to be funny. What’s definitely dated is the mandatory late ‘70s jab at the Nixon administration at the end.

Take a Shot: Amazingly, no one actually says the phrase “Animal House” until the song during the credits. If you extend the game to include the phrase “Delta House”, you might have something there.

Seriously, Oscars?: As is often the case with comedies, the film was completely ignored by the Academy. The film did, however, snag a Writers Guild nomination for Best Original Comedy (back when that was a category).

Other notes

  • I suspect that this is one of those movies where they just let the actors do whatever they wanted and kept the cameras rolling. Thanks to Landis and editor George Folsey Jr., it works. Other films that have tried this have not fared so well.
  • They cut this film to shreds on basic cable. It’s cut so short I think it airs during a commercial break for something else.
  • Belushi is to this film what Steve McQueen is to “The Great Escape”; the breakout performance in a movie filled with them. Also he was 28 when he filmed this.
  • This is the second movie I’ve watched for this blog where something bad happens to a horse.
  • The song playing during both “Lovers’ Lane” scenes is “Dream Girl” by Stephen Bishop, one of the few original compositions in the film. It has a late ’70s Bee Gees vibe to it that I’ve always thought was out of place.
  • Oh how I fantasized about smashing a guitar during my college years…
  • For the record, while I was not in a fraternity in college, I did attend a toga party. (Photo not available)
  • Why does Hoover have a Confederate flag in his room?
  • Part of the reason this film has lasted is because college life really hasn’t changed in 40 years, for better or worse.
  • Wait, so they all still graduated from college? I’m confused.
  • And finally, when in Hollywood, visit Universal Studios. Ask for Babs.


  • Every movie about rowdy college life and the deans who try to harsh everyone’s buzz.
  • The return of toga parties.
  • Not one, not two, but three failed TV series (on three different networks no less) based on this film.
  • Every National Lampoon film, from the “Vacation” series to “Van Wilder” and countless other dorm movies.
  • Robot House!
  • Elmer Bernstein’s second act composing film comedies with utmost seriousness.
  • Heir apparent “Old School”.
  • This poster:animal_house_poster_college
  • And Donald Sutherland as the clumsy waiter.

#12) Multiple SIDosis (1970)


#12) Multiple SIDosis (1970)

OR “Always Read the Instruction Manual”

Directed by Sid Laverents

Class of 2000

Watch the whole thing! It’s the best decision you’ll make all day!

The Plot: Amateur filmmaker Sid Laverents gets a reel-to-reel tape recorder for Christmas and immediately starts recording his ukulele. When he learns that he can overdub his recordings, he records the song “Nola” while playing a variety of instruments and singing a variety of vocalizations. The result is a 12-part one-man-band on film.

Why It Matters: The NFR cites its “multiple exposures and complex overdubbing” and calls the film “amateur but not amateurish”.

But Does It Really?: This is exactly the kind of film I wanted to discover by doing this blog. I had never heard of this film or Sid Laverents prior to viewing, but I am so glad the National Film Registry decided that my film education would not be complete without either of them. “Multiple SIDosis” is one very unique film and well worth a viewing. I don’t know why UCLA was determined to preserve this, but I definitely thank them for it.

Everybody Gets One: A few words on Sid Laverents; A former vaudevillian known for his one-man-band (naturally), Sid went on to be a sheet metal worker for 25 years as well as an aircraft repairman during World War II. He didn’t start making films until he was 50 and kept making them until his death at the age of 100. He lived long enough to see this film make it to the registry, one of the rare amateur films to do so.

Wow, That’s Dated: Weird organ Christmas music aside, the only dated part of this is the film’s other star; the Roberts 770x Reel-to-Reel Tape Recorder.

Seriously, Oscars?: Mainly due to this film’s amateur standing (and also in part because I don’t think it ever got a theatrical release), this film was not nominated – let alone eligible – for Best Live Action Short Subject. A real shame, because it definitely would have beat whatever the hell this is.

Other notes

  • It’s all fun and games, but is the title a pun on multiple sclerosis? Yeesh.
  • Using his initials for the company name, this was an SNL Production. Technically he could have sued the other guys.
  • Sid’s wife Adelaide looks a little bit like my 6th grade teacher. I know that means nothing to you, but it means a lot to me, dammit!
  • The version I watched seems to have been recorded off of a showing on Turner Classic Movies. I would love to know what Robert Osborne made of all of this.
  • That song again is 1915’s Nola by Felix Arndt.


  • No direct legacy that I am aware of, but this whole thing reminds me of an early Pomplamoose music video.
  • And to a less impressive extent, that thing Jimmy Fallon does with the Roots.

Further Viewing: Does anyone know anything about Sid’s other films? I’m looking at you, UCLA. You’re responsible for all of this.

#11) In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914)

SUN0604 Headhunters

#11) In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914)

OR “O Native Canada!”

Written & Directed by Edward S. Curtis

Class of 1999

Here’s the whole thing!

NOTE: One of the great things about the registry is the diversity of people and culture on both sides of the camera. Of course this means that, as a straight white male, I start any film this diverse with three strikes against me already. I approach these posts as a discussion of the film, not the cultures depicted. At no point do I mean to offend with my obvious and fully admitted ignorance. I do as much research as I can while writing these, and I am open to any constructive and well-researched corrections.

The Plot: Conceived by photographer and filmmaker Edward S. Curtis, this film is a fictional story set among the real-life Kwakwaka’wakw (or sometimes Kwakiutl) people of British Columbia. The film tells the story of Motana, son of the chief, who falls for Naida after seeing her in a vision. She is engaged to an evil sorcerer (like you do), so Motana and his men go to fight him. They succeed in killing the sorcerer and Motana and Naida are free to marry. But then comes along the sorcerer’s vengeful brother Yaklus and, well, you can fill out the rest from here.

Why It Matters: The NFR points to the film’s accurate depiction of many Kwakwaka’wakw traditions, but also openly admits that some of it was inaccurate or downright fictionalized. Also included is a more detailed essay by Professors Brad Evans and Aaron Glass.

But Does It Really?: This is one of those movies that was originally viewed as narrative fiction but then got preserved as a documentary. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the customs (real or fabricated) depicted in this film. As a narrative it’s pretty standard and as a documentary it’s a bit of a head scratcher. This film blurs the line and doesn’t quite succeed in either camp. That being said, I hope that anyone who comes to this film to learn more about the Kwakiutl finds what they are looking for.

Take a Shot: No mention of the title (this being a silent film and all) but you do get some headhunting (via title card) about 13 minutes in.

Other notes

  • I would really like to see a movie about the making of this film. How did Curtis find these people? Why would they agree to let him film this, especially as a piece of fiction? How did everyone get along during filming? Was it catered?
  • By 1914 standards, that’s a really impressive effect at the beginning when Naida shows up in the smoke.
  • I have yet to find the actual term the Kwakwaka’wakw would use, but “sorcerer” cannot be the correct term.
  • During the celebration of Yaklus’ overthrow of Motana’s village, there’s an extended shot of someone in bird regalia that is obviously filmed on a set some time later. Did they honestly think no one would notice?
  • The print that I saw ran about 40 minutes, but all information I can find says it runs 65 minutes. Is there more footage out there? Or, like some silent films, is this just played at a faster frame-rate?
  • Please enjoy this film for what it’s worth, because we’re not getting another film with a fully Native American cast for a long time. You may have to wait until 1998’s “Smoke Signals”.
  • And for your further education, this film has a whole website devoted to it, including information on the film’s 100th anniversary restoration.


  • One really important thing about this film I forgot to mention; the celebration of Motana and Naida’s wedding is depicted here as a potlatch. At the time of filming, potlatch practice was banned in Canada (as well as in the United States) because Christian missionaries with influence thought it was uncivilized. The fact that this film went ahead and filmed one anyway is pretty astounding. From what I understand this film’s depiction of a potlatch is accurate, and may be the only surviving film of the custom during the ban.

Listen to This: Speaking of the above, many continued the practice of potlatch during the ban anyway, and Kwakwaka’wakw chief Dan Cranmer was one of many jailed for practicing in 1921. In 1938, anthropologists Franz Boas and George Herzog recorded several hours of Cranmer speaking the words, songs, and traditions of the Kwakiutl. These recordings were preserved by the National Recording Registry in 2013, and a small snippet can be heard on their website.

#10) Twelve O’Clock High (1949)


#10) Twelve O’Clock High (1949)

OR “War is Peck”

Directed by Henry King

Written by Sy Barlett and Beirne Lay Jr. Based on the novel by Lay and Bartlett.

Class of 1998

The original trailer, which is mostly Gregory Peck talking at you.

With this film, we make the first of many stops into World War II. The events that occurred over these six years will lead to many of the films (both fictional and historical) we will be looking at. This war may have had the single most impact on American film.

The Plot: Based on true events, “Twelve O’Clock High” is the story of the Army’s 8th Air Force (specifically the 918th bomb group) and its attacks on Germany using daylight precision bombings. After several disastrous raids leading to many casualties, the 918th is given over to Brigadier General Frank Savage (Gregory Peck). No-nonsense and an all around hard-ass, Savage shakes up the ranks (including promoting and demoting one sergeant throughout) and uses military red tape to stop his men from transferring on him. Savage eventually sees results and the raids become more successful. This leads to their most dangerous strike (loosely based on Black Thursday) in which the 918th will take down a ball bearing factory in Germany. But the iron will instilled in the group has started to take its toll, especially on Savage.

Why It Matters: The NFR cites Peck’s performance and the final aerial attack. It also mentions this being one of the first films about WWII to move away from the typical flag-waving propaganda to a more “war-is-hell” psychological study.

But Does It Really?: For the above, sure. But man do you have to slog through a long movie to get to all of the good stuff. I mean, it’s all important, but it’s so slow leading up to that last 25 minutes. The film is a lot of talking, specifically military jargon that, if you’re not too well-read on the subject, is going to leave you behind. Worse than that, most of the film is people telling rather than showing. A lot of interesting things happen in the film, just not in scenes we get to see. The final attack and subsequent character development is well worth it, but that’s all I can recommend with this one.

Shout Outs: One of the bombers is named “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.

Wow, That’s Dated: Not a lot in this one, mainly being a WWII piece made not too long after the actual war. I do love me some repurposed stock footage though, as well as rear projection for effect shots.

Take a Shot: The phrase “twelve o’clock high” is said once, and only once, during the final aerial attack 105 minutes into the film. The characters in this film get to drink a lot more than you will.

Seriously, Oscars?: The film won two Oscars; Best Supporting Actor for Dean Jagger (which makes sense since his is the most emotionally invested of the characters) and Best Sound Recording (even though it’s really only for the last scene). This film’s other two nominations – Picture and Actor for Peck – went instead to another NFR entry; “All the King’s Men”.

Other notes

  • Part of why this film seems to last a lot longer is that most of the scenes are done in long uninterrupted static shots of just two people talking. This ain’t “Rope”, buddy, spice things up!
  • During Savage’s first meeting with his troops, one of his men is definitely looking straight at the camera when he stands up. I see you.
  • Pretty gutsy having a character in a war film named Kaiser.
  • At one point Peck says the word “gadget” but pronounces it “gay-dget”. Anyone know if that’s an acceptable alternate pronunciation?
  • Not surprising for a war movie, there’s only one woman in the whole film; the nurse when Savage visits Gately. She’s uncredited, she has two lines, and I’m pretty sure the drawing on the Piccadilly Lily has more screen time than she does. Despite all of this, she ends up on the original poster.
  • For you air force buffs, the 8th Air Force (which was created just before the events of this film) is still flying to this day.


  • Peck’s eventual return to the war as MacArthur.
  • A TV series based on the film, because hey why not?
  • Apparently this scene in “Star Wars” was influenced by the final attack.
  • Speaking of, Rian Johnson has said that “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” will be influenced by “Twelve O’Clock High”. As of this writing that film hasn’t come out yet, so what say you, readers from the future?

AN UPDATE FROM THE FUTURE: 12/17/17 – “The Last Jedi” has finally been released. Yeah, I see it.