Fans lined Hollywood Boulevard and filled the bleachers in front of TCL Chinese Theatre to watch as Sidney Poitier, Martin Landau and Dick Cavett walked the red carpet to celebrate the opening night of the eighth annual TCM Classic Film Festival.
The festival screened In the Heat of the Night, and critic Leonard Maltin spoke about what made the five-time Oscar-winning movie so timeless and relevant, even 50 years after it was made.
"It could have been made last week. We're still dealing with race relations," said Maltin. "We're still dealing with prejudice. We're still dealing with all of the things that this movie tackles so well, but it's not a preachy movie. It's not there to wag a finger at you and say, 'Now, now.' It's a police procedural. It's got guts. It's got a good story."
Before the film screened, Ben Mankiewicz introduced a tribute video to the beloved TCM host Robert Osborne, who passed away only a month before this year's festival.
Mankiewicz then led an interview panel with In the Heat of the Night's producer, Walter Mirisch; director, Norman Jewison; and co-star Lee Grant.
Mirisch said that the film was difficult to get made, due to the famous slap scene, when Poitier strikes Larry Gates' character, a racist plantation owner. The image of a black man hitting a white one was considered so incendiary that the film's studio, United Artists, was worried that it would never be able to play in the southern United States without starting riots.
Mirisch also said that he and Poitier have been close friends for over 70 years, and they still have lunch together once a week.
Jewison told the audience that listening to the film's slap scene convinced Ray Charles to write and perform the film's title song: "So [Charles] sat there, we turned the sound up all the way. He went on and he listened. Then, all of the sudden, he heard the slap, and he said, 'He didn't slap him back, did he?' and I said, 'Yeah.' And he says, 'Maximum green, man! Maximum green!' He was so cool that I never knew what he was saying."
Grant spoke to what made Poitier's performance one of the most memorable in film history.
"Sidney had, within himself, such electricity, such power, and he took this movie where no one else could have taken it," said Grant. "I mean, your heart and your mind was with him. He was the right thing and the rest were the wrong thing, and nobody could have pulled that off but Sidney."