In meeting in Kansas, ex-cons Perry Smith and Dick Hickock are breaking several conditions of their respective paroles. The meeting, initiated by Dick, is to plan and eventually carry out a robbery based on information he had received from a fellow inmate about $10,000 cash being locked in a hidden safe in the home of the farming Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas. After the robbery, they plan on going to Mexico permanently to elude capture by the police. Each brings a necessary personality to the partnership to carry out the plan, Dick who is the brash manipulator, Perry the outwardly more sensitive but unrealistic dreamer with a violent streak under the surface. Perry literally carries all his dreams in a large box he takes with him wherever he goes. The robbery does not go according to plan in any respect, the pair who ultimately hogtie and execute all four members of the Clutter family, only coming away from the home with $43 in cash. As Perry and Dick go on the run, a murder ... Written by
Sidney Poitier called Richard Brooks and strongly suggested that Scott Wilson be considered for the leading role. Wilson strongly impressed Poitier when they worked together on IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT. Wilson said that Poitier never mentioned this to him at the time and he only found out after he was cast in the role. See more »
In Perry's Las Vegas fantasy sequence, he is playing a Saturn '63 guitar, which wasn't produced until 1963. See more »
Meticulous Celluloid Version Of Truman Capote's Book
Many films are derived from novels and, in the normal way, it is unhelpful to compare the movie with the book, for the obvious reason that they are distinct art-forms, constrained by different technical limitations. However, this one really does have to be understood in the context of the book which engendered it.
Capote's book is a factual account of a multiple murder in a small Kansas town. Two young drifters plan a robbery which misfires and ends in violence. The book traces the course of the patient investigation which eventually brings the killers to justice. Because the book is a species of journalism, uncompromisingly anchored in fact, the film cannot help but follow suit, with the added burden that it must faithfully represent on the screen real persons, places and events.
The mean lives of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith are documented in stark monochrome. Panavision is used to powerful effect to show the wide, flat spaces of Kansas. Quincy Jones's atmospheric jazz score adds salt to the bleak images. The austerity of blue collar life in the Mid West of the 1950's is splendidly evoked as our two delinquents move through a rolling montage of Travelodges and diners, launderettes and interstates.
This is a film of straight lines. The flat, relentless landscape of Kansas generates horizons that are ruler-straight. Roads stretch into the distance without the hint of a curve. Slat blinds cast harsh bars of light across room interiors. The penitentiary scene is a symphony of geometric lines. Hickock and Smith have had their characters forged by incarceration, and we see that their 'outside' lives are, in a real sense, another form of imprisonment. The lines which enclose them denote the hopelessness of their existence.
The starkness is reinforced by neat, economical editing. The throwing of a light switch in the Hickock farmhouse carries us to the Clutter home, where a light is being turned on, and the words 'any crowded street' whisk us into just such a street. A cigarette butt is discarded, and its ugly cylinder becomes an electromagnet searching for the murder weapon. The Clutters' cleaner realises that a radio has been stolen, and we see the radio playing at Dick's bedside.
Once under arrest, Dick makes a powerful speech about tattoos. The detectives are trying to provoke him by sneering at his 'body art' and he points out that we all carry tattoos of some kind. Our dress, speech and attitudes mark us indelibly and fix us in our time and place.
Herb Clutter and his family lead a spartan home life. The farmhouse is spare and unadorned, but its order and solidity make a sharp contrast with the chaos and squalor of the rented rooms where Dick and Perry hole up. Dick 'hangs paper' (passes dud cheques) in respectable Kansas stores, amassing clothes and electrical goods on a spree which exploits the trust between vendor and consumer and uses it as a weapon - Dick and Perry's revenge upon 'decent' America.
Once the arrests have been made and a trial scheduled, the film switches to a voice-over narration. No doubt this was done in order to shorten the custody passage (this is extensive in the book, but does not lend itself readily to film treatment), but it jars. Up to this point, Hickock and Smith have told their story through action. Narration is second-best.
However, the film is a highly-reliable rendition of the book, and contains some impressive touches. Mail bags come somersaulting from the hurtling express-train like so much tumbleweed. The rapid crossfire of the detectives' press conference conveys a lot of important information to the viewer in an economical way. A detective talks us through a psychological profile of the as yet unknown killers, and it is very persuasive. While our two heroes are lying low in Mexico, a beautiful mariachi song accompanies a bedroom scene, the music evoking a sense of loss and regret, and leading naturally to Perry's flashback memories of his mother's degradation.
To ask if the film is as good as the book is meaningless, but it is certainly a highly-commendable reworking of the book in visual terms. The interplay between the two delinquents is first-class, the easy charm of Dick giving way at critical moments to naked fear of the inscrutable dreamer Perry.
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