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
Although it was released way back in 1967, IN COLD BLOOD still remains the benchmark by which all true-crime films are matched. Veteran writer/director Richard Brooks (ELMER GANTRY) adapted Truman Capote's non-fiction book into a chilling docudrama that retains a disturbing power even today, thirty-five years later.
Robert Blake and Scott Wilson portray Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, two ex-cons who, on a tip from Hicock's old cellmate Floyd Wells, broke into the Holcomb, Kansas home of Herbert Clutter, looking for a wall safe supposedly containing $10,000. But no safe was ever found, and the two men instead wound up killing Mr. Clutter, his wife, and their two children, getting away with only a radio, a pair of binoculars, and a lousy forty dollars. Two months on the run, including an aimless "vacation" in northern Mexico, ended in Las Vegas when cops caught them in a stolen car. But it eventually comes out, after merciless grilling by Kansas law enforcement officials, that these two men committed that heinous crime in Holcomb. Tried and convicted on four counts of murder, they stew in jail over a five-year period of appeals and denials until both are hanged to death on April 14, 1965.
Blake and Smith are absolutely chilling as the two dispassionate killers who show no remorse for what they've done but are concerned about getting caught. John Forsythe also does a good turn as Alvin Dewey, the chief detective investigating the crime, as does Gerald S. O'Laughlin as his assistant. In a tactic that is both faithful to Capote's book and a good artistic gambit all around, Brooks does not show the murders at the beginning; instead, he shows the two killers pulling up to the Clutter house as the last light goes out, then cuts to the next morning and the horrifying discovery of the bodies. Only during the ride back to Kansas, when Blake is questioned by Forsythe and narrates the story, do we see the true horror of what happened that night. We don't see that much blood being spilled in these scenes, but we don't need to. The shotgun blasts and the horrified look on the Clutters' faces as they know they are about to die are more than disturbing enough, so there is no need to resort to explicitly bloody slasher-film violence.
Brooks wisely filmed IN COLD BLOOD in stark black-and-white, and the results are excellent thanks to Conrad Hall's expertise. The chilling jazz score by Quincy Jones is the capper. The end result is one of the most unsettling films of any kind ever made, devastating in its own low-key fashion. It is a 134-minute study of a crime that shook an entire state and indeed an entire nation, and should be seen, though viewer discretion is advised; the 'R' rating is there for a reason.
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