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The following FAQ entries may contain spoilers. Only the biggest ones (if any) will be covered with spoiler tags. Spoiler tags are used sparingly in order to make the page more readable.
For detailed information about the amounts and types of (a) sex and nudity, (b) violence and gore, (c) profanity, (d) alcohol, drugs and smoking, and (e) frightening and intense scenes in this movie, consult the IMDb Parents Guide for this movie. The Parents Guide for In Cold Blood can be found here.
On November 15, 1959 at 2:00 am, Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Richard 'Dick' Hickock (Scott Wilson) break into the isolated Holcomb, Kansas farmhouse of Herbert Clutter (John McLiam) and systematically bind, gag, and then murder Clutter, his wife Bonnie (Ruth Storey), and their teenage children Nancy (Brenda Currin) and Kenyon (Paul Hough). The movie follows the murders, the search for Smith and Hickock, their trial, and their execution.
In Cold Blood is a 1966 "nonfiction novel" by American author Truman Capote [1924-1984]. Capote's book was adapted for the movie by American film-maker Richard Brooks [1912-1992]. A remake, In Cold Blood, was released in 1996.
Truman Capote based his "nonfiction novel" on interviews with local residents and investigators assigned to the case as well as personal interviews with both of the killers, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock. Many of the scenes in the movie were filmed in Kansas on the locations of the real events, including the Clutter residence.
Capote explains in his book that Smith and Hickock wanted to leave no witnesses. This was supposed to be the coup of their lives, and they didn't plan to simply rob the place. From the beginning, they knew that they could leave no witnesses and had planned the murders months in advance. It wasn't some spur-of-the-moment decision. It was cold blooded murder - hence the title. They thought they would get enough money to retire in Mexico but, as the film shows, it didn't work out that way. What they didn't know, despite their months of preparation, was that Clutter never carried any cash, that there was no cash in the house, and that, despite their being well-off, the Clutters lived very modestly.
Their take from the robbery-massacre was a portable radio, a pair of binoculars, and a "lousy $43" in cash (equivalent to about $330 in modern terms).
The break came weeks after the killings when Floyd Wells, a prison informant who once shared a prison cell with Dick Hickock, remembered telling Hickock about the Clutters for whom he had worked as a hired hand on the Clutter farm some 10 years ago before his arrest for armed robbery. Wells mentioned to Hickock how Clutter needed thousands of dollars each week just to run the ranch and that he supposedly kept the money in a safe. After that, Hickock kept pumping Wells for information about the Clutters and even mentioned that one day he was going to rob them and leave no witnesses. Wells eventually relayed this information to Alvin Dewey (John Forsythe) of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, giving Dewey the names of Dick Hickock and Perry Smith all of which was in exchange for a reduced prison sentence for himself. The problem to the authorities then became to look for and apprehend Hickock and Smith, and either tie them to the scene of the crime or get them to confess.
Viewers of the movie have placed several interpretations on their statement about the "living witness." Some people suggested that it was just a bluff by Dewey to get one or both of them to confess to the murders. Some have suggested that Dick and Perry were both living witnesses to each others' involvement in the murders. Others have referred to the footprints they left in the blood as a "silent witness" to their guilt. In the book, however, the living witness referred to was Floyd Wells—he was the only way they were initially connected to the crime. Once the police were on the right track, the other clues (bloody footprints and so forth) became useful. Without Floyd Wells, this crime would likely have never been solved. Here is part of the paragraph from In Cold Blood wherein Dick, as he recalled later, pondered the interview with the detectives:
And when those bastards threatened him with a witness! Ten to one the little spook (Perry) had thought they meant an eyewitness. Whereas he, Dick, had known at once who this so-called witness must be: Floyd Wells, his old friend and former cellmate. While serving the last few weeks of his sentence, Dick had plotted to knife Floyd—stab him through the heart with a handmade "shiv"—and what a fool he was not to have done it.
The movie ends just as it ended in real life and in the book. Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were both found guilty of murder in a court of law in 1960, six months after the killings, which carried a manditory death sentence. After five years on death row, they were both executed by hanging just after midnight on April 14, 1965 at the Kansas State Penitentiary.
Smith and Hickcok were arrested in Las Vegas, Nevada after returning from Mexico on December 30, 1959 for parole violation and passing bad checks. They were separately interrogated about the Clutter murders in Kansas. Smith denied knowing anything about the murders, but a skilled interrogation of Hickcok made him confess to the murders, although he maintained that Smith committed them. Their trial took place at the county courthouse in Garden City, Kansas from March 22 to March 29, 1960. They both pleaded temporary insanity at the trial, but local GPs evaluated the accused and pronounced them sane. They were both convicted of the mass murder after the jury deliberated for only 45 minutes. Their conviction carried a mandatory death sentence. After five years on death row, during which their executions were stayed by numerous appeals, Smith and Hickock were executed by hanging just after midnight on April 14, 1965, in Lansing, Kansas, at the Kansas State Penitentiary (now known as Lansing Correctional Facility). Hickock was executed first and was pronounced dead at 12:41 am after hanging for nearly 20 minutes. Smith followed shortly after and was pronounced dead at 1:19 am.
Those who have both seen the movie and read the book say that the movie is fairly accurate in depicting the story as told by Truman Capote, e.g., most of the dialogue in the film was taken directly from the book, and the actors who played the murderers bear an uncanny resemblance to the real murderers. (see photos of Richard Hickock and Perry Smith here). Where the movie deviates from the book is mostly in the form of eliminating minor characters that added local color to the book but which would have slowed the pace of the movie. It should be pointed out, however, that the book was not completely accurate in its depictions of the actual murders. After it was published, many citizens of Holcomb and Garden City protested that Capote had written his own version of events and people instead of what really happened. For instance, Nancy's boyfriend, Bobby Rupp, was quoted as saying that Capote had him always running over to the Clutter place (in the book) for months after the murders, but in actuality, he did not do that. Capote himself has admitted that he invented the final scene where Detective Dewey runs into Susan Kidwell, one of Nancy Clutter's girlfriends, in the cemetery. This coda, however, is not present in the movie.
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