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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.
Imagine turning out the lights in your remote farmhouse on a cold
night, and then going to bed. There's no need to lock the doors. The
only sound is the wind whistling through the trees. Sometime after
midnight a car with lights off inches up the driveway. Moments later an
intruder beams a flashlight into your darkened living room.
What makes this image so scary is the setting: a remote farmhouse ... at night. Based on Truman Capote's best-selling book, and with B&W lighting comparable to the best 1940's noir films, "In Cold Blood" presents a terrifying story, especially in that first Act, as the plot takes place largely at night and on rain drenched country roads. It's the stuff of nightmares. But this is no dream. The events really happened, in 1959.
Two con men with heads full of delusions kill an entire Kansas family, looking for a stash of cash that doesn't exist. Director Richard Brooks used the actual locations where the real-life events occurred, even the farmhouse ... and its interior! It makes for a memorable, and haunting, film.
Both of the lead actors closely resemble the two real-life killers. Robert Blake is more than convincing as Perry Smith, short and stocky with a bum leg, who dreams of finding Cortez' buried treasure. Scott Wilson is almost as good as Dick Hickock, the smooth-talking con artist with an all-American smile.
After their killing spree, the duo head to Mexico. Things go awry there, so they come back to the U.S., stealing cars, hitchhiking, and generally being miserable as they roam from place to place. But it's a fool's life, and the two outlaws soon regret their actions. The film's final twenty minutes are mesmerizing, as the rain falls, the rope tightens, and all we hear is the pounding of a beating heart.
Even with its somewhat mundane middle Act, "In Cold Blood" stages in riveting detail a real-life story that still hypnotizes, nearly half a century later. It's that setting that does it. Do you suppose people in rural Kansas still leave their doors unlocked ... at night?
I happened to be sitting in a lovely hotel room at a wonderful resort
in the Ozarks, ready to go out on the boat after golfing 18 holes in fine
weather, when I made the mistake of turning on the TV. One of the cable
channels was screening "In Cold Blood." I watched the opening sequence.
Despite the beautiful weather, and the girlfriend nagging at me to get up
off the couch and go outside, I knew I wouldn't leave the room until the
movie was over.
I can't add much to the fine reviews by others, particularly the
by the gentleman from London, except to add that the dialogue in the movie
is marvelous. The writer and director caught the laconic, spare speech of
the Midwest. The questions and answers between the characters are perfect.
(Paul Stewart, the reporter: "Don't the people in this town lock their
doors?" John Forsythe, the detective: "They will tonight.") And the way
Perry and Dick look at each other menacingly in critical situations gives
one the chills. (Dick: "Don't worry baby; we left no living witnesses."
Perry, staring at Dick: "I know one.")
Of all the great performances in the film, my favorite is John
as the KBI detective who grows weary from contemplating the evil minds
behind the murders of his Kansas neighbors, the Clutters. A close second
among the great performances is Scott Wilson, who makes Dick a charming
loser going nowhere in life, unable and unwilling to civilize himself to
live in society.
Certainly this is one of the ten best movies ever made, and the best of all the "True Crime" movies. (The made-for-TV remake was a horrible, lame joke.) I just hope when it comes on again it's a miserable day outside so I don't miss out on the boating! Ed in St. Louis
I've seen a great many films, but 'In Cold Blood' stands alone in a class by itself. It excels in every department. The fact that it contained few big stars helps push it over the top as you pay closer attention to the characters and their story, rather than the name on the marquee. Blake and Wilson turn in stellar performances of the killer duo. The fact that much of the films is filmed in the actual locations where the crime took place, even inside the very house, add additional chills. The black/white photography darkens the mood and the photography is magnificent. There are many outstanding cinematic works out there, but if I could only vote for one to top the list, it would most probably be "In Cold Blood".
Remarkable, disturbing film about the true-life, senseless, brutal
murder of a small-town family, along with the aftermath, and
examination of the lives of the killers, Dick Hickok and Perry Smith.
No matter how much time goes by, or how dated this film may look, it still resonates the utter incomprehensibility of criminal acts such as this.
This really traces multiple tragedies: The tragedy, brutality and senselessness of the murder of the Clutter family, a decent farm family in small-town Holcomb, Kansas; and the wasted, brutal and sad lives of Hickok and Smith.
An interesting point is made in the film: that neither of these two immature, scared, petty criminals would have ever contemplated going through with something like this alone. But, together, they created a dangerous, murderous collective personality; one that fed the needs and pathology of each of them. They push each other along a road of "proving" something to each other. That they were man enough to do it, to carry it out; neither wants to be seen as too cowardly to complete their big "score"; an unfortunate and dangerous residue of the desolate lives they led. These were two grown-up children, who live in a criminal's world of not backing down from dares; who constantly need to prove manhood and toughness. in this instance, these needs carried right through to the murder of the Clutters.
The film contains a somewhat sentimentalized look at the Clutter family, but the point is made. These were respected, law-abiding, small-town people, who didn't deserve this terrifying fate. The movie also gives us a sense of the young lives of Hickok and Smith. Perry Smith, whose early life was filled with security and love, but watched in horror as alcohol took his family down a tragic path. Hickok, poor and left pretty much to his own devices, not able to see how he fit in, using his intelligence and charm to con everyone he came into contact with.
An interesting, and maybe the first, look at capital punishment, and what ends we hope to achieve. Is this nothing more than revenge killing for a murder that rocked a nation at a time when we had not yet had to fully face that there might be such predators among us, or does putting these guys at the end of a rope truly provide a deterent to the childish and brutal posturing of men like these? Is it possible to deter men who live lives of deceit, operating under the radar, believing they fool everyone they come into contact with? To be deterred, you must believe it's possible you will be caught. Is it possible to deter these men who believe they are too clever to be caught?; who have committed hundreds of petty crimes, and got away with them? This was supposed to be a "cinch", "no witnesses".
When caught, Hickok finds he can't charm and con the agents the way he had department store clerks. Smith, who believes he deserves such a fate anyway, who seemed to be the only one who truly grasped the gravity of what they had done, willingly tells the story when he learns that Hickok has cowardly caved in. Hickok blinked first. A silly game of chicken between two immature, emotionally damaged, dangerous men.
Fascinating psychological thriller, telling a story of a horrendous crime in this nation's history. Stunning portrayals by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson. These roles made their careers.
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.
I just saw this film again and it's still a masterpiece after almost 40
Robert Blake and Scott Wilson in their greatest on-screen performances as two cold-blooded killers who slaughtered a family of 4 for a mere 40 dollars. Shot in black and white, the film is brutal, disturbing, and raw in it's portrayal of such a violent and senseless act. There are no heroics or wild police chases, just a realistic look at the crime, the capture, and the executions which inspired the award winning novel by Truman Capote, In Cold Blood.
The murders of the family are the most brutal in film-history, yet avoids the blood-bath so common in today's pictures. It's the senselessness of the whole thing that is so disturbing. Outstand performances by the entire cast. In Cold Blood is a masterpiece.
I was a senior in high school in 1967 when I read a article in the May issue of Life magazine about In Cold Blood. On the front cover was a picture of Robert Blake, Truman Capote, and Scott Wilson. The background for the picture was a desolate Kansas wheat field. I can remember to this day reading about how the film was made in the house that the murders occurred, and even that the horse of Nancy Clutter was used in the film. The Life article showed comparisons of the actors and the actual persons. When the movie was released, I could not wait to go see it. This movie is just as haunting today as it was in 1968.I have seen In Cold Blood many times and will probably see it many more times.........one of my favorite movies of all time............When Robert Blake was going through the trial of the murder of his wife, I could not help but think about his role in this movie..........
In the year 2006, "In Cold Blood"-a riveting thriller from 1967-has two
new interesting contexts that it did not previous have. First, and most
chillingly, is the fact that it's star, Robert Blake, was recently on
trial for murdering his wife. Second, the recent Oscar winning biopic,
"Capote" showed the muddled back story of this haunting true crime
tale's author, Truman Capote. These two new twists make the film timely
for a modern audience.
As a stand alone film from it's era, "In Cold Blood" is top notch in every way. Most notable is the stunning black and white cinematography from Conrad Hall (later of "American Beauty" and "Road to Perdition" fame). Many of the stills from this film of the Kansas farm house at night or the tree-lined back country roads could be sold as fine art photography. Combined with the cracker-jack direction from Brooks and superb editing in the early scenes (where we see the mundane daily life of the innocent family about to be senselessly slaughtered beautifully intertwined with the plotting of the two hapless killers), a rich brooding atmosphere is created that sets the stage for riveting suspense (even when everyone knows how this is all going to end due to the fact its all based on real life events). It's also great to see in this day and age how brilliantly staged a harrowing murder scene can be depicted where the graphic nature of the act is transmitted to the viewer subliminally with nary a drop of blood shown on screen.
The film is also anchored nicely by Robert Blake's eerie performance as the more sympathetic yet senselessly brutal side of the killing duo. The flashback scenes to his horrible childhood are extremely well done. Then there is the scene towards the end of the film where he is speaking to the reverend before being sent to the gallows and he makes his last "confession" so to speak. It's one of those classic movie moments that is a perfect marriage of gritty acting, superb writing, flawless direction, and haunting photography. I dare you to erase from your mind the stark image of the rain's reflection from the window flowing down Robert Blake's pallid face in lieu of actual tears.
The only thing hampering "In Cold Blood" is the slow moving middle act where the killers are on the lam and the forced nature of the social commentary at the end. The tacked-on political message about the death penalty is secondary to its compelling depiction of the mad killers and their prey.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An exquisite adaptation of one of the landmark novels of American
literature, In Cold Blood tells the tale of two men who murdered a
Kansas farm family in the late 1950s. It's a tremendous film, not just
because of the excellent acting, beautiful direction and intelligent
writing it showcases, but because it succeeds in showing us that no
matter how extraordinary evil may seem, it is the very ordinariness of
evil that is most compelling.
Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) were two-bit criminals looking for the perfect score. They thought it would be robbing the Clutters (John McLiam, Ruth Storey, Brenda Currin and Paul Hough) of the $10,000 dollars a cellmate of Dick's had told him Mr. Clutter kept in their farm house. There never was any $10,000, though. Just 40 bucks, a radio, a pair of binoculars and 4 brutal murders. As Alvin Dewey (John Forsythe) of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation takes on the case, Perry and Dick flee to Mexico, only to run out of money and have to crawl back to the United States. As the two men responsible for one of the most sensational crimes of its time desperately scrabble along, Dewey and the forces of the Law inch closer and closer.
Perry and Dick are eventually captured in Las Vegas, confess and are shipped back to Kansas for a trial that ends with a jury taking only 40 minutes to sentence them to death. It takes 5 years on death row for their appeals to be exhausted, 5 years of waiting before Perry and Dick have their date with the hangman's noose and executions even more cold blooded than the slayings of the Clutter family.
What first attracted Truman Capote to this story must have been the idea of American innocence shattered by savagery. What he ended up writing was something that forced us to confront the humanity in the men who committed such inhuman acts. This motion picture by Richard Brooks follows that same path. Perry Smith and Dick Hickock aren't monsters. They aren't even exceptionally bad men. They're both battered dreamers who were born into life's ditch and never managed to crawl out of it. Yet this film makes no excuses for Perry and Dick as they never made any for themselves. As they drive 400 miles to the Clutter farm, there's no attempt to deny the chilling self-centeredness of our two soon-to-be killers and their disregard for everything but their own wants and needs. That's what most evil is in this world. It isn't a compulsion to hurt others. It's simply not caring who you have to hurt to get what you want.
The performances by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson are superb. Blake has the showier role as Capote was drawn to the inner turmoil of Perry Smith and the paradox of such a seemingly bright soul driven to such dark deeds. Blake brings out the deep well of emotion in Smith, depths that allowed him to revel in childish fantasies of buried treasure and gave him the strength of will to obliterate an entire family. Wilson, though, is just as good in capturing the shallow, shark-like quality of Hickock. He lets you see that it's Dick's lack of emotional depth that makes him both more functional than Perry in normal society and weaker than Perry in moments of crisis. If Perry feels the world too intensely, Dick lives in a state of denial so profound it couldn't be cracked with an atom bomb.
Shot in black-and-white, In Cold Blood has some of the most stunning images you'll see. Even after decades of increasingly stark and graphic violence in popular culture, there are still moments in this movie that will grab your heart and squeeze. And a scene with Perry looking out a window on death row, the rain outside reflected onto his face like tears, is absolutely beautiful.
If you haven't read In Cold Blood, watching this movie will make you want to read it. If you've already read the book, watching this film will make you want to read it again. That's about the highest praise you can give this sort of work and I give it without hesitation.
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