In two scenes Robert Blake's character makes a reference to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). Blake played the paperboy who sold the winning lottery ticket to Humphrey Bogart in that classic movie. However, despite the fact that many people believe it was written into the script because of Blake. It wasn't. According to Truman Capote it was Perry Smith's favorite movie.
The "Jenson"/"Narrator" characters are based on the author himself, Truman Capote. Capote went to Kansas soon after the murders to cover the manhunt and to interview those who knew the Clutter family. After the apprehension and conviction of killers Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, Capote became a major part of the killers' lives while they were on death row, forming a particularly close bond with Smith. Smith gave most of his belongings - drawings, books - to Capote. Capote was present at the executions and witnessed the carrying-out of Hickock's sentence, but couldn't bear to watch Smith die, and left the room before he was brought in.
When Perry Smith is summing up his life, the rain on the window is reflected on Robert Blake's face so that it looks like he's shedding tears, and the effect was lauded by many reviewers. That effect wasn't planned - the set was hot that day and a fan was being used near the simulated rain; it accidentally blew the water against the window, resulting in the shadows of the falling "rain" passing over Blake's face.
To get the authenticity he wanted, Richard Brooks filmed in all the actual locations including the Clutter house (where the murders took place) and the actual courtroom (6 of the actual jurors were used). Even Nancy Clutter's horse Babe was used in a few scenes. The actual gallows at the Kansas State Penitentiary were used for filming the executions, however, in a 2002 interview, Charles McAtee (who was State Corrections Director for Kansas in the 1960's), clarified the hangman in the film was an actor, not the real deal.
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.
Lee Marvin wanted the role of Alvin Dewey but director Richard Brooks gave it to John Forsythe instead. Brooks had worked with Marvin on the extremely successful " The Professionals " but Marvin had proved to be a handful on the set.
Over three decades after the release of this movie, one of its stars, Robert Blake (who played the murderer Perry Smith) himself became a real-life figure in a "true crime." In May 2001, Blake's second wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, was murdered in the parking lot of an Italian restaurant at which the couple had eaten dinner. Blake was arrested and tried for murder and for solicitation of others to commit murder. After a multiyear trial that was heavily covered by the tabloids, in March 2005 Blake was found not guilty of either Bakley's murder or the counts of solicitation of murder. However, in November 2005 a civil suit found Blake liable for Bakley's death and ordered him to pay $30 million to Bakley's survivors. Although that award was later reduced on appeal, Blake filed for bankruptcy.
The producers of the film originally wanted Judge Roland Tate, the actual judge from the trial, to play himself in the film. Judge Tate died shortly before photography and a call was issued for a suitable replacement. Local auctioneer and realtor John Collins was cast, and appears in the film.
May have been the last black-and-white feature from a major American film studio until 20th Century Fox distributed Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein in 1974. Woody Allen's *Manhattan* (1979) was also filmed in black and white.
[June 2008] Ranked #8 on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 greatest films in the genre "Courtroom Drama". This is the highest ranking among films not nominated for Best Picture at the the Academy Awards.