In Cold Blood (1967)

“If this can happen to a decent, God-fearing family, who’s safe anymore?”

Synopsis:
Two sociopathic ex-convicts (Robert Blake and Scott Wilson) planning to rob a safe in the home of a Kansas businessman (John McLiam) end up murdering McLiam and his wife (Ruth Storey) and two kids (Brenda Currin and Paul Hough), leaving no witnesses behind. Soon they’re on the run from the law, but they don’t have long before their cold-blooded crimes will catch up with them.

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Review:
Writer-producer-director Richard Brooks was purportedly obsessed with getting as many details correct as possible in his “new realism” adaptation of Truman Capote’s best-selling non-fiction novel about the senseless murder of the Clutter family in Kansas. This tale has now been told and retold numerous times, not only through Capote’s book and this cinematic version (which aired a year after the book was published), but through two biopics — Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006) — centered on Capote’s life during his lengthy investigation of the story. On its own merits, Brooks’ version has held up well, featuring natural performances by the two relatively unknown leads (an intentional decision on Brooks’ part); appropriately noir-ish cinematography by Conrad Hall; and an effective soundtrack by Quincy Jones. The narrative choice not to show the murders until near the end of the film is a smart one, instead treating the story as an investigation into how these clueless killers were caught and eventually made to confess. Thankfully, Brooks doesn’t exploit the grisly murders; there is an appropriate air of sobriety to the proceedings throughout, with just a touch of flashback exploration into Blake’s traumatic childhood.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Robert Blake as Perry
  • Scott Wilson as Dick
  • Conrad Hall’s cinematography

  • Quincy Jones’ soundtrack

Must See?
Yes. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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2 Responses to “In Cold Blood (1967)”

  1. A once-must – for the rather-successful combination of creative elements that makes this Brooks’ best film, and for its status among the more challenging films in contemporary cinema (which is what I recently said about ‘Papillion’; not that ‘ICB’ is as consistently brutal but the murders at the core permeate in one way or another).

    When I finally read the Capote book (in the late ’90s), it was a library book. As soon as I finished reading the last page, I got my coat on and returned the book. I just didn’t want it in the apartment one more day.

    It seems to me that, more than anything else, Brooks succeeds in harnessing the tone of the book by way of his collaboration with DP Conrad Hall, composer Quincy Jones, and the natural, ‘non-acting’ of his entire cast. I don’t think Brooks was ever – anywhere else in his work – quite as good with actors as he is here. I esp. like the methodical nature of John Forsythe (as Alvin Dewey) and Gerald O’Loughlin (as Harold Nye).

  2. I’d agree that this is a must see as a classic example of true crime cinema and an adaptation of a classic book that was critically well received.

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