Saturday, November 17, 2012


(December 1967, U.S.)

A bestselling book and successful film based on a shocking true life crime may not play so well in today's world given the fact that these sort of tragic real life events seem to occurr at an almost frequent rate. Think about often do you turn on the news and hear about some horrifying crime and almost write it off in your mind as something that has reached the point of being trivial? It's a tragic attitude, but it's a sign of the world we live in today.

Back in 1959 middle America, though, the detailed brutal murders of Herbert Clutter, a successful farmer from Holcomb, Kansas, his wife, and their children was a horrific incident that captured the minds, hearts and attention of the entire country. When Truman Capote learned of the quadruple murder, before the killers were captured, he decided to travel to Kansas and write about the crime. The 1966 book of IN COLD BLOOD became the greatest crime seller at the time and is almost universally acknowledged as one of the best books of its type ever written. Richard Brooks' film version with Robert Blake as Perry Smith and Scott Wilson as Dick Hickock follows a very detailed and non-linear form of filmmaking and editing as we follow the two would-be killers from the point of conceiving the planned home robbery to the very point that they're hanged for their crimes. Particularly noteworthy is the moment when they've arrived at the Clutter farm and are preparing to exit the car. The film fades to black at that moment and when it returns, a family friend arrives at the house to find the bodies. Police investigation and inevitable capture of the killers follow soon enough and it's only at the point of Perry Smith's lengthy confession do we witness a step-by-step account of the home invasion and the frightening moments that lead up to the family's ultimate slaughter.

That last comment of mine opens up the fact that the actual events of the crime itself are told on film with out-of-sequence flashbacks (or analepsis, as I understand it's sometimes called) and the consequences that follow it. It's a style of crime storytelling that I remember first seeing in Stanley Kubrick's THE KILLING (1956) and decades later in Quentin Tarantino's RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). It's a formula that's definitely copied around in cinema, but nevertheless a highly effective tool with crime thrillers.

Although it wasn't included in my film collection and this blog, the 2005 film CAPOTE with Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the events of Truman's writing the book and his actual relationship with the convicted criminals preceeding it. It's an intruiging additional step to take after you've read the book IN COLD BLOOD or seen the film, or both.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Alvin Dewey: "Someday, somebody will explain to me the motive of a newspaper. First, you scream, "Find the bastards." Till we find them, you want to get us fired. When we find them, you accuse us of brutality. Before we go into court, you give them a trial by newspaper. When we finally get a conviction, you want to save them by proving they were crazy in the first place."

1 comment:

  1. This is a truly great film, the best performances ever by Blake and Wilson. I watched this a few months ago, almost a week after I had seen Capote. It was an interesting juxtaposition. It was bleak and sad and senseless. It ended in death for the killers and for Capote's writing career. Everyone touched by these events suffered.