A Splendid Screen Adaptation of Capote's Non-Fiction Novel
The 2005 film Capote is about writer Truman Capote during the years when he was working on his influential, fact-based In Cold Blood. A fine screen adaptation of that book was released in 1967, and it got nominated for four Academy Awards.
The Murderers and Their Victims
The movie In Cold Blood focuses on Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson), a pair of ex-convict drifters who committed mass murder. I was most impressed by the psychological portraits the film creates of the two killers and the peculiar relationship between them. As a narrator intones in voice-over, "Neither one of them would have done it alone. But together, they made a third personality. That's the one that did it."
There were four victims in the mass murder: a prosperous Kansas farmer named Herb Clutter, his wife, their 16-year-old daughter and their 15-year-old son. The murderers didn't know their victims, but Hickock had been given information about the Clutter family by a fellow prisoner. Believing Clutter always kept a lot of money in his house, Hickock and Smith set out to steal it. But the chilling thing is that they decided in advance they would leave no witnesses.
I was particularly fascinated and disturbed by the character Perry Smith. He generally seems the more humane of the two murderers, yet he is much more explosive than his partner in crime. When Smith confesses, he remarks, "I thought Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up until the time I cut his throat."
Strengths of the Film (and a Flaw)
As far as I am concerned, In Cold Blood would be worth seeing for Conrad Hall's cinematography alone. The most famous shot is of Robert Blake standing beside a window on a rainy night. In the scene, Perry Smith is about to be hanged, and the lighting makes it look as though he is shedding tears.
It seems to me the film does a very good job of capturing time and place. Part of this was achieved by shooting at the Kansas locations where the real-life events took place. Also, the movie was made close in time to the events depicted and released only two years after the real-life Smith and Hickock were executed.
As much as I admire In Cold Blood, I don't like the heavy-handedness with which screenwriter-director Richard Brooks deals with the issue of capital punishment. For example, as the film winds down, he has a journalist sum up the situation as "four innocent and two guilty people murdered." I have no objection to a movie taking a political position, but In Cold Blood gets too preachy toward the end, and this blemishes the film from the point of view of aesthetics.
Actor Robert Blake Charged With Murder
By the way, 35 years after In Cold Blood was released, there were eerie echoes of the movie when actor Robert Blake was arrested in connection with the murder of his wife. He was eventually acquitted of criminal charges, but in a civil trial he was found liable for her wrongful death.
About the DVD
Below I've listed the details for the In Cold Blood DVD, which comes with no bonus materials of any consequence.
Release Date: September 23, 2003
Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1), Black-and-White
Feature Film Run Time: 2 Hours 14 Minutes
MPAA Rating: R
English Dolby Digital 3.1