In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood

When the socially able Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood in 1966, stories about cold blooded murders was just not socially acceptable

In Cold Blood

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People that reside in normal, sane society are often drawn to the darker nature that some men posses. Part of it may be the desire to vicariously live on the other side of law and reason. Another part may just be to give thanks that their lives where not touched by the violence and mayhem men outside the law too often bring.

When the socially able Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood in 1966, stories about cold blooded murders was just not socially acceptable. Still, the book became a best seller and Hollywood was anxious to create movie based upon it.

In Cold Blood is brutally realistic as it provides us with insight into how two ex-cons, Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) and his former cellmate Perry Smith (Robert Blake) break their parole and plan to rob and kill Kansas farmer Herbert Clutter (John McLiam), his wife and two teenaged children. All this was because Hickock heard somewhere that Clutter had a safe at home containing $10,000. In In Cold Blood you should get the idea that these two men are not criminal masterminds. They are impulsive, although they consider themselves master planners, prone to panic, but they consider themselves the epitome of cool.

In Cold Blood contrasts the drifting lifestyle of these men with the lives of the Clutters, lives that would soon be snuffed out for no reason. The Clutters are a typical Midwest family. They work hard, go to church and mostly love and respect each other. There is a strange juxtaposition between the relationships in the Clutter family and the one that exists between Hickock and Smith. The two criminals are a textbook case of co-dependency. Hickock was the more dominate partner. He coaxed Smith into these actions with a promise that the score would enable Smith to fulfill his dream of looking for treasure in Mexico. There are many lines in the dialogue that allude to a strange marriage between the two men. While not overtly sexual in nature Hickock does seem to play the husband, chartering the course for the two, providing for them and being someone that Smith can turn to.

The premise offered by In Cold Blood is that neither man could have done this crime but together there was a dark and sinister synergy that took over. This combined personality was the actual murderer. In Cold Blood was often attacked for presenting these men in too sympathetic a light. They were from poor, abusive backgrounds, Smith was addicted to aspirin, bad breaks just followed them their whole lives. The viewer is reminded that in 1967 when this film was made there was the start of a social consciousness to consider the origins of the criminal mentality, to probe their past to help rehabilitate them.

There are some extremely strong performances by the male dominated cast in In Cold Blood. John Forsythe as investigator Alvin Dewey is the moral compass for In Cold Blood. He provides the audience with the means to hold on to reason and civilization in midst of the hunt for the murderers. In a film where the bad guys are painted in such a sympathetic light it was important to give us a character that the audience can look to for the morally right thing to do. Many will find some irony in Blake portrayal of Smith, considering his recent legal dilemma. He does show great depth in his presentation of Smith. Here is a man whose ability to tell right from wrong was crippled by circumstances and ultimately pushed aside when under the sway of Hickock.

There are times when the dialogue given to Blake is a bit too much over the top. He has the tendency to wax just a bit to philosophically given his background. Another little note, Smith is always talking about the film "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", Blake appeared in this film as the child selling lottery tickets. McLiam commands the screen with his performance as Hickock. Here is a man that knows that he is unable to pull the trigger himself and who is confident that he can exert enough influence on Smith to do so. In the scene where they pass Clutter’s checks Hickock is confident, overly friendly and comes off as so likeable that he pass the checks.

Director Richard Brooks demonstrated an extreme attention to detail in the direction of In Cold Blood. He even went so far as to film scenes at the actual Clutter house. He also stood up to the studio executives by not casting box office draws like Robert Redford and Steve McQueen but by filming in black and white to heighten the sense of realism. One notable feature of In Cold Blood is there are no scenes of overt violence. The murders are not explicitly shown; it is enough that the audience knows these four lives were sacrificed for a mere $40. Brooks is well versed on black and white as a medium unto itself. He plays with the use of light and shadow. The police are seen in full light while the criminals are almost always shown with shadows on half of there face, visually showing the internal conflict within them. He did make the criminals too easy to like on many levels but the ultimate fate of the murderers was execution, giving the audience the much needed sense that no matter what justice will prevail.

The In Cold Blood DVD was reasonably well done. Presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio the anamorphic transfer is not perfect but considering the age of In Cold Blood its good. There is some grit to the video but if I recall it was present in the original film of In Cold Blood. It adds to the almost documentary style portrayed. The Dolby stereo audio holds up but lacks the full range of the spectrum. Its not quite tinny but there is an overall lack of any bass. There is nothing in the way of extras here. A commentary by the director would have been interesting considering all the real life locations that where utilized. Overall In Cold Blood is a keeper if for no other reason than how it provides into the beginnings of a very liberal climate of the times.

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