Archive for the ‘In Cold Blood (1967)’ Category

Spine # 781

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Distributor: Criterion Collection (USA)

Release Date: November 17th, 2015

Region: Region A

Length: 2:14:40

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 3731 kbps, 24-Bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 2.35:1

Bitrate: 24.50 Mbps

Notes: This title is also available in a DVD Edition. Sony has also released a different transfer of this film on Blu-ray.

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“This was a director’s film, pure and simple… Richard Brooks is a film author. That’s a man who retains complete control of the whole film in his own hands and then takes full responsibility for the final product. He didn’t just direct this picture. He wrote it, cast it, produced it, fought for it, edited it and lived and slept with it for months. This is his film. I’m just some actor in it.” –Robert Blake (Interview with Roger Ebert, January 28, 1968)

There is no denying that Richard Brooks was the primary creative force on the set of In Cold Blood, but Blake’s statement doesn’t seem to take into account that the screenplay was built from Truman Capote’s pioneering text about a true horrendous crime.

Book Cover

This is the original dust jacket for Truman Capote’s groundbreaking novel.

“WEALTHY FARMER, THREE OF FAMILY SLAIN: H. W. CLUTTER, WIFE AND TWO CHILDREN ARE FOUND SHOT IN KANSAS HOME.”

This headline was buried in the back page of the September 15, 1959 issue of the New York Times. It probably wouldn’t have been printed at all if Clutter hadn’t been a former member of Eisenhower’s Federal Farm Credit Board. It probably didn’t do much to move the urbanites that usually read the New York Times, but Truman Capote saw that there was literary potential in it. His relentless investigation lead to a landmark novel entitled, In Cold Blood. It was Capote’s desire “to write a journalistic narrative that employed all the creative devices and techniques of fiction to tell a true story in a manner that would read precisely like a novel.”

“…I traveled to this small town in Kansas and started to investigate the crime and immediately faced innumerable difficulties. Remember, all the material was not just waiting out there for me, as some people seem to think. When I began, I was dealing with an unsolved murder and initially I got very little cooperation either from the Clutters’ relatives and neighbors or from the local police. I didn’t know from minute to minute what was going to happen with the case, so I simply drudged on, gathering material. In fact, I didn’t definitely decide that I was going to write the book until I had been working on it for more than a year. There were so many things that could have frustrated me; even after the two boys were arrested for the murder. What would have happened if, as was highly probable, they weren’t interested in what I was doing and refused to cooperate with me? Of course, I did win their confidence and we became very close, but I had no assurance of that at the outset. And then, as the years dragged on and the legal delays and complications multiplied, I still didn’t really know if I was going to be able to finish the book or even if there was any book there. After three years of work, I almost abandoned the whole project; I had become too emotionally involved and I couldn’t stand the constant morbidity of the situation. It was becoming for me a question of personal survival. But I forced myself to keep going and pushed through the whole damned thing. It’s a book that was written on the edge of my nerves. If I had ever known what I was going to have to endure over those six years—no matter what has happened since—I never would have started the book. It was too painful. Nothing is worth it.” –Truman Capote (Playboy, March 1968)

Capote in Clutter Living Room

Truman Capote stands in the Clutter’s living room.

Capote’s journey into the psyches of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock has been dramatized in two films (Capote and Infamous) with varying results, but Richard Brooks’ adaption of the Capote novel came first. Brooks was not content to simply dramatize the chilling events detailed in the book. He insisted on an almost documentary level of realism. The film was shot using the actual locations (including the Clutter’s house where the murders occurred). Some of the people involved were even portrayed by themselves. For example, Sadie Truitt and Myrtle Clare are featured in the film as themselves. Blake and Scott Wilson even look like the killers that they portray.

“…It’s as accurate a rendering of the book as I could have hoped, with the single exception that if it were done the way I would really have liked, it would have had to be at least nine hours long. As it stands, it runs about two hours; but those two hours are verbatim from the book and brilliantly done. I cooperated fully with Richard Brooks, who directed the film and did the screenplay, and we never had the slightest disagreement. The actors who play Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, by the way, turn in remarkable- performances. Even the physical resemblance is uncanny; when I first saw the boy selected to play Smith, it was as if Perry had come back from the grave.” –Truman Capote (Playboy, March 1968)

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This is the house where the Clutter family was tragically (and pointlessly) killed by Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. Richard Brooks rented the home at great expense so that he could shoot his film adaptation at the actual location.

This documentary-like fidelity to the actual events created an unusual atmosphere on set. Brenda Currin (Nancy Clutter), remembers that the murder scenes were shot over an entire week in almost total darkness.

“…When it came time to film the scene in Nancy’s bedroom, the room was so small that they had to take out the bed in order to get the camera in. As the camera was about to roll, Robert Blake, who had never said one word to me, started hurling these invectives at me. I’d never heard that kind of language. What came out of him was unbelievable, it was an absolute body blow, and I broke down and started to cry.

Just then, Richard Brooks said ‘Action!’ and Robert, in the most gentle voice imaginable said, ‘Do you like horses?’ It completely turned me upside down and all around, this duality that I had just experienced. Afterwards, I was a mess. I remember I went and sat in the mother’s room just to get myself together and he came in and sat down next to me and said, ‘You’re a nice actress.’ And from that point on we became really close, and that extended into the following year around the release of the film…” -Brenda Currin (Deep South Magazine)

Clutter House Bodies - See caption

The deceased members of the Clutter family are carried out of their home by authorities.

These slices of realism make In Cold Blood a rather difficult movie to discuss. In his review for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert stated that the film wasn’t actually a movie.

In Cold Blood is an eerie case. Not a movie. A case…

…This is not a work of the imagination, but a masterpiece of copying. Richard Brooks and Truman Capote brought technical skill to their tasks in recreating the murders, but imagination was not needed. All the events had already happened. And every detail of the film, from the physical appearance of the actors to the use of actual locations like the Clutter farmhouse, was chosen to make the film a literal copy of those events.

I do not object to this. Men have always learned about themselves by studying the things their fellows do. If mass murders of this sort are possible in American society (and many have been), then perhaps it is useful to see a thoughtful film about one of them.

And to the degree that In Cold Blood is an accurate, sensitive record of actual events, it succeeds overpoweringly. The actors, Robert Blake (Smith) and Scott Wilson (Hickock), are so good they pass beyond performances and almost into life. Many other performances also have the flat, every day, absolutely genuine ring of truth to them. At times one feels this is not a movie but a documentary that the events are taking place now.” –Roger Ebert (February 6, 1968)

It seems erroneous to claim that “imagination was not needed” to achieve the remarkable results that make Brooks’ adaptation so remarkable. The staging along with the stark black and white cinematography, the eerie ambience of the soundtrack, and countless other ingredients certainly required a deep reservoir of imagination. However, one must admit that any analysis of the film is impossible without considering the actual crime that it is based upon. It seems somewhat crass to discuss the film as if it were a normal movie. After all, the Clutters existed. Their lives were actually ended. We aren’t watching characters on the screen. We are watching a re-enactment of a tragic event.

Clutter Funeral -see caption

November 18, 1959: The Herbert Clutter family is loaded into hearses before the Garden City Methodist Church.

One of the criticisms directed towards Capote’s novel (and therefore towards the film adaptation) is that a reason is never given for the murders. This isn’t actually true.

“…Dr. Joseph Satten concentrated extensively on Perry Smith, and his conclusion was that the person Perry was murdering that night in a Kansas farmhouse was not Mr. Clutter but his own father. I agree. It also became quite clear from many of the things Perry told me over the years that this was his own evaluation of what had happened. The only murder of psychological importance in this case is the first one, because once it was committed, the others were imperative, but not in themselves psychologically motivated; they were automatic and almost incidental. So the why is quite clear: Perry identified Mr. Clutter, an authority figure, with the father he love-hated and he unleashed all his inner resentment in an act of violence. This was a pattern in Perry’s life; each time he tried to kill someone, that person was an obvious authority figure, a lather surrogate, for example, he told me many times about his attempt to murder a military policeman in Japan; he picked him up and then threw him over a bridge. In each instance, what triggered Perry’s violence was his own love-hate relationship with his father…

…I’m always surprised to read reviews of In Cold Blood that lament, ‘But Mr. Capote didn’t tell us why.’ Well, short of getting a baseball hat and clubbing you over the head with it, I don’t see how I could have made the point any more clearly.” –Truman Capote (Playboy, March 1968)

These things are at the very least implied in both the book and the film adaptation. Audiences and readers are responsible for connecting their own dots (just as they are in life). In any case, there is rarely a truly satisfactory reason for such tragic events.

Truman Capote with Richard Brooks

Truman Capote (writer of the novel) sits with Richard Brooks (writer and director of the film adaptation).

 The one curious diversion from the actual events might very well be the film’s only real flaw. Brooks went to great lengths to dramatize the actual events as faithfully as possible, so it seems especially odd that he would introduce Jensen (often referred to as “the reporter”). He seems to be included as an unfortunate device to editorialize certain events. If one wants to be charitable, it could be argued that he is a surrogate for Truman Capote. This trouble with this argument is that Capote actually went to great lengths to keep himself out of the book.

“The real demarcation between my book and anything that has gone before is that it contains a technical innovation that gives it both the reality and the atmosphere of a novel: and that device is that ‘I’ never once appear in the book. Never. Always before in this genre, the author has been faced with a technical problem of credibility: The reader wants to know how does the writer know this person said this to someone else, how does he know this background material? Now, previously the problem has always been solved by the narrator intruding himself into the scene: ‘I’ discovered this. ‘I’ saw that. ‘I’ overheard this. The first-person pronoun permeates the whole composition and it thus becomes a piece of straight surface journalism. It only moves horizontally throughout. But what I wanted to do was bring to journalism the technique of fiction, which moves both horizontally and vertically at the same time: horizontally on the narrative side and vertically by entering inside its characters. And that, of course, is what gives fiction its peculiar depth and impact. Now, in my effort to give journalism this vertical interior movement—and that was the whole purpose of my experiment—1 had to remove the narrator entirely. I had to make the book flow uninterruptedly from beginning to end, just like a novel, and thus the narrator never enters the picture and there is no interpretation of people and events. I wanted the story to exist completely in its own right; except for the selection of detail. I am totally absent from the development of the book, and the people are re-created as they are in life. That’s why I feel it’s not comparable with anything else in the history of journalism.” –Truman Capote (Playboy, March 1968)

This seems to be the most common complaint about the film. Roger Ebert gave the film a perfect five-star review, but he couldn’t help but lodge a complaint about this additional character.

“Another of Brooks’ mistakes, I think, was his decision to write a liberal reporter into the script. This figure obviously represents Capote. He hangs around during the last half of the film, tells about Death Row, narrates the hangings and provides instant morals about capital punishment. He is useless and distracting. Brooks should either have used Capote himself or no one.” –Roger Ebert (February 6, 1968)

Luckily, this slight blemish is on the face of an otherwise perfect film, which is still as powerfully chilling as the day it was released.

One Sheet

The film’s Theatrical One Sheet was unique in that it featured the cold eyes of the actual Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.

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The Presentation:

4.5 of 5 Stars

The Blu-ray and DVD discs are housed in the clear case that has become the standard for The Criterion Collection. The original artwork is brilliantly conceived, and surpasses the film’s original one sheet artwork. One will see a similarity between the original novel’s cover art and Criterion’s simple and elegant film artwork. Most people should agree that it is quite appropriate. An added bonus is the wonderful fold out pamphlet featuring an essay by Chris Fujiwara.

The disc’s menus are also appropriate and attractive (again using the book’s original dust jacket artwork as the basis for the artwork).

Menu 1

It is an elegant menu that is quite easy to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

5 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s special 1080p, 24hz high-def presentation transfer was taken their 4K restoration sourced from the original negative and is presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Detail is remarkably strong and proudly showcases textures and crisp lines. Black levels are beautifully rich and are representative of Conrad Hall’s remarkable black and white cinematography. There doesn’t seem to be any crushing as the contrast seems to be remarkably accurate as the grey levels blend beautifully. Film grain has happily been maintained, but is very fine and looks quite wonderful here. This is a solid improvement upon Sony’s Blu-ray release of the film (as might be expected from Criterion).

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

Criterion’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround remix of the film’s original elements appears to be in excellent shape. There weren’t any noticeable anomalies (such as hiss, pops, or dropouts), and the dialogue is always quite clear. There are a few moments in the film that sound somewhat flat, or perhaps they have been swallowed by the other sounds in the mix. I wouldn’t like to state whether or not this is an issue with the original source or the 5.1 re-mix. (I simply don’t know.) This isn’t a distracting problem, and one doubts if most people would even notice it.

The Quincy Jones score has been mixed into the surround speakers smoothly with amazing fidelity. In fact, it is so full and pristine that it might be responsible for the aforementioned moment of flat dialogue. This is a minor issue with what is overall a very satisfying audio mix. If a complaint can be made, it should be that the original mix wasn’t also included on the disc.

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Special Features:

5 of 5 Stars

Cinéma Cinemas (1988): Interview with Richard Brooks – (18:25)

This excerpt from a 1988 episode of the French television series, Cinéma Cinemas is an interesting archival interview with Richard Brooks. As a matter of fact, it is probably the best supplement on a disc with many excellent supplements. Brooks talks candidly about the film, and his vision in a manner that is easily accessible to even the most casual viewers.

With Love from Truman (1966) – (29:06)

With Love from Truman is a 1966 documentary featuring novelist Truman Capote was directed by Albert and David Maysles. Capote discusses In Cold Blood and writing in general. This half hour documentary is both engaging and informative.

Today Show Segment featuring Truman Capote (1966) – (4:32)

This archival segment from a 1966 episode of The Today Show follows Truman Capote on a 1966 visit to Holcomb, Kansas, and features interviews with a few of the Holocomb’s important citizens. One particularly amusing moment showcases an elderly citizen tell Capote that she enjoyed the book, but that he needed to put more thought into the ending.

Barbara Walters Interviews Truman Capote (1967) – (9:46)

It was especially nice to see Barbara Walters interviewing Truman Capote about In Cold Blood. Both the film and the book are discussed here in this segment from a 1967 episode of The Today Show. It would be inaccurate to describe the interview as a probing interaction between Walters and Capote, but the surface discussion is reasonably informative (and always engaging).

Interview with Douglass K. Daniel – (16:59)

Douglass K. Daniel (writer) discusses Richard Brooks and his work as the film’s writer and director. This short study of Richard Brooks provides a context for the film that increases one’s ability to appreciate the work that Brooks put into In Cold Blood. It is a welcome addition to the disc.

Interview with John Bailey – (27:04)

John Bailey (cinematographer) discusses Conrad Hall’s work as the director of photography on In Cold Blood in impressive depth. After some introductory background information on Conrad Hall, Bailey provides an astute commentary on the film’s cinematography. This is a scholarly tour through Hall’s creative work on In Cold Blood, and it should increase the viewer’s appreciation of this classic film.

Interview Gary Giddins – (21:09)

Gary Giddins (film critic and jazz historian) discusses Quincy Jones’s music for In Cold Blood in this surprisingly comprehensive illustrated interview. This should increase one’s appreciation for the role that music and sound plays in this Brooks classic.

Interview with Bobbie O’Steen – (14:36)

Bobbie O’Steen (film historian) discusses the film’s editing in a certain amount of depth, and her insights always promote increased appreciation for the film in question.

Theatrical Trailer – (2:56)

The film’s Theatrical Trailer focuses on In Cold Blood’s documentary-like precision. Audiences are told that the film’s events are real and that the film is shot in the actual locations utilizing some of the actual people involved. There is a comparison between the real murderers and the actors that play them (they look very similar). It is an interesting way to sell a film, and it is nice to have this included here.

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Final Words:

Criterion’s release of In Cold Blood is a near-perfect release of a film that is required viewing for cinemaphiles.

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Review by: Devon Powell