The establishing scene of Richard Brooke’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel “In cold Blood” is something that people tend to not forget for a very long time: with the background music of a trumpet, a bus comes rummaging in the dark night moving towards its destination, Kansas City. The next scene shows silhouettes of human figures sitting in the bus. A young girl walks to the back of the bus and sees the sole of a boot with two studs and the outline of a man holding a guitar. The figure strikes a matchstick and moves it closer towards his face to light up the cigarette, filling up the screen and we come face-to-face with Perry Smith (Robert Blake), convicted killer of the four members of the Clutter family. With the bass guitar background score by Jones, cinematography by Conrad Hall and Robert Boyle’s art designing, the film brings justice to the award winning Capote book.
The film is an adaptation of the Truman Capote’s book by the same name which traces the murder of four members of the Clutter family, in 1959, in their home in Kansas by two ex-convicts, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith. The incident indeed shook the nation as it was the most gruesome crime committed in the history of the nation. The plot of the movie and the book is based on news gatherings by Capote, he spent six years researching about the crime and then writing his book which became a pioneer for “new journalism”. The concept of “new journalism”, an American literary movement in the 1960s and ‘70s,emphasized on building up each character and setting up scenes to further support the plot. This genre was not similar to traditional journalism but focused on deep journalistic research combined with techniques of fiction writing, while reporting real life events. The writers often credited with the beginning of the movement include Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and Truman Capote. The role of the real life criminals is portrayed by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, who entered the house of the Clutter family, one night in November of 1959, and murdered all the four members- Mr. and Mrs. Clutter and their two teenage children, Kenyon and Nancy, after failing to find the safe that they’d been told about. What is intriguing about the movie is not about the two individuals who have committed the murder but the reason behind committing it. The character of the killers is built up during the course of the film and parts of their identities are revealed while they travel to Mexico to gain much greater riches and fame. The film further demonstrates the work of the police, investigating the crime while the killers escape to Mexico. They are eventually caught, tried, convicted and later executed.
While Perry expresses disbelief after committing the crime, Dick does not pay much attention to it. Before the execution, Dick says “Does it tell anywhere in them books what happens when you make the drop?”, which justifies the character of Dick as ignorant and heartless. A contradiction of behavior is seen in Perry as he shivers during the time of execution. His last words, “ I think maybe… I want to apologize.. But who to?” show the softer side of him and display his guilt of committing the crime. Ironic enough, we as an audience feel sympathetic towards these two murderers. The film contains a sentimentalized look at the Clutter family; they were respectable, law-abiding, small-town people, who didn’t deserve this terrifying fate. The movie also takes us in flashback to give us a sense of the lives of Hickok and Smith. Perry Smith’s early life was filled with security and love but it all came to an end when his family was doomed due to alcohol. Dick Hickok, on the other hand, was born into a poor family and was abandoned soon by them because he failed to fit in. He used his intelligence and charm to con everyone he came into contact with.
Many films are derived from novels and, it is contrary to compare the movie with the book, because they are two distinct art-forms, constrained by different technical limitations. However, this one really does have to be understood in the context of the book which provokes it. Visually the film is eerie, dark and gory. The monochromatic adaptation of the 1965 crime based novel is highly commendable. The movie suggests that both Dick and Perry were two different personalities and couldn’t have committed the crime. It later suggests that when both of them combined, could have killed the Clutters “in cold blood”.
Written by- Gargi Yadav