In Cold Blood (1967)

Originally posted in 2015 as part of Argumentative August, on MovieRob.


In Cold Blood is a 1967 film directed by Richard Brooks and starring Robert Blake, John Forsyth and Scott Wilson. It’s based on the book of the same name written by Truman Capote, published in 1966.

In Cold Blood tells the story of real life criminals Perry Smith (Blake) and Dick Hickock (Wilson) who go on the run across the American South after having murdered the Clutter family – Herb a farmer, his wife and their two children. Appended in Las Vegas, Perry and Dick then face trial and the death penalty for their crimes.

In 2008, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

In Cold Blood is a chilling, sad tale shot entirely in black and white. The atmosphere is further enhanced by using the same real life locations to the crime, such as the genuine Clutter house where the murders took place and courtroom where the men were held to trial. Incredibly six of the jurors in the film were also jurors in the real life case. The film was well received upon release and remains a popular classic to this day. Having the big name stars helped, as well as the popularity of the original book by Capote which was a best seller in the US and turned him into a household name.

It differs to modern efforts Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006) by focusing only on the Clutter case and the two murderers involved. We go further back in time to before Dick and Perry kill the family, which all stemmed from a tip-off in jail about a safe inside the farmhouse said to contain tens of thousands of dollars. No safe was ever found and the family were killed for a measly forty dollars.

In a move that I think was very clever, we don’t actually see the reconstruction of the murder until the end of the film. We cut to the ‘straight after’ and then follow Perry and Dick on the run, learning more about them as people. There is a slight sympathetic nod to the men, especially Perry – who is shown to be quite sensitive – for instance refusing to let Dick rape the daughter of Herb Clutter. There is almost a childlike naivety about him at times.

Dick is more of a regular ‘jack the lad’ – an angry young man who takes what he wants because why shouldn’t he? But without seeing the attack and murder of the innocent Clutter family in its dreadful entirety, it is possible to empathise slightly with the two drifters. The story is clever as it shows us different ends of the spectrum and aren’t we humans just so darn confusing?

One minute Dick and Perry collect bottles from the roadside with a young boy as a way of making money and it’s all very nice and innocent. I think maybe ‘fun’ music was even playing in this scene. Five minutes later they nonchalantly plan to kill the next person who offers them a ride hitchhiking. I mean, killing really means nothing to them.

When they inevitably get caught, in Nevada, they are taken back to Kansas to be questioned by the police and tried in court. Though the trial scenes are not as prominent in this film as some other courtroom movies, the questioning and protocol is very important to the story as without a confession it would have been hard to charge the men with a lack of concrete evidence and of course, no witnesses.

There’s a degree of Lieutenant Columbo (“I got one last question”) in the film as from the beginning we know the men are guilty, it’s just a case of them getting caught and then the police proving it. I suppose the only ambiguity is whether they will be hanged or not, but if you’ve read the book or seen Capote (or Infamous) you’ll know the answer anyway.

All in all I think In Cold Blood is a fantastic film. Respectful, insightful and entertaining throughout. It was a pretty big movie when it was released so the quality is high. It has good writing, acting, direction and a genuine authentic feel which is both eerie and provoking.

One of the things I personally like about In Cold Blood is the way it made me think. Dick and Perry did deserve to die for their crime against the Clutter family – four innocent people who did nothing to merit what happened that night. But at the same time we’re given insight into their lives, their own struggles and tragedies. I don’t mean you feel sorry for them exactly, but it is interesting how two men – seemingly normal and happy a lot of them time, can then turn into cold blooded killers for the sake of a few dollars.

Oh, and that film poster at the top – that’s the real Dick and Perry.

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About emmakwall

Films, books, soundtracks, good humour
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38 Responses to In Cold Blood (1967)

  1. Zoë says:

    Okay, I will have to watch this one then!

  2. vinnieh says:

    This was an impressive review sister, makes me want to see it.

  3. Jordan Dodd says:

    I know you love Capote but I don’t think I have read anything by him. What would you suggest?

    Meanwhile, this movie sounds quite good. I love me a good B&W movie, I’ll have to see if my Dad owns it.

  4. Haven’t seen this yet, but have been meaning to for a long time.

  5. Tom Schultz says:

    I thought the book particularly had a creepy quality. Capote displayed a lot of sympathy for the killers and the hapless family became nonpersons–much as they were to the killers. But, Capote was a great writer and the book was very evocative of that time and place. Now, if only the movie score had been written by Ennio Morricone. 😉

    • emmakwall says:

      That’s an interesting perspective I never thought of the book like that but I know exactly what you mean about him empathising with the killers, especially Perry. I think he was surprised by how intelligent and artistic the guy was, yet how he could be such a loser / drifter / murderer at the same time. And Capote was just as cold hearted to him really because he wanted Perry to hang, so he could have the perfect ending.

      And I guess it was a non-fiction novel so parts were embellished. I felt that not enough sympathy was given to the Clutter family too! Truman Capote is one of my favourite authors 🙂 I think the only book or story I’ve not read by him is weirdly…..Breakfast at Tiffany’s! Oh man, the Ennio Morricone score would just be the cherry on the cake!!!!!!!! 😀 Hi Tom!!!!

      • Tom Schultz says:

        You’ve not read Breakfast at Tiffany’s? I’m shocked, Emma. I don’t think you missed much, though. When Morricone won the Oscar, my thoughts immediately went to my favorite British film maven. Hateful 8 score not as good as “Ecstasy of Gold,” but then again, what is?

        • emmakwall says:

          I know! I’ve only read In Cold Blood, his short stories and essays. I dunno, it doesn’t appeal to me as much!

          Awwww that’s sweet, I was so pleased to see him win. But TOTALLY agree with you, nothing beats the Ectsacy of Gold!! To be honest his Hateful Eight score would never be a favourite for me, but it was awesome in its context 🙂

  6. It’s so funny that you posted this. This past Friday, I was recording a test podcast episode for Return to the ’80s with my co-host, Robert. We were going over movies that were released around this time in 1986. One of them was A Room With a View. Robert is an English teacher, and he got all excited because it was a book. I was reading the description, and pretended to fall asleep by snoring while I was reading it. When I “woke up”, I was telling him that I didn’t appreciate being told what to read in school. But, one book that I loved was ‘In Cold Blood.’ I don’t think I ever saw this movie. It’s kind of ironic that Robert Blake would go on to be a killer himself.

    • emmakwall says:

      Synchronicity! I love the book In Cold Blood too, it’s one of my favourites 🙂 another thing we have in common!

      That’s such a cool story, I giggled reading the bit where you pretended to fall asleep by snoring, that’s JUST the sort of thing I’d do as well!!!! 🙂 in fact, I do it….all the time! Especially if someone’s talking about science.

      Will you watch this movie? Are you a fan of the movie Capote?

      I didn’t know that about Robert Blake! I just looked up the story. Thanks Paul! 🙂

  7. alexraphael says:

    I want to see this so much after reading your review.

  8. movierob says:

    better late than never 🙂 Tnx Ems!

  9. beetleypete says:

    As I am sure that I have said before; great film, great cast, great adaptation of a great book.
    That’s a lot of greats!
    As ever, Pete. xxx

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