May 11, 2007
In Cold Blood (1967)
Grade: 54/100

Director: Richard Brooks
Stars: Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe

What it's about. Set circa 1960 to 1965. A con man and a killer team up to rob a Kansas farm family, and murder them to ensure their silence. The robbers take: $40. Inevitably, they are suspected, captured, interrogated, convicted, and hung, but not before Truman Capote (here in the physical form of Citizen Kane butler Paul Stewart) can make his own career from their unfortunate crime saga.

How others will see it. Ben Mankiewicz was right. This is not the feel-good movie of the year. In Cold Blood is a black and white dramatization with a documentary feel about it. It's a depressing cautionary tale of what can go wrong when you are willing and able to kill someone to take what they have, or even what you merely hope they have.

While it is not a film to be enjoyed, it can be respected. It is a bit like America's Most Wanted, without the disdainful voice overs. But perhaps there's too much sympathy for the two murderers, particularly William Blake, who seems like a nice guy (even prudish) when he's not blowing people's heads off with a shotgun, upon request from his bad boy buddy.

How I felt about it. Although In Cold Blood presents a true story in realistic fashion, that doesn't necessarily mean it is completely accurate. Blake's character is an asexual dreamer without malicious intent. But he's easily manipulated by Wilson, a completely amoral scoundrel who lacks the insight that killing people out of convienience is not only merely wrong, it's certain to put you on death row.

Wilson, we are to believe, is willing to commit crimes from petty to capital, but he can't pull the trigger. That's why he needs Blake, an empathetic and seemingly harmless loser who for some reason will do the grisly deed upon his command. Wilson and Blake are good and evil personified, with the exception that Blake is capable of violence, while Wilson can only plan it. Surely, these characters were more complex in real life.

These victims, the Clutter family, are the nicest foursome on the planet. Their only concern is for the lives of the other family members: Please don't tie up my wife. Please don't hurt the children. Please be gentle tying up mother. They are the sheep led to the slaughter, unable to comprehend until their final breaths that their lives are about to be snuffed out. After all, why would someone commit such a senseless, horrible crime?

Why indeed. But they don't understand the mindset of the career criminal. I want it, I take it, and I deserve it because I need it. It's all about "I," the opposite of the Clutter family, whose focus is all about "you." The third leg of the triangle are the government investigators, who can't stop present crime, but help prevent future crimes by capturing the cancerous criminals before they can cause further havok. These deadpan but determined individuals are the white blood cells which surround the infidels that don't belong.