An Innovative Film About a Horrifying Crime
In Cold Blood (1967) is the chilling true-crime movie that popularized the genre on the big screen. Based on the equally innovative Truman Capote “non-fiction novel” of the same name, the film depicts an actual quadruple homicide that occurred in the small farm town of Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, and the investigation that followed. Like the more recent murders in Moscow, Idaho, this was a multiple homicide in America’s heartland — and a crime that horrified the entire nation.
Capote, intrigued by the seemingly random and brutal murders, went out to Holcomb (bringing along literary luminary Harper Lee) to cover the story. Six years later, after hundreds of interviews, he produced one of the greatest true crime books ever. It was one of the first written and remains the second-highest selling in the genre of all time (after Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter, covering the Manson murders). At the time, Capote claimed it as a form he invented: a “non-fiction novel.”
The film stays relatively true to Capote’s masterpiece as it dives into a dark, twisted examination of humanity. Directed by Richard Brooks (who also wrote the screenplay), the film brings the two perps in the homicides into focus in an innovative, haunting way. The fact that many of the scenes were filmed in the location where the events occurred, including the Clutter home, contributes to the overall realistic feel. Shot entirely in black and white, using stark lighting and camera angles that put you in the scene, Brooks does a masterful job. It’s a film noir feel, crossed with true crime horror.
The score for the film was written by jazz legend Quincy Jones (incredibly this was Jones’s first foray into film). This is one of the best and most recognizable uses of music in a movie, highlighting the mood and eeriness that Brooks brings to the screen. Jones was present for much of the production and fully grasped the mood of the movie. His use of two acoustic basses to bring forward the different personalities of the two perps is nothing short of genius.
The story of Capote’s writing of the book has, in more recent years, generated some controversy. Was he too close to perp Perry Smith? Did the two in fact have an affair during jailhouse interviews? Did Capote play fast-and-loose with some facts? The ramifications of the cosmopolitan Capote traveling from New York to Kansas to live and write the book has itself inspired two films (Capote  and Infamous ). While Capote is the more successful of the two, it has nowhere near the stark, haunting impact of In Cold Blood.
In Cold Blood is available on Amazon Prime for $2.99. It’s worth every cent, and then some.
Whether you like it or not, it’s a film that’ll stay with you — especially when trying to get to sleep.