If I had known sooner that there was a film adaptation of Truman Capote’s book In True Blood I know I would have seen it already. This was a book that I read in university as an experiment to see what a true crime book could be like by reading, what is arguably, the best example of one. The book was utterly gripping, and served as a great companion to the film Capote that I had watched four years prior.
When the film started I had immediate misgivings as the music was undeniably sixties, the work of the legendary Quincy Jones, which made me coil up in the fear that be more Sweet Charity and less In The Heat of the Night. I needn’t have worried though as very quickly the film won me over.
This was, in part, due to the eerie way that lead actor Robert Blake resembled real-life killer Perry Smith. If you look at a picture of him side-to-side with the official mugshot it looks like they could have been brothers. This was undeniably a factor in his casting and made extra creepy by the fact that he was involved in a trial for the murder of his wife some 40 years later.
The story of In Cold Blood is fairly obvious in many ways. The main thread is how these two murderers, having murdered the Clutter family, flee from the law before being caught and sentenced to death with the hanging being the climax of the film. By the time they have been apprehended it is easy to think that the film is close to over but actually the last 45 minutes are possibly the best there.
Firstly, I like to draw attention to the image used. This is from a scene where Perry explains his past before he is to be hung. He tells the story of how his father tried to kill him and he expresses his regrets over what has happened. As the character he looks remorseful but it remarkably stone-faced, but the way the rainfall is projected onto his face it appears like he is streaming with tears. It is a powerful shot that really resonated with me.
Then there is the actual scene of the killing. It is something that is reserved to the end since you are not meant to be sure which of the pair did the killing (although is obvious when you watch it) and you know it’s going to happen, but the tension is palpable to the point of the daughter crying as she hears her mother being shot in the other room. It is chilling.
There are many other things hinted during the movie, such as the homosexual undertones between the pair (limited to uses of “baby” and “honey” between the two and the jealousy Perry feels when his partner in crime comes in with a prostitute). Also, there is the cameo of Andy a few cells down in death row. Just reading about his crimes after the film was moderately disturbing.
As a firm opponent of the death penalty it is amazing how a film depicting such a real life atrocity can begin to rock your core belief system. The lawyer in the courtroom says something along the lines of “those who killed without mercy are now asking [the jury] for mercy”. It did give me pause for thought, I will be honest.