There’s a televisual brashness to Richard Brooks’s 1967 film version of Truman Capote’s true-life reportage classic, now on cinema rerelease. It’s strange to think how fast things were working: the book had been published the previous year and the killers executed the year before that.
Robert Blake and Scott Wilson play Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, the two young drifters and ex-cons who broke into a Kansas farmhouse, expecting to find a safe full of money, slaughtered the family and got away with a paltry amount in cash.
Capote’s non-fiction novel brooded on the sheer pointless nightmare, and so does the film, to some extent; the killers’ casual excitement at the prospect of murderous violence is still chilling. But there are ellipses here in which the film averts its gaze from the horror, deferring the key murder scene to the end. And there is a more high-minded emphasis on Blake’s psychiatric disorder and broken family home.
The movie features a fictional choric reporter called Jensen (Paul Stewart), a stoic and traditional-looking newspaperman – very different from the dandyish Truman Capote. Watched again now, In Cold Blood looks similar to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (which is explicitly referenced) and it is a missing link between Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) and Psycho (1960).