Our reviews of Capote / In Cold Blood (Blu-Ray) (published February 11th, 2009) and In Cold Blood (1967) (Blu-ray) Criterion Collection (published December 21st, 2015) are also available.
Murder. Pure and simple.
Based on the novel by Truman Capote, In Cold Blood tells the tale of two callous and unflinching criminals at the top of their game. Perry Smith (Robert Blake, TV's Baretta) and Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson, Dead Man Walking) are two ex-con drifters from Kansas who are looking for the perfect score. When the two hear about a possible safe full of money in the home of the Clutter family—who employed one of Hickock's prison cellmates—they begin a murder spree of epic proportions. Brutally killing both Mr. and Mrs. Clutter, as well as their two teenage children, Dick and Perry take off for Mexico, unaware that they have become suspects in the crime, thanks to the smarts of local authorities, detective Alvin Dewey (John Forsythe, the voice of Charlie in the two Charlie's Angels films), and a band of officers and forensic experts. Once caught by the police, Perry and Dick tell their story through the eyes of killers—one of horror, true evil, and all committed In Cold Blood.
In a way, the film In Cold Blood feels like it was ahead of its time. Starkly realized and shockingly depressing, In Cold Blood is a film that seems an immediate link to far darker movies like The Silence of the Lambs and Se7en. The novel by Truman Capote, who'd in later years become a bit of a wacko with turns in such films as Murder by Death, is a straightforward journalistic account of the Clutter family murder, tinged with the writings of a pulp novelist. In writer/director Richard Brooks film, we're give a glimpse into the mind of the killers, played with icy remorselessness by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson. Needless to say, the film is given even more weight considering Blake's current trial status for allegedly killing his wife a few years back. In Cold Blood may be his coupe de grace: Blake's Perry is a man who's long since left any hints of a good life behind him. While the slight explanation for his crimes is a bit hokey (mama and dada were the main cause of him going rotten), Blake turns in a very well executed performance—pun intended. Wilson, a character actor whose sharp good looks and rugged charm serve him well, is all nervous laughter and twitches as Dick Hickock—a latter day Ted Bundy, as it were. Especially for the time period, the film is given credit for not shying away from the brutality of the crimes and the killers' coarse language and disregard for life. Special mention is also given to Conrad Hall's cinematography—the stark winter and bitter cold of the countryside is rendered beautifully (and is the only beautiful thing you'll find in a movie about two killers slaughtering a peaceful Midwest family). The screenplay often lingers on the police's attempts at piecing together the crime scene (John Forsythe leads with steely eyed drive), while Dick and Perry move from town to town in an attempt to stay free men. It's a cold character study about how men can create such horror in the world without any justifiable cause. In Cold Blood is a film that holds up after 35 years—its missteps are few and the performances are excellent.
In Cold Blood is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. It's a shame that this transfer doesn't look better—there are many instances where dirt, grain, and other imperfections rear their ugly heads. The black and white picture overall looks pretty good, but not great. Aside of the defects, the black levels are appropriately solid and the whites crisp and clean. Although this transfer won't win any awards, fans of the film will most certainly enjoy seeing the film in its original aspect ratio and cleaner than previous VHS versions. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 3.1 Surround in English and Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in French. This sound mix is just so-so—there isn't much in the way of dynamic range or directional effects. Quincy Jones' music score is sometimes a bit overbearing—it's as if someone at Columbia cranked it way up. Most aspects of the mix are free of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Portuguese, Thai, and Korean subtitles.
The extra features on In Cold Blood are floating at the bare minimum. All Columbia's included on this disc are some theatrical trailers for the movies Identity, 8mm, and In a Lonely Place. It's a shame a feature about the true life events that inspired this film wasn't included.
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