The Capote adaptation “In Cold Blood” hit the mark in 1967 – and ignited the enthusiasm for true crimes in the film.
Most Hollywood directors would have shed tears of emotion in 1967 had they been offered Paul Newman and Steve McQueen as leading actors. Not Richard Brooks, who was notoriously difficult in studio circles.
The American filmmaker told production company Columbia Pictures his next project wouldn’t work with such famous faces.
His next project: the film adaptation of “In Cold Blood”, Truman Capote’s factual novel, which had been published the previous year. A book that was hotly debated not only in literary criticism.
Four murders and one unsuccessful escape
In his novel, Capote, one of the most colorful American writers, deals with a quadruple murder in Kansas in November 1959. The suspects, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, were two former prisoners.
The two hoped to find a safe with a moderate fortune in cash on wealthy Herb Clutter’s farm. Their meager haul: a portable radio, binoculars, and less than $50.
Clutter, his wife and their two youngest children were dead. A month and a half later, suspects Smith and Hickock were arrested in Las Vegas and executed in Kansas in April 1965.
friendship with a murderer
For his years of research, Capote made repeated trips to Kansas, where he spoke to residents of the city, the police, and several times to the perpetrators. He developed a close and not entirely uncomplicated relationship with one of the two in particular, Perry Smith.
Bennett Miller’s «Capote» (2005) addresses this emerging bond between Capote and Smith. In the biopic, the exceptional actor Philip Seymour Hoffman mimes the eccentric writer – worthy and winner of an Oscar.
With his film adaptation of «In Cold Blood», Richard Brooks strived for a high degree of realism. That’s why he cast the almost completely unknown Robert Blake and Scott Wilson for the roles of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock.
Between realism and voyeurism
Elsewhere, however, the ambition to be close expressed itself in a kind of morbid voyeurism. Was it necessary to shoot at Clutter Farm? And what value does it add to the audience to use actual Kansas State Penitentiary uniforms and execution belts?
In terms of marketing, this approach was always a complete success. Journalists from all over the country attended the shooting.
A few years before the Manson Family murders, “In Cold Blood” sparked a fascination with the true crime genre in both novel and film form that continues to this day.