Oscar Movies: In Cold Blood (1967)–Screen Version of Truman Capote

With “In Cold Blood,” author Truman Capote tried to create a new genre, the “non-fiction novel.”  His goal was to bring the strategies and techniques of fiction—artistic selection and the novelist’s eye for telling detail—to the writing of non-fiction. He wanted to show that a factual
narrative could be as gripping and insightful as the fictional thriller.

In his book, he managed to transport the readers to the high plains of western Kansas. “The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler
reaches them.”

By the third page, when four shotgun blasts brea the prairie silence, the reader is hooked. “The most perfect writer of my generation,” Norman Mailer had called Capote.  “In Cold Blood”had huge influence on other writers. Until its publication in 1966 writers of talent felt they had to follow in the footsteps of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Faulkner and write fiction. Non-fiction was for historians and journalists. Capote opened a new
path.

In the decades that followed many of the best writers in America found their subjects in the gritty world of real events. Capote’s influence extends into the twenty-first century, and writers who may never have read “In Cold Blood”write the way they do because of Capote’s style.

In 1967, a year after the book came out, director Richard Brooks came to Holcomb to make the screen version. Avoiding Hollywood slickness, Brook shot in black and white and cast unknowns Robert Blake and Scott Wilson as Perry Smith and Dick Hickock. However, he did cast well-known TV and film actor John Forsythe (later in Charlie’s Angels and Dynasty) as Alvin Dewey.

 

Shooting took place in the Clutter house and other real-life locations. Brooks filmed 7 of the original jurors, the actual hangman, and Nancy Clutter’s horse, Babe. Truman arrived during the shoot, attracting enormous attention and press coverage, until Brooks, seeing him as a distraction, asked him to leave. Truman obliged, but not before he posed with Blake and Wilson for the cover of Life magazine.

 

A great commercial and critical success, the film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (Brooks), Best Cinematography (Conrad L. Hall), and Best Music (Quincy Jones).

 

Two drifters, played by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, murder a Kansas family just for kicks.  They are caught, tried and executed

 

A chillingly effective adaptation of Truman Capote’s celebrated nonfiction novel, the movie set the standards by which subsequent docudramas should be made and evaluated.

 

“In Cold Blood” may be too long, and occasionally, it indulges in naïve psychology.  However, even by today’s standards, its
violence is shocking

 

Oscar Nominations: 4

Director: Richard Brooks

Screenplay (Adapted): Richard Brooks

Cinematography: Conrad Hall

Original Music: Quincy Jones

 

Oscar Awards: None

 

Oscar Context:

 

The film was released the same year as “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Graduate.”  It dealt in a more extreme fashion with the issues of rootlessnes and alienation portrayed in those more popular, Oscar-winning movies.

 

Brooks’ effort failed to received Best Picture nomination because Columbia, which also released “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” put its promotional effort behind that film, under the assumption that it had a better chance at the award than “In
Cold Blood.”

 

Brooks lost the directing Oscar to Mike Nichols, and the writing Oscar to Stirling Silliphant, for “In the Heat of the Night.”  Burnett Guffey won for cinematography for “Bonnie and Clyde.”  The scoring award went to Elmer Bernstein for “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”