Capote/In Cold Blood
Sony/Columbia/Sony Pictures Classics
1967 (In Cold Blood)
Rated: R (both features)
134 minutes (In Cold Blood)
114 minutes (Capote)
2.35:1 1080p black & white (In Cold Blood)
2.35:1 1080p color (Capote)
English, French Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (In Cold Blood)
English, French, Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Spanish 5.1 (Capote)
English, English SDH, French, Arabic, Dutch (In Cold Blood)
English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Dutch (Capote)
I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat. - Perry Smith
When I was 17 years old I used some money which I had gotten for Christmas to purchase a first edition of Truman Capote’s new book, IN COLD BLOOD. In fact I still have it, complete with an intact dust jacket. I do not recall why I was sufficiently interested in the book to lay out more than four of my precious dollars for it, but it grabbed my attention and I could not put it down. The book remains just as compelling today.
Shortly after midnight on November 15, 1959 the rural tranquility of Holcomb, Kansas was shattered by the shocking and seemingly senseless slaying of the Clutter family. The victims were a prominent wheat farmer, his wife and two children. They had been murdered in their home. There was no apparent motive and the police had no suspects.
Herbert W. Clutter, then 48 years of age, was the owner of one of Finney County’s most prosperous farms. He lived in a large, fourteen room house with his semi-invalid wife, Bonnie, and two children -- Nancy, who was 16, and Kenyon, 15 (two older daughters were no longer living at home). Herb Clutter was one of the leading citizens of Finney County and he was reputed to be the second-wealthiest resident of Holcomb. It is not entirely clear why Mrs. Clutter was a virtual recluse, but the evidence suggests that she was suffering from pronounced mental illness. It was widely know that she often traveled to a hospital in Wichita for treatment. Nancy - pretty, friendly, and bright - arguably was the most popular girl in her school. Kenyon was something of a loner, but he was a prolific reader who excelled in his studies. Kenyon was slightly cockeyed, which undoubtedly contributed to his reputation among his peers for being something of an eccentric genius. Susan Kidwell, Nancy's best friend, said of Kenyon, "He liked to be alone, to live in a world by himself. He was shy and quiet."
The two men responsible for the murders, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, were recent parolees from the Kansas State Penitentiary. While in prison Hickock had heard tales of Herb Clutter's wealth, including a fanciful story about an office safe in the Clutter home which supposedly contained $10,000 in cash. Ironically, it was common knowledge in Holcomb that Herb Clutter rarely carried more than pocket change, and virtually all of his financial transactions were made by check. Smith and Hickock planned to enter the home, steal the money, and "leave no witnesses."
Truman Capote had never heard of Holcomb until he came across a brief story about the murders in The New York Times. He had been mulling over the idea of doing a work of non-fiction, and his instincts told him that this crime presented some exciting narrative possibilities. Who were the Clutters? What forces had conspired to make them victims of such wanton brutality? What impact did the crime have on the people of Holcomb? "I wanted to write what I called a nonfiction novel,” Capote later said, “a book that would read exactly like a novel except that every word of it would be absolutely true."
The Clutter murders would have a profound effect on Capote. He spent nearly six years working on the book. He wrote a compelling, meticulously detailed story, brilliantly weaving together the lives of the victims, their friends, and the killers. However, IN COLD BLOOD does not tell the full story. Capote's research notes, which were donated to the New York Public Library after his death, are exhaustive in scope and brutally frank in content. To this day, there is resentment in Holcomb about what is perceived as Capote's exploitation of the Clutter tragedy. Many of those who cooperated with him later felt that he went too far in reporting details of their personal lives. They likely would have been outraged if they had known how Truman Capote really felt about them - and the Clutters.
Capote's first impression of Holcomb was that of a "rather forlorn little hamlet." In the weeks after the murders there was an undercurrent of suspicion in Holcomb, a suspicion which went far beyond the inevitable and entirely understandable run on deadbolt locks. Because most residents had discounted robbery as a motive (who would murder an entire family for the pittance of cash which would have been in the Clutter home?), it was assumed that the killings had been perpetrated by someone who knew the family and had a grudge to settle. That meant it was probably a neighbor, either in Holcomb or nearby Garden City (although some people actually entertained the idea that Bonnie had gone berserk and shot her family). Even when the real killers were arrested and their identities made public, there was a lingering belief that they were "hit men" who had been put up to the deed by someone else.
In Capote's mind, the identification and capture of the killers was a matter of secondary importance -- indeed, when he arrived in Garden City on December 16, 1959 the police had virtually no leads, so there was a distinct possibility that the crime might never be solved. To accomplish his objectives Capote needed to find out everything he could about the Clutters. The only way to do that was to win the trust and confidence of the people who best knew the Clutter family.
The New York Times article had provided Capote with enough information to give fair warning that he was venturing into foreign territory. The citizens of Holcomb were stern, sober, Christian people, and most of them likely would have shunned the author's company had they any inkling of his hedonistic lifestyle. As it turned out, his appearance and mannerisms were enough to put off many of the Kansans he met. One farmer remarked that Capote reminded him of "a little old banty rooster."
Recognizing that he had a daunting task ahead of him, Capote enlisted the assistance of childhood friend Harper Lee, the soon-to-be-published author of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Together they set out to overcome the resistance of the locals and speak to as many people as possible. They proved so adept at the task that most of their subjects were scarcely aware of the fact that they were being interviewed. Taking no notes during the questioning, Capote and Lee retired to their hotel at the end of each day and carefully recorded their observations.
Capote found Garden City and its environs to be too Christian and too Republican for his taste. The city had twenty-two churches - roughly, one for every 500 residents - and Kansas had given Eisenhower 65% of its vote in 1956. However, Capote was amused to discover that even in Garden City it was possible to find gallows humor, as when he noted that the newest drink in town, a concoction of vodka and cranberry juice, had been dubbed "The Bloody Clutter."
He clearly enjoyed a few of the people he met, particularly colorful characters such as Bess Hartman, owner of the local cafe, and Myrtle Clare, who ran the Holcomb Post Office. They were valuable sources of gossip, and Capote cultivated their friendship. Another was Alvin Dewey, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent who gave Capote detailed information about the questioning of Smith and Hickock, their subsequent confessions, and the evidence which had been collected. Capote's relationship with Dewey began on the wrong foot. Dewey was less than enthralled when Capote announced that he had no particular interest in the capture of the murderers, but the two eventually became fast friends and remained close even after IN COLD BLOOD was published. Dewey and his wife were guests at Capote's famous masked ball in 1966, and they visited him in New York and Palm Springs many times in ensuing years.
Others were held in less esteem. Myrtle Clare may not have been so cooperative if she had known that Capote had recorded in his notes that her mother, Sadie Truitt, was "a dumpy, peasant-faced old crone." Of one Holcomb couple, Mr. and Mrs. William Warren-Browne, Capote wrote, "There is something rather fishy, certainly phony, about this couple." Clarence Ewalt, father of one of the girls who discovered the Clutter bodies, was another target of Capote's caustic pen. "He does not seem to be very popular in the community...he seems, in some indefinable way, egotistical and not very pleasant." Harper Lee did not much care for Ewalt either, referring to him as a "self-important little man." Duane West, the Finney County attorney, came under fire because of his attempts to take credit for solving the case. Capote found West's behavior "disgusting."
Capote's other indispensable sources of information were Susan Kidwell and her mother, Wilma. Susan had been Nancy Clutter's best friend, and Wilma, a music teacher, was probably the closest thing Bonnie Clutter had to a friend. Capote seemed to sense a kindred spirit in Susan, a sensitive girl who had just lost her only close friend. In spite of Capote's apparent empathy for Susan, his notes reflect that she would not have consented to his interviews but for the prodding of her mother. In order to gain access to Susan, Capote and Lee feigned friendship with Mrs. Kidwell, whom they regarded as a "thoroughly grim woman."
Wilma and Susan lived alone in the Teacherage, a drab apartment house which served as home for a number of faculty members at the Holcomb School. Mrs. Kidwell's husband had deserted his wife and daughter, and the evidence suggests that even by Holcomb standards Susan had a very sheltered adolescence. It is apparent from Capote's papers that he and Lee intensely disliked Mrs. Kidwell, mostly because of the way she treated Susan. Lee thought that Mrs. Kidwell was "pathologically possessive and striving regarding Susan...[she] seems a gorgon in the matter of Susan and boys [and has] incurred the wrath and hatred of her daughter through neurotic possessiveness." On one occasion, while Capote was interviewing Susan, he noted that she flashed her mother a look of "infinite hatred" when Mrs. Kidwell encouraged her to talk about seeing Nancy Clutter's body in the funeral home. In spite of Susan's discomfiture, Capote completed the interview and described the funeral home incident in his book.
In addition to disliking Mrs. Kidwell, Capote had reservations about her reliability as an historian. Susan had told Capote that her mother nearly fainted upon hearing about the murders. According to Capote, "Mrs. K. denied this, but she's not trustworthy." Harper Lee shared Capote's misgivings. Susan related to her a story about an automobile outing she and her mother had taken with Nancy. They had gone in Mrs. Kidwell's car, and afterwards Nancy gave Wilma $5.00 for gas. Mrs. Kidwell explained to Lee that she took the money under protest, and that she subsequently refused to bill Nancy for several music lessons to even things up. As Lee noted, "This is probably a thumping lie." Nevertheless, one of IN COLD BLOOD's most moving passages, a story about how Mrs. Clutter shut herself up in her sweltering bedroom during a summer picnic at the Clutter farm, is based entirely upon Wilma Kidwell's recollection.
Many years later Wilma Kidwell stated, "I can say we were very good friends with Mr. Capote and feel we were treated fairly in every way." Of course, she scarcely had any reason to complain about how she was ultimately portrayed in the book. Apart from one of her fellow teachers referring to her as being "high-strung," IN COLD BLOOD has nothing bad to say about Wilma Kidwell.
The most barbed comments were reserved for Herb Clutter. Lee assessed him thusly: "His life was blameless, closely woven -- so closely woven that there is not a shred of evidence of any deviation from the set pattern of total abstinence, absolute honesty in his business dealings, a striver to make better the lives of those under his care, a worker for church and civic causes, a careful manager, methodical, earnest, cheerfully sober. No wonder his wife was seeing a head shrinker."
Most of Capote’s jaundiced opinions about Holcomb’s residents never saw their way into print. Indeed, his approach to the book changed dramatically when Smith and Hickock were captured. He discovered that the stories of the killers were more intriguing than the lives of the Clutters. In particular, Capote found himself drawn to Perry Smith, a poorly-educated man with artistic and musical pretensions who had led an especially troubled life. Many residents of Holcomb and Garden City cling to the belief that IN COLD BLOOD affords too much sympathy to the murderers and too little to the victims. As a Holcomb police officer put it, "I've never read Capote's book, but I understand he was real sympathetic to the killers, writing about what rough lives they had. That didn't go over too well here."
In order to gain the cooperation of Smith and Hickock, Capote had to convince them that he was trying to help them with their appeals following the trial, which ended with convictions and death sentences. As the years passed, Capote’s relationship with the prisoners became increasingly troublesome for him, because it was evident that he would never be able to complete the book until the two men were actually executed.
Capote’s experiences in western Kansas made a lasting impression upon him. When he returned to Holcomb in 1967 to observe the filming of In Cold Blood, he was haunted by the realistic recreation of the events. It was difficult enough to see the murder scenes being filmed in the actual Clutter house, but Capote was struck by the fact that actors Robert Blake and Scott Wilson eerily resembled the real killers. Blake, in particular, was a dead-ringer for Perry Smith. Retreating to his motel room in Garden City, Capote drank a pint of Scotch in less than 30 minutes and passed out. The next morning he made the following entry in his journal: "Woke in the morning with fever, television still going and total lack of knowledge of where I was or why. All unreal because too real, as reality's reflections tend to be."
Sony has packaged two first-rate Blu-ray presentations – In Cold Blood (1967) and Capote (2005) - into a two-disc double feature.
The former movie was strikingly filmed in black and white by Conrad Hall and includes a dazzling score by Quincy Jones. Expertly directed by Richard Brooks, the film also boasts superb performances by Robert Blake and Scott Wilson. Brooks, constrained by having to tell the story in a little more than two hours, chose to make the killers the focus of In Cold Blood. Capote regretted this development. He was particularly disturbed that Susan Kidwell is barely mentioned in the film, but he understood that such artistic decisions had to be made. In any event, the result is a wonderful film which was nominated for four Academy Awards. The sense of immediacy and realism is heightened by the decision to film much of In Cold Blood on location in Holcomb and Garden City.
Capote is a superb companion piece, with a tour de force Academy Award-winning performance by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the title character. The movie follows Capote as he and Harper Lee (deftly played by Catherine Keener, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress) travel to Kansas to look into the killing of the Clutter family. Capote is a compelling film which focuses on Capote’s dilemma when it becomes evident that his efforts to help Smith and Hickock with their appeals are delaying the completion of his book. The film is similar to In Cold Blood in that the emphasis is on the killers – in particular, Capote’s relationship with Smith – and the author’s interactions with the citizens of Holcomb are covered in a rather perfunctory manner. However, there is one significant scene in which Capote and Lee interview “Laura Kinney,” who is a composite character based primarily upon Susan Kidwell. Susan arguably was Capote’s most important source of information about the Clutters. It is likely that the real Susan Kidwell, who for the past four decades has declined to discuss the Clutter murders, refused to allow her name to be used. The capable supporting cast includes Chris Cooper as Alvin Dewey. Clifton Collins Jr. does a capable job portraying Perry Smith but, through no fault of his own, his performance pales in comparison to that of Robert Blake.
Taken together, In Cold Blood and Capote make a terrific double feature. However, keep in mind that they tell only part of the story. After you watch the films, you will do yourself a favor if you read the book.
The 1080p 2.35:1 black & white transfer of In Cold Blood is superb. Contrasts are excellent, black levels are solid, and shadow detail is very good. The picture is sharp and exquisitely detailed. A moderate level of film grain allows In Cold Blood to retain a highly satisfying cinematic quality. The Blu-ray transfer provides a vivid sense of dimensionality. One scene, in which mailbags are tossed from a train at the Holcomb train depot, you will almost swear that the bags are going to end up at your feet. Conrad Hall’s outstanding cinematography has never looked better. The standard definition DVD which was released in 2003 looks very good, but an A/B comparison demonstrates that the Blu-ray picture is noticeably more detailed.
The 1080p 2.35:1 color transfer of Capote likewise is excellent. The colors are somewhat muted by design, given that much of the film takes place in winter (during a period when there was no snow on the ground in Winnipeg, where much of Capote was filmed) or in prison, but they are solid even though not especially vivid. Flesh tones appear to be accurate. The Blu-ray transfer is sharp, contrasts and black levels are very good and shadow detail is fine. A moderate and appropriate level of film grain helps to make Capote look just as I remember seeing it in a theater.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 audio for In Cold Blood is excellent. My sources indicate that this was originally recorded in three-channel stereo, and that is pretty much how it sounds. I detected very little activity in the surround channels, but there wasn’t supposed to be anything there in the first place. Stereo separation is excellent and the Quincy Jones score, which deservedly was nominated for an Academy Award, sounds terrific. The dialogue is clear and intelligible. I have no complaints about the audio.
The Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 audio for Capote likewise is very satisfying. As you might expect, there is nothing here to tax your sound system, but overall it is very evocative and pleasing. The score by Mychael Danna (The Sweet Hereafter, Little Miss Sunshine) is not in the same league as Quincy Jones’ score, but it is more than adequate. The dialogue is very clear, which is important because Truman Capote’s voice, as re-created by Philip Seymour Hoffman, takes some getting used to.
The standard definition supplemental materials on this Blu-ray double feature include nothing new. There are no extras at all for In Cold Blood. The supplements for Capote are the same extras which appear on the standard-definition DVD which was released in 2006.
A two-part “making of” featurette consists largely of still photographs and interviews with the producers, director, screenwriter and principal actors. Much of the talk is about how the film was made in Winnipeg to minimize the expense. When they could not find a suitable house to stand in for the Clutter farm, they rehabilitated a vacant house which had been empty for 45 years.
Also included is a short, superficial featurette on the life of Truman Capote called “Answered Prayers.” The title comes from Capote’s unfinished novel – indeed, he never completed another book after IN COLD BLOOD. The most interesting segment is from a 1960s interview in which Capote talks about how many wonderful friends he made while in Kansas. This of course contrasts with the pointed comments which he made about the Kansans in his contemporaneous notes for the book.
Finally, there are two commentary tracks. One features Philip Seymour Hoffman and director Bennett Miller; the other has Miller speaking with cinematographer Adam Kimmel. Hoffman makes some revealing comments about how he searched to get a feel for his character; when filming began he still felt very uneasy about his performance.
Overall, the supplements are a disappointment. It would have been nice if Sony had produced some exclusive material for the Blu-ray discs.
The two discs comes in a standard Blu-ray keepcase.
The Final Analysis
Although the dearth of original supplemental materials is a disappointment, admirers of In Cold Blood and Capote are sure to appreciate this double feature.
Viewers who are interested in the making of the film In Cold Blood may want to search out the May 12, 1967 issue of Life magazine, which contains a lengthy article about the location filming. The magazine’s cover photo shows Capote standing on a dirt road in Kansas, flanked by Robert Blake on his left and Scott Wilson on his right.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray Player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: February 17, 2008