It’s here again! THE GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON 2016!
One of the most dread-inspiring Blogathons, featuring a slew of memorable cinematic villains, villainesses & anti-heroes… Thanks to the best writers of the blogosphere Kristina of Speakeasy, Ruth of Silver Screenings, and Karen of Shadows and Satin!
Folie à deux (/fɒˈli ə ˈduː/; French pronunciation: [fɔli a dø]; French for “a madness shared by two”), or shared psychosis, is a psychiatric syndrome in which symptoms of a delusional belief and hallucinations are transmitted from one individual to another.
a·mour fou (ämo͝or ˈfo͞o)
1. uncontrollable or obsessive passion.
“The puzzle and threat of random violence is one of the defining tropes of true-crime”-Jean Murley
In Cold Blood (1967) is director Richard Brooks’s (The First Time I Saw Paris 1954, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 1958, Elmer Gantry 1960) masterpiece of modern nightmarish nihilistic ‘horror of personality.’
The film went on to receive four Academy Award nominations: Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Music Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Columbia Studios actually wanted Paul Newman and Steve McQueen to play the roles and wanted it shot in color. Newman went on to do Cool Hand Luke that year and McQueen starred in The Thomas Crown Affair and Bullitt in 1968. Thank god Brooks got his way and got to do his treatment in Black & White, on location and with lesser-known actors, who both went on to earn Oscar nominations for their chilling performances of the murderous pair.
A post-war true crime thriller, what author Elliot Leyton terms Compulsive Killers: The Story of Modern Multiple Murder, the film is steeped in expressive realism about two thugs Robert Blake as Perry Smith a dark and damaged swarthy angel of death & Scott Wilson (In the Heat of the Night 1967, The Gypsy Moths 1969, The New Centurions 1972, The Great Gatsby 1974, The Right Stuff 1983) as Dick Hickock, who inspire in each other a sense of anti-establishment negativity.
These two drifters, having heard about a wealthy wheat farmer from a fellow inmate, think there is a safe in the house filled with $10,000. The two dark souls take siege upon the rural Holcomb Kansas Clutter family in the middle of the night, hogties them, and look for the money, only to find this clean cut humble family has nothing to steal but $43, a bible and pasteurized milk in the icebox. The two proceed to shotgun murder and cut the throats of the entire household so there are… “No witnesses.” – Dick Hickock. There are two surviving daughters, Beverly and Eveanna that were spared this horror.
John Forsythe plays Alvin Dewey head of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation who goes on the hunt collecting clues and tracking down the killers involved in this sensational crime.
Dewey tracks down these two bad boys, who have fled to Mexico where Perry (Robert Blake) loses himself in fantasies and painful flashbacks of his childhood with a violent father, whoring mother, of buried treasure, and prospecting for gold. Dick (Scott Wilson) gets tired of languishing around listening to Perry’s dreams and convinces him to head back to the States, passing bad checks along the way and winding up in Las Vegas. The police finally catch up with the murderous anti-social duo, where the men are finally broken of their alibi, and they are sentenced to die by ‘the big swing’ hanging.
Some scenes after Mexico…
Holcomb, Kan., Nov. 15  (UPI) — A wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged… There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.
—The New York Times
The film is based on Truman Capote’s nonfiction novel that started the True Crime trend. Capote was looking to write a non-fiction novel and had been inspired by the shotgun murders of the Clutter family when the sensational crime hit the news in 1959.
The two were arrested on January 2, 1960, in Las Vegas and then executed by hanging on April 14, 1965. For the five years the two remained on death row they exchanged letters with Capote twice a week. Capote actually lived near the prison in Garden City and became very close in particular with Perry Smith and Richard ‘Dick’ Hickock. According to Ralph F. Voss in his book Truman Capote and the Legacy of ‘In Cold Blood,’ he writes that Smith had the idea that talking with Capote would spare him from the noose. But when he learns of the working title of the manuscript he winds up confronting Capote, who manages to manipulate him into confessing about the night of the Clutter murders.
Capote tells Smith that “The world will see him as a monster if he doesn’t open up and tell Capote what Capote wants to know.” Eventually, Perry Smith does open up and relates that brutal night in a vivid confession to Capote that winds up being “memorable lines that appear in the book”. As Voss tells us, “It is during this confession that this film, like the book and like both Richard Brook’s and Jonathan Kaplan’s film’s before it portray the brutal murders of the Clutters. Capote marks the fourth time Herb, Kenyon, Nancy, and Bonnie die in artistic representations of their tragedy–once in Capote’s pages, and three times on screen.”
The film doesn’t necessarily convey the emotional conflict that Capote felt for his subjects which is more obvious in his novel, he also created a connection with the killers that would be shared by the reader. According to writer Jean Murley from The Rise of True Crime: The 20th Century Murder and Popular Culture, “The simultaneous evocation of compassion for the murderer and horror at his deeds makes In Cold Blood a new form of murder narration… Capote’s narrative treatment of his subject would draw the reader into an uneasy and unprecedented relationship with killers, creating a sense of simultaneous identification and distance between reader and killer.” Murley asserts that there is a comfortable distance the reader experiences, “a vicarious thrill, a jolt of fear, and a comforting reassurance that the killer is contained.”
Just one more point about Capote’s novel that Jean Murley makes which I think is pretty revelatory about the killer (Perry) referred to as ‘sweet, suave and fascinatingly fatal’… ‘ who was at once a devious and dangerous loner and a sensitive wounded man within that is the notion that Murley distills the ‘ambiguity and intensity of the reader/killer relationship that allows the writer to interrogate notions of good and evil, self and other.” The film while starkly angled from the killer’s point of view for a good deal of the film, doesn’t quite evoke that same sympathetic enigma, though Robert Blake does an incredible job of portraying a wounded soul.
However, Dick Hickock is described and masterfully pulled off by Scott Wilson as “vulgar, ugly, brutal and shallow; he looks like a murderer (the real Hickock looks like a vicious punk) and he wants to rape Nancy Clutter before killing her. Perry Smith is sensitive, handsome, artistic, a dreamer; sickened by Hickock’s lust (there is a scene in the film while the two are in Mexico where Hickock is drinking & carousing with a local working girl in the room with Perry) in the film Perry prevents the rape. And in keeping with the book, Perry almost loses his nerve to even go through with the robbery, getting sick in the gas station right up to the time they drive up to the Clutter’s property. There is some emphasis on Dick’s relationship with his cancer-ridden father (Jeff Corey) which showcases the only genuine connection he has to humanity.
In particular, Capote became very attached to Perry Smith, and struggled with demons about his execution, believing that both men’s natures were impacted by their early roots in poverty. Capote was tormented because he sold his soul to the devil, in order to write this ‘real’ book fueled by a tragic story that ultimately results not only in the murders of the Clutters but in the deaths of his subject of interest Perry Smith who went to the gallows. As Voss calls it, “the cost of literary non-fiction”. He also came to the conclusion that neither man was by himself a mass-murderer, but linked together they fed each-others egos and compensated for their inadequacies, as John McCarty says, “by constantly arousing and bolstering certain expectations of one another, they evolved into a potentially violent third party that was more than capable of murder.”
Eventually, Capote would publish his true crime tome in The New Yorker in four installments between September and October of 1965, published as a book in 1966, and becoming a huge success adapted to film in 1967.
As Jean Murley points out in Rise of True Crime, The 20th-Century Murder and American Popular Culture “Capote brought together and perfected the nascent conventions of what would become true crime, and his basic formula has been copied ever since.”
The film is elevated to a level of intense and searing reality due to brilliant cinematographer Conrad L. Hall’s (Edge of Fury 1958, The Outer Limits television series 1963-64, Harper 1966, Cool Hand Luke 1967, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid 1969, The Day of the Locust 1975, Marathon Man 1976, American Beauty 1999) incredible eye for scoping out a palpable environment filled with dread, tension, and instability in the normally ordinary settings. Either mastering the closed-in spaces between figures who shape the narrative, he also captures the alienation in the scenes when the duo is driving through the dirty dusty openness of the Great Plains. The additional moody atmosphere is lent a heightened sense of anxiety by Quincy Jones’ cool score. The film cast includes; John Forsythe as Alwin Dewey, Paul Stewart as Reporter Jenson, Gerald S. O’ Loughlin as Harold Nye, Jeff Corey as Mr. Hickock, Charles McGraw as Mr. Smith, Sammy Thurman as Mrs. Smith, Will Geer as The Prosecutor.
The film opens with a starkly gloomy night scene, Quincy Jone’s slick score leading us into the scene, as a Greyhound bus heads toward the camera. Inside, Robert Blake dark and brooding is sitting with his guitar. Conrad L Hall lights Perry’s intense face with the strike of a match he uses to light his cigarette. In a powerful moment, it accesses our full attention. Perry blows the little flame out and all at once the scene is wiped out in one puff! The film begins to peak our sense of danger in much the way Robert Siodmak’s masterpiece of film noir The Killers (1964) opening had led us into the plot.
As Jürgen Müller eloquently says it in his overview of 1960s cinema –“In Cold Blood opes with a flash and stealthily proceeds to trap its prey in a fog of eerie cinematic expression, born of its black and white photography and Quincy Jones’ dark jazz score.”
In November of 1959 Kansas, two ex-cons and social outliers, the quiet, yet brooding Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and hyper-kinetic egotist Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) conspire to go out on an adventure to travel 400 miles in a beat-up old Chevy, in order to rob the Clutter family farmhouse. The film is a part genre of the dark road trip film as the two maneuvers, scheme, and machinate on their dark road trip toward their fate. True crime flashback, neo-noir, police procedural, the shades of gray between good vs evil, and a moral commentary on the death penalty, allowing the narrative to elicit sympathy and a vision from both murderers’ point of view, the ‘outlaws perspective’. It is still a very sobering view into the minds of the human offal of society.
Perry Smith’s most infamous statement about the crime, “I thought he was a very nice gentleman. Soft-spoken. I thought so right up to the moment I cut his throat.”
Dick had been fed some gossip by an inmate friend, that Herbert Clutter (John McLiam) a wealthy farmer keeps a fortune, $10,000 stashed in his safe at the house. The two decide that it would be an easy job to grab the loot and head for Mexico, leaving their hard lives behind them. What becomes a spiraling coil of nerves, is fed from both Perry’s apprehension about the plot working and Dick’s cock sure attitude. In the twist of fate, it is Perry’s growing inner aggression that becomes the catalyst for the final annihilation of the family. Though Dick acts the part of punk, saying ‘No Witnesses he is not only priming Perry to be the one to have blood on his hands but by this time it is Perry who at first seems hesitant and adverse to violence, explodes in the cold nuclear fission of seemingly senseless bloodshed.
The way In Cold Blood is constructed, it begins to release the tightly wound coil as the two draw nearer to the Clutter home, we are introduced to this clean-cut American family in their daily life, in the light of the day, showing the family as an ordinary close and loving bunch right before they are about to be slaughtered. By the time the two men arrive, it is the dark and ominous shadow of night cloaking the ranch. Perry and Dick begin to wrangle the family bringing the men down to the basement tied up. But it is the day after the murders once the police arrive and are told later on in flashback that we get hints of the savagery, that we could only imagine was about to happen the night before.
The Kansas police begin their search in vain, as Perry and Dick make it to Mexico to hide out. Dick who is interested in partying with the senóritas Perry lives half in surreal flashbacks to his bleak beginnings as a child with several siblings and his mother a beautiful Native American woman who liked her alcohol and other young men and committed suicide. His brutal father drew a shotgun on him and chased him out of the house. Perry had a grim, sad, and claustrophobic life, and thus he fantasizes. Perry makes a reference to digging for gold just like Humphrey Bogart in The Treasure of the Sierra Madra 1947. The irony of him finding empty bottles in the desert that only yield a few cents, which he shares with a young homeless boy and his grandfather is a particularly humanizing scene in the midst of the fatalistic outcome that is inevitable. Perry never meant to amount to anything but a lost dreamer with no home.
Not only is Perry a dreamer, but Dick is an egomaniac and also has delusions of grandeur. Once the two figure out having to come back to Nevada in order to get some cash, they are quickly picked up by the authorities and charged with the murders. Soon after, they realized they will be facing the death penalty.
Perry revisits that night at the Clutters, flashing moments of the night on the screen. We see them fumbling for the non-existent safe. The mass murder only yielded them a mere $43. We see Perry and Dick rummaging through the house looking for anything valuable. Hall’s camera finally settles on the family coldly bound, gagged, and positioned in a certain way that sends chills up the spine. Ultimately it is here that it is revealed that it’s the reluctant and quietly brewing fury inside Perry that goes on a single rampage and executes each family member calmly and cold-bloodily.
Once again, Jürgen Müller-“The contradictions of the characters give the audience an inkling of what might have led to this senseless act of ultra violence.”
There is an element of homo-erotic attraction between Perry and Dick. It is unspoken yet it’s palpable to me, amidst the warm beer, faded treasure maps, dark brooding antagonism, prison scars, tattoos, sweating, greasy hair, aspirin popping, peacockery, wise-cracking resentment toward society, and the morally driven nuclear family of the mid to late 50s.
From Movie Psychos and Madmen-Film Psychopaths from Jekyll and Hyde to Hannibal Lecter by John McCarty- McCarty’s chapter on Killer Couples points out how Capote’s film was the most “famous example of this type of lethal psychological interrelationship.” And though Smith had boasted to Hickock that he wasn’t a stranger to killing before that fateful night where his pent-up aggression turned violent and he cold-bloodily killed four innocent people. Hickock was the one who “earmarked the Clutters for robbery, and it was he who engineered the heist by passing bad checks to buy the materials needed for the job. More important, it was Hickock, who was the dominant half of the pair.” Hickock appears as the alpha male who uses the term ‘faggot’ too easily and Smith is the submissive lover within the dynamic of their odd relationship. McCarty goes on to write, “Smith looked up to him and slaughtered the defenseless Clutters, toward whom Smith admitted later he never felt any anger, as a way of proving himself to his more glib, brash, and manipulative buddy.”
“You’re good. You’re really good! Smith tells Hickock who moves with ease as he proceeds to con a bunch of store owners passing bad checks. And on the flip side, Hickock is also impressed once Smith kills the helpless Clutters whose only provocation to violence is that they are ordinary. McCarty’s insight points out that like Leopold and Loeb, the same function worked for that killer pair, the less dominant wound up being the one who perpetrated the murder, while the more controlling “partner lent immoral support.”
Here is a recently released article in the Smithsonian about Capote’s long-time friend and writer Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird).
Read Harper Lee’s Profile of “In Cold Blood” Detective Al Dewey That Hasn’t Been Seen in More Than 50 Years
The Big Yellow Bird he is referring to is a symbol, a warrior angel that comes to him in his dreams It is his savior, a protector he had during his dark days. He describes the bird as being “taller than Jesus, yellow like a sunflower.”
The irony of the film plays itself out in little subtle commentaries like the insurance salesman who wishes Herb Clutter the night before he is murdered “A very long and healthy life” or the moment in Las Vegas, Dick at the wheel of the car wanting to gamble because he’s feeling lucky, at that split second the police car pulls up next to them and the scene cuts away to the Perry and Dick being brought in to the station.
Continue reading “The Great Villain Blogathon 2016: True Crime Folie à deux: In Cold Blood (1967) & The Honeymoon Killers (1969)”