December 17, 1967 [In Cold Blood]

Little Mickey from "Our Gang" has grown up--Robert Blake now as Perry Smith--but still with Mickey's eyes, thinking Mr. Clutter is a very nice gentleman right up to the time he cuts his throat In Cold Blood. And while Truman Capote's book gave me the creeps--with his willingness to make the murders a novel, to arrange it with suspense and pathos, to structure that bloody chaos with chapters and flashbacks--it strangely comforted me with the feeling that one can make sense out of sheer predation--until it is more than that, a kind of shared tragedy, Dick and Perry and the Clutters not the same--but not completely different. Still creepy, I know: But again, the pattern softens the ragged edges.

The movie, though, tears along the seams of Capote's "nonfiction novel," re-opening the gaps, zig-zagging along the border. It has a documentary feel--but with John Forsythe at the helm, Bachelor Father providing his calm voice--juxtaposed for a space with Charles McGraw's, Perry's father, the gravel under the tires as we all drive to Kansas--which, for a little while, feels like a Hitchcock movie--comforting in itself: at least with Hitchcock there's often a little humor, a kind of wink at our frightened selves.

But In Cold Blood refuses to be a suspense story. The camera looks not for thrills but for the cracked mirror, the fragmented view. When Perry talks about his childhood and the rain's reflection falls along his cheeks, it is too heavy a downpour for tears--more like some watery wound opening in his head, as he spills out his own short story devoid of a satisfying punch-line. It is, I must admit, a beautiful scene, as much as any of the motel rooms, bus stations, and blank plains spread out in this movie. But the director, Richard Brooks, knows that beauty is only half of the scary bargain in this movie; the other half is truth, lit by a swinging light bulb in a basement, the mattresses lined up like coffins.


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