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Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.


In Cold Blood

Plot Overview

In this dramatization of a horrific crime of Nov., 1959, ex-cons Perry Smith (Robert Blake) and Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) rendez­vous at a bus station in Kansas City, Mo. They violate their parole by entering Kansas “the heart of America: land of wheat, corn, Bibles, and natural gas.” They drive 400 miles to Hol­comb to commit a robbery (“a cinch, the perfect score”), and they murder the Clutter family so there will be no wit­nesses when they abscond with their safe full of $10,000.

On the lam Perry says: “Remember Bogart in ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’?” In that movie as well as this one, there was no gold for them.


“In Cold Blood” makes us wonder what's wrong with our society “if this can happen to a decent God-fearin' family.” Among questions posed was, “Why did Cain kill Abel?” The pat answer is, (1 John 3:11–12) “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And where­fore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous.” This is a hard one to grapple with, and since this is a historical film any­way, with history but repeating itself, the best explanation might be discovered reading the precedent: (Jasher 1:13–33)

And [Eve] called the name of the first born Cain, saying, I have obtained a man from the Lord, and the name of the other she called Abel, for she said, In vanity we came into the earth, and in vanity we shall be taken from it. And the boys grew up and their father gave them a possession in the land; and Cain was a tiller of the ground, and Abel a keeper of sheep. And it was at the expir­ation of a few years, that they brought an approxi­mating offering to the Lord, and Cain brought from the fruit of the ground, and Abel brought from the first­lings of his flock from the fat thereof, and God turned and inclined to Abel and his offering, and a fire came down from the Lord from heaven and consumed it.

And unto Cain and his offering the Lord did not turn, and he did not incline to it, for he had brought from the inferior fruit of the ground before the Lord, and Cain was jealous against his brother Abel on account of this, and he sought a pretext to slay him.

And in some time after, Cain and Abel his brother, went one day into the field to do their work; and they were both in the field, Cain tilling and ploughing his ground, and Abel feeding his flock; and the flock passed that part which Cain had ploughed in the ground, and it sorely grieved Cain on this account.

And Cain approached his brother Abel in anger, and he said unto him, What is there between me and thee, that thou comest to dwell and bring thy flock to feed in my land?

And Abel answered his brother Cain and said unto him, What is there between me and thee, that thou shalt eat the flesh of my flock and clothe thyself with their wool?

And now therefore, put off the wool of my sheep with which thou hast clothed thyself, and recompense me for their fruit and flesh which thou hast eaten, and when thou shalt have done this, I will then go from thy land as thou hast said? And Cain said to his brother Abel, Surely if I slay thee this day, who will require thy blood from me?

And Abel answered Cain, saying, Surely God who has made us in the earth, he will avenge my cause, and he will require my blood from thee shouldst thou slay me, for the Lord is the judge and arbiter, and it is he who will requite man according to his evil, and the wicked man according to the wickedness that he may do upon earth.
And now, if thou shouldst slay me here, surely God knoweth thy secret views, and will judge thee for the evil which thou didst declare to do unto me this day.

And when Cain heard the words which Abel his brother had spoken, behold the anger of Cain was kindled against his brother Abel for declaring this thing. And Cain hastened and rose up, and took the iron part of his ploughing instrument, with which he suddenly smote his brother and he slew him, and Cain spilt the blood of his brother Abel upon the earth, and the blood of Abel streamed upon the earth before the flock.

And after this Cain repented having slain his brother, and he was sadly grieved, and he wept over him and it vexed him exceedingly. And Cain rose up and dug a hole in the field, wherein he put his brother's body, and he turned the dust over it.

And the Lord knew what Cain had done to his brother, and the Lord appeared to Cain and said unto him, Where is Abel thy brother that was with thee? And Cain dissembled, and said, I do not know, am I my brother's keeper? And the Lord said unto him, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground where thou hast slain him. For thou hast slain thy brother and hast dissembled before me, and didst imagine in thy heart that I saw thee not, nor knew all thy actions. But thou didst this thing and didst slay thy brother for naught and because he spoke rightly to thee, and now, there­fore, cursed be thou from the ground which opened its mouth to receive thy brother's blood from thy hand, and wherein thou didst bury him.

And it shall be when thou shalt till it, it shall no more give thee its strength as in the beginning, for thorns and thistles shall the ground produce, and thou shalt be moving and wandering in the earth until the day of thy death. And at that time Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, from the place where he was, and he went moving and wandering in the land toward the east of Eden, he and all belonging to him.

Perry is seen as a cattle wrangler from his boyhood memories and his familiarity with rope. The Clutter family raised some kind of crop, they didn't have to get up early to, say, milk the cows. Dick had “an aversion to nuns and God and religion,” but the Clutters attended church faith­fully: “I'll pick you up at church tomorrow”; and they said their prayers at night.

The problem Cain and Abel encountered was the land was cluttered with both their enter­prises, they tripped over each other. The Clutters' history was cluttered, too, with ex-hired hands, one of whom told a fool tale in prison of hoarded "gold." As William H. Love­joy expressed it once in a novel, “Try as he might to make his own life approach per­fec­tion, Kerry had learned that it prob­ably wasn't going to happen. Other people were going to stumble into his path” (173). Prison talk brought the two god­less ex-cons after them for their putative hoard. After their murder, the ex-cons became vaga­bonds and headed down to Mexico, but just as Abel's blood cried out from the ground for vengeance, so did bloody foot­prints speak to our modern forensic science.

The prosecutor in closing argument advocated for capital punishment:

From the way the Holy Bible was quoted here today, you might think the word of God was written only to protect the killers, but they didn't read you this: Exodus 20:13, Thou shalt not kill. Or this: Genesis 9:6, “Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”

Production Values

“In Cold Blood” (1967) was written for the screen by Richard Brooks who also directed it. Truman Capote researched the story to produce the historical novel: In Cold Blood from which was derived the movie. It stars Robert Blake, Scott Wilson, John Forsythe, Paul Stewart, and Gerald S. O'Loughlin. The parts were acted with­out excessive dramatic flair. The focus was on the bad guys who were portrayed as pathetic, not sympathetic. On-the-scene shots were used to add authen­ticity to the story. The back­ground music of Quincy Jones struck the appropriate chord: jazz riffs for the bad guys, piano harmonies for the good. Smooth segues and expert cutting kept the film from drifting into dulls­ville.

Some lines were crossed in 1967 with the use of bad language. Robert Blake's comment on a Bogart movie happened to be one he was in as a kid hustling pesos from sale of lottery tickets.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

I once had the privilege of working on a hog farm in Kansas. The family that owned it were hard working, faithful to God, and generous to others, typical of Kansas families in general and char­acter­istic of the Clutters in particular. When the prosecutor summed up to the jury that “your neighbors were slaughtered like hogs in a pen,” the image was easily grasped, and the biblical injunctions about the punish­ment for murder were clear-cut, so the verdict came as no surprise.

This movie is suitable for someone who likes history or likes crime stories. It's not embellished enough, though, to appeal to some­one into imaginative fiction. It was well researched and well presented as far as that goes.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes.

Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age.

Special effects: Average special effects.

Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day.

Overall product rating: three stars out of five.

Suspense: A few suspenseful moments.

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

The Book of Jasher. Trans­lated from the Hebrew into English (1840). Photo litho­graphic reprint of exact edition published by J.H. Parry & Co., Salt Lake City: 1887. Muskogee, OK: Artisan Pub., 1988. Print, WEB.

Lovejoy, William H. China Dome. New York: Pinnacle Books, 1995. Print.