Play It Again – In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood

By Glenn Dunks
April 22, 2014

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line. Hey, whatever. It fits!

Featuring some of the bleakest and chilliest black and white photography in cinema history, Richard Brooks’ evocative In Cold Blood is a movie that feels out of its time. Dark in the extreme, but rooted more in classical film-noir than modern coolness, it perhaps gets unfairly positioned behind Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde from the same year in the annals of true-crime fiction. That’s a shame given it is a lofty adaptation of the famed Truman Capote novel; the same that inspired the biopics Capote and Infamous.

In Cold Blood tells the story of Perry (Robert Blake) and ‘Dick’ Hickock (Scott Wilson) as they are confronted by police about their possible involvement in the brutal murder of a local Kansas family. Told in flashback from their getaway, eventual arrest and interrogation, the story builds to a powerful conclusion that holds a strange, atmospheric sense of awe and disbelief whether the viewer is aware of the outcome or not.

In Cold Blood

The Oscar-nominated cinematography is a large part of this; a truly gripping use of the style that spins dread out of the most common of imagery: the expanse of a mid-west farmhouse at night, the spinning of a police light, or a car’s headlight navigating a winding freeway. In an age where B&W camerawork (or, more commonly, the mere desaturation of colour film) is becoming popular again in features that hardly require it, this is a reminder that sometimes black and white imagery can be used to represent and illuminate themes in a striking way. In a twist of fate, cinematographer Conrad L. Hall would later win a posthumous Oscar for his work on another literary crime drama: Road to Perdition.

At over two hours, it’s a slight too long, but the director of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (himself an Oscar nominee for his work here) is able to wring almost unbearable amounts of tension out of the harsh material. With a surprising and wonderful score by the legendary Quincy Jones, plus excellent performances – especially by the now infamous Blake – this is a movie that is every bit as memorable as its source material.


In Cold Blood is available on Quickflix.

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