(director/writer: Richard Brooks; screenwriter: from the novel by Truman Capote; cinematographer: Conrad L. Hall; editor: Peter Zinner; music: Quincy Jones; cast: Robert Blade (Perry Smith), Scott Wilson (Dick Hickock), John Forsythe (Alvin Dewey), Paul Stewart (Reporter Jenson), Gerald S. O’Loughlin (Harold Nye), Jeff Corey (Mr. Hickock), John Gallaudet (Roy Church); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Richard Brooks; Columbia Pictures; 1967)

“Troubling tabloid headline story that already got the full art treatment from Capote.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Liberal filmmaker Richard Brooks (“Blackboard Jungle”/”Deadline U.S.A.”/”The Professionals”) directs and writes this crime drama that’s based on Truman Capote’s celebrated objective nonfiction reporting of a gruesome Kansas murder case (the article that made him internationally famous) and alters it with his stark realistic version and social impact take on the murders while eschewing sensationalism. The filmmaker follows Capote’s path of obsessive detailed reporting but goes out of his way to humanize the two crazed punk killers in order to understand their motive and in the process foolishly all but ignores the rich farmer family of four who were slaughtered while bound and gagged after roused from their sleep. The cold atmospheric film, shot magnificently by Conrad Hall in breathtaking wide-screen noirish black-and-white and filmed in a documentary style, goes off the track as it makes things unnecessarily complex and becomes hard to put up with all its pretensions that it has something important to say out of this troubling tabloid headline story that already got the full art treatment from Capote.

Parolee Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson) hooks up in Kansas City, Kansas, with parolee Perry Smith (Robert Blake), reuniting after their incarceration in the same prison. The two drifters, with a violent past, on Nov. 15, 1959, at 2 AM, brutally kill all four members of the Clutter family, of Holcomb, Kansas, in a burglary gone bad, as Dick was led to believe by another convict he met in prison, who was formerly employed by the Clutters, that there was $10,000 in a safe in the home. The killers left with only $43.

Lead investigator Alvin Dewey (John Forsythe), of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, doggedly traces the two fugitives when they cash a series of bad checks and make their way to Mexico. The aspirin-addicted and hot-tempered Perry dreams of prospecting for gold in Mexico. When Perry’s scheme proves fruitless, Dick turns them back to the States not realizing his prisoner friend already turned informer. A police dragnet is set up and after a chase through six states, the killers are accidentally apprehended in Las Vegas. After being swiftly brought to trial and convicted, they are sentenced to be hanged at the Kansas State Penitentiary in Lansing on April 14, 1965.

If you are looking for positives in such a bleak story, then it is the brilliant mannered acting of Wilson and Blake. They are scary good as low-class psychopathic killers.