In Cold Blood (1967) and Compulsion (1959)

Film Trace

May 21 2023 • 56 mins

The sixth and finale film in our Stranger Than Fiction cycle is Richard Brooks' true crime magnum opus, In Cold Blood (1967).

Often overlooked by the infamy of its origin source, In Cold Blood enormous value as a film: the beautiful and stark cinematography of Conrad Hall (who went on to shoot Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Road to Perdition), the unsettling and rapturous performances of leads Robert Blake and Scott Wilson, the surgical plotting and execution of Richard Brooks. It sits snugly inbetween the post-war studio system and the auteur anarchism of the 1970s. Despite these creative high marks, In Cold Blood could be a thesis statement for this cycle: exploitation and true life film are inseparable. The moral weight of retelling this grisly murder of a family by two drifters is too much for the film, even with its progressive anti-death penalty ideology. But we find interest and discourse in the cracks and fissures of great art. Perfection in film would be a negation of the medium.

For our chaser film, we trace the lineage of true crime back to Compulsion (1959), a mess of a film that is salvaged by wonderful performances from Orson Welles, Diane Varsi, Dean Stockwell, and the truly creepy Bradford Dillman.

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