This double-feature DVD of CAPOTE and IN COLD BLOOD is a handy (and cheap!) way to get two top-notch movies relating the same events with different viewpoints and in very different ways.
As many of you surely know, IN COLD BLOOD the 1967 movie was based on IN COLD BLOOD the book, Truman Capote's phenomenally successful 1966 account of a horrific mass murder in little Holcomb, Kansas in 1959 and the aftermath the killers faced. (Capote insisted on calling his work, oxymoronically, a "non-fiction novel"). By contrast, CAPOTE is a slightly fictionalized 2005 movie spanning the same time frame (1959 and the Clutter family murders to 1965 and the killers' executions). In essence it's an extended "telling of" account with Truman Capote front and center as its lead character, whereas IN COLD BLOOD author Capote stayed journalistically behind the typewriter and out of the original book, as did his research assistant, Nelle Harper Lee, who would go on to become a sensation in mid-1960 with the publication of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. In CAPOTE, mirroring the actual events, Capote and Lee form an investigative duo who scope out Holcomb and the county seat, Garden City, and speak with those who knew the slain.
IN COLD BLOOD the 1967 movie was fairly successful but at the time, though one criticism surprises me: that Alvin Dewey, lead of the K.B.I. team investigating the murders, was a "composite" that included his fellow investigators Church, Duntz and Nye. Actually, all four characters are represented in ths movie, though it's true the Forsythe/Dewey character performs many of the tasks that were in reality performed by others. Note that nearly 40 years later CAPOTE, and its putative rival 2006's INFAMOUS, both relied on the same consolidation of several different investigators into the same character. IN COLD BLOOD the original hardback release had 343 pages; and the standard-run movie of the same name would have had a screenplay of probably no more than 150 pages. Maybe the critical butterflies had to do with the original book's queasy status as a work of reportage and a novel both. After all, Hollywood had been abridging novels like THE MALTESE FALCON or THE GRAPES OF WRATH with impunity for decades, and continues to do so, as in the two recent Capote biopics. If anything, Forsythe's solid but distinctly non-operatic acting style has held up well, as has the semi-documentary, black-and-white composition and editing of the film.
Verisimillitude (or *verismo*) has accrued to IN COLD BLOOD the movie over the years because most exteriors and real-life locales had not changed notably in the eight years between 1959 and 1967. Other than dressing the street with vintage cars, and costuming in slightly out-of-date fashions, reality could be filmed at no extra expense. For example, the "celebrated expresses" (to use Capote's term) Super Chief and El Capitan were filmed speeding through Holcomb, KS on the Santa Fe main line in 1967 as they had in 1959--in later films, it had to be faked.
CAPOTE--though it had to be filmed as an historical piece--is a smooth production. By and large the supporting cast is made up of "actorly" actors like Catherine Keener, Clifton Collins Jr., and Chris Cooper. Even the title character, while indubitably a film star, is also a renowned actor -- Philip Seymour Hoffman, who here is given the challenge of playing a high-voiced, effeminate man considerably shorter than he.
In retrospect, IN COLD BLOOD also achieved a coup in casting Robert Blake, the 1930s child actor who grew up to be a short-statured and somewhat baby-faced adult character actor -- a virtual dead ringer in looks and height to Perry Smith. While I don't object to Philip Seymour Hoffman getting the Oscar for his portrayal of Capote in CAPOTE, I urge viewers to see the following year's INFAMOUS (2006), with Toby Jones playing a wonderful re-creation of the Tiny Terror, and much, much closer to the real Tru's height.
All in all, there's a lot of pleasure to be had out there--this is a good duo to start with.
IN COLD BLOOD movie: *****
CAPOTE movie: ****
Value of combo: ***** (averages to 4.67 rounded to 5 stars)
Reading IN COLD BLOOD the original book: Priceless!