First of all, I will not make any jokes about Robert Blake and murder. It is a cheep shot and has nothing to do with the movie. I try to keep private lives out of my opinions regarding film. I disagreed with Charlton Heston a lot, but that didn't color the way I saw his movies.
That being said, now let me defend the title of this post
After the brutal murder of a rural family, due to a botched robbery, two drifters elude police, in the end coming to terms with their own mortality and the repercussions of their vile atrocity. That's how IMDB sees it and I wont argue.
Richard Brooks is the director as well as producer and screen writer. It is all based on the excellent book by Truman Capote, by the same title..
Acting wise, it is Robert Blake's movie. No question. His portrait of Perry Smith is done in both fine and broad strokes. Although we never loose sight of the fact that he is a killer, we want to follow this complex human being. Not in a morbid way, but in a humane way.
Scott Wilson has the harder role of Richard “Dick” Hickock, a man with a thin coating of the boy from one farm over, covering a self loathing closet case. As an actor he is given the difficult task of anchoring Perry's character in our emotions. He does this quite well.
When I saw that John Forsythe was going to play the KBI investigator, Alvin Dewey, all I could think of was his role as TV's “Bachelor Father”. He surprised me. His underplaying made every line he spoke memorable.
The victims are portrayed by Jon McLiam (father) Ruth Storey (mother) Paul Hough (son) and Brenda C. Currin (daughter) The first two actors were supposedly chosen for their resemblance to the real victims. The son and daughter were not.
Will Geer has a single scene as the prosecutor.
Charles McGraw and Jeff Corey play Perry and Dick's fathers respectively.
You'll notice Vaughn Taylor as the man who picks up the killers as hitchhikers on the lam. You remember him as the boss who looses all the money in “Psycho” and countless other performances.
Raymond Hatton in his last role plays an old hitchhiker. Although he has no lines, I remember his performance. He was a sidekick and sometimes star of lots of Gower Gulch westerns. Remind me to do a post on that subject sometime.
Paul Frees is credited with “Radio Announcer”, but his voice shows up a lot, dubbing for non-actors in several roles.
Things You Might Not Know
The movie was shot on many of the original locations. The house use in the film is the one where the brutal murder took place in 1959. Not only was the murder sequence filmed in the actual house, but director Richard Brooks obtained original furniture that had been sold or given away and used it as well. Also all the scenes in the film were shot in the actual locations where they happened--- from bus station bathrooms to clothing stores where bad checks were passed.
The actual courtroom where the real trial occurred was used along with some members of the real jury.
Blake and Wilson were chosen for their resemblance to the real killers.
These are the mug shots of the real killers. Notice the similarities. Although, the studio reportedly wanted Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. To me, this sounds like Hollywood press.
In one of the final sequences for a moment, Blake thinks he sees Charles McGraw (the actor who played his estranged father) in the hangman's place. Then after a cutaway, the original man is in McGraw's place. And he is supposed to be the actual hangman. It should be noted, the Kansas authorities, deny this.
The movie also self references itself. Perry, played by Blake, talks about his favorite movie, “Treasure of Sierra Madre” a movie that Robert Blake appeared in as a boy.
The film was originally shot with a three channel stereo sound track, but unfortunately released in mono.
The Film As I See It
The movie has hundreds of references to the act of meshing. The musical soundtrack, by Quincy Jones blends into the sound effect, some times to the point of not being able to hear where one ends and the other begins. Case in point, when the bus pulls into the Kansas City station, the note we hear quickly “meshes” into the sound of the squeaky breaks on the bus.
Fast edit cuts show people asking questions answered by people in other scenes, usually mile away.
The point of all this, once again, as I see it, is the two men by themselves are not capable of killing. But put them together, and they “mesh” into a third personality, that find murder quite easy.
Got another opinion, or a fact I missed. Love to hear it.