Literature / In Cold Blood

Considered by somenote  to be the Trope Codifier for the Non-Fiction Novel, In Cold Blood was written by Truman Capote and published in 1966.

It tells the story of Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, two recently-paroled convicts in Kansas. One day in 1959, they hear from a fellow con named Floyd Wells about a farmer he worked for named Herb Clutter. According to Wells, Clutter kept a safe in his house with lots of cash inside. So, the two decide to rob the place, Leave No Witnesses and head for Mexico with the cash. And that's what they do. Except for one small thing: there was no safe.

Capote originally started the book as an article on the massacre. He was able to interview both Smith and Hickock for the project shortly after their arrest. The huge amount of info he got led him to change course during development.

In Cold Blood was adapted into a well-regarded 1967 film directed by Richard Brooks, starring Robert Blake as Smith and Scott Wilson as Hickock. It was also made into a TV miniseries in 1996 starring Anthony Edwards as Hickock and Eric Roberts as Smith. The story of its creation was told twice within a year: first as Capote in 2005, and then as Infamous in 2006.

This work contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Perry's mother had a severe case of alcoholism and a tendency to bring home men whom she had sex with right in front of her children. Perry's father would have killed him if the shotgun hadn't misfired.
  • Affably Evil: While Smith is twitchy with barely suppressed rage, Hickok is a cheerful, affable murderer.
  • Call Back: In the film, Perry tells about his rather odd fantasy of a giant yellow bird saving him from the abusive nuns at his school. When they're getting arrested, Dick says "Hey, Buddy, put in a call for that big, ol' Yellow Bird!"
  • Deliberately Monochrome: By 1967, when most movies were being made in color, making this one in black and white was a deliberate artistic choice.
  • Epigraph: An excerpt from La Ballade des Pendus (the Ballad of the Hanged) by François Villon.
  • Flashback: A flashback in the film to Smith as a child, with his family at the rodeo.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Clutter and his family are killed.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: Rain hitting the window in the movie as Perry Smith sums up his sad life.
  • Imagine Spot: Perry, a would-be guitarist and singer, imagines himself playing a Las Vegas show.
  • Instant Mystery, Just Delete Scene: It starts with the killers arriving at the Clutter farmhouse, and then goes to the aftermath. It goes back in time to explain why it happened.
  • Match Cut: Several in the movie, as when Perry tossing a cigarette off a bridge is followed up by the cops dropping a magnet over a bridge in an attempt to find the murder weapons.
  • Moral Myopia: Both Smith and Hickock feel they are treated unjustly by the townsfolk and the prosecution during the trial, but neither expresses any regret about killing the Clutters.
  • Precision F-Strike: The relaxing of censorship standards by 1967 with the death of The Hays Code led to this being the first American film to use the word "bullshit".
  • The Perfect Crime: In Hickock's words, they thought their plan would be "a cinch, the perfect score."
  • Shown Their Work: The film was shot at the actual locations, including the actual Clutter house. The pictures on the walls are pictures of the real Clutters.
  • Tempting Fate: Hickok, in the tradition of all dumb Vegas gamblers, proposes to Smith that they gamble their last $5 into a stake that will get them out of town. He says "I feel real lucky tonight." Immediately after those words escape his lips, they're pulled over by a cop, which eventually results in them being arrested for the Clutter murders.
  • True Crime: Credited with establishing the modern form of the Genre.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Floyd Wells. It all wouldn't have happened if he had kept his mouth shut about the safe.