Was it the greatest true crime story ever written?
A Heinous Crime
There was some newspaper coverage within the region, but the crime was mostly unknown. The author, Truman Capote who was living in New York, learned of the crime and decided to go to Kansas to investigate. He and his lifelong childhood friend Harper Lee, who would later write “To Kill a Mockingbird,” gathered information and interviewed local residents.
A few months after the executions, Capote’s book “In Cold Blood” was published. The reaction was immediate.
A Literary Classic
I had seen Truman Capote on television and he seemed to me to be a disturbing yet fascinating personality. But I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted to read his book, which I thought would be a detailed description of these grisly murders. But the literary reputation of “In Cold Blood” won me over. I found that it was the most engrossing book I had ever read.
“In Cold Blood” was the first in a new genre. Capote called it a “non-fiction novel.” While it reads like a novel, the characters and events are real. Today, so many television and film plots come right from the news headlines. Capote’s work had started this trend. The beauty and the insight of the prose is staggering. You could almost feel yourself living in Holcomb, Kansas, in 1959.
The 1967 film was directly based on the book. It was filmed in black and white, and felt cold and raw. It was Robert Blake’s finest career performance; he played the murderer Perry Smith. This film was nominated for four Academy Awards. In 1996, the miniseries starred Eric Roberts and Sam Neill, it was also based on the book.
The 2005 “Capote” was different. Instead of reenacting the plot directly, it focused on Truman Capote’s research, with Harper Lee, in writing his book. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, with Philip Seymour Hoffman named Best Actor (his finest
performance to date). The next year the film “Infamous” with Daniel Craig and
Sandra Bullock followed a similar line and was very favorably received.
As good as these film versions are, do yourself a favor on a winter night and settle down with a copy of “In Cold Blood.” The original is still the best.
(Robert Thomas for The Unfolding Journey)