Monday, 20 October 2014

Alternate Best Actor 1967: Robert Blake in In Cold Blood

Robert Blake did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Perry Smith in In Cold Blood.

In Cold Blood is a very effective film about the true story of two men who go on the run after murdering a family.

The film follows the two men who are both ex-cons although rather different in terms of personality. Dick Hickock (Scott Wilson), who is treated as basically a non-entity in Capote, is the more traditional stick up artist who is part brute part slick con man. Where Dick is quite extroverted as portrayed by Wilson, Blake portrays Perry as a particularly introverted sort. In his earliest scene we see Perry as he makes a phone call to the Reverend from his old prison and attempts to contact someone while indicating that he likely will be breaking his parole. Blake is extremely effective in portraying Perry's particular manner that is somewhat troubling from the beginning although not immediately as something one would think would lead to murder. Blake conveys the emotional vulnerability of Perry incredibly well in the scene as he speaks to reverend showing him as almost begging for some sort of help before he is about to embark on something he definitely will never be able to return from.

After failing to make contact we are given a brief moment with Perry alone before he meets with Dick. Perry looks into the mirror imaging himself performing in Vegas. There are several scenes of Perry either daydreaming or imaging some event in his past or something created in his imagination. This may have seemed tacky if it were not for Blake's performance which makes every one of them work. Blake plays Perry as a man who at times seems partly not of the present as he seems to dream often and constantly. Blake doesn't show this to be that of a romantic dreamer though, but rather there is something unpleasant about this dreaming. Blake infuses in these moments such a palatable pain as Perry is not really dreaming about something or someplace that is better than his current predicament exactly to escape. Perry instead is either thinking about the past events that have permanently changed him or seeing a life he knows he will most certainly never have. 

Blake conveys so much in a single expression in these moments and each one is a memorable moment because of this. In Blake's eyes one can see the past of Perry whether it is remembering his abusive father or the heartache of remembering his dead mother whom he admired deeply. Blake is absolutely haunting in these scenes by realizing the emotional complexity they mean to Perry and how they turned him into the man he is. Although perhaps there is a hint of happiness connected to his mother, Blake suggests mostly Perry is a man who is unable to think without remembering these thing that only cause him distress. This leaves Blake to be especially good in just the way he is in every scene to have a certain morose manner about himself. Blake's performance though is most striking because the state he leaves Perry in isn't just as some sort of sad sack, but rather Blake shows that there is something most unnerving about this sadness.

One thing that stands out about the film are the interactions between Perry and Dick which are most unusual. Although they are partners throughout the film they are hardly friends and Blake and Wilson strikes about a very peculiar chemistry with one another.  There is a certain bit of warmth the two create quite naturally in the moments where they have slight prosperity and they carry the right casual manner with another to show their history together. Their relationship goes beyond that though as it was together that they perpetuated their evil. The two are very effective in portraying a certain aggressive quality and tension in almost every scene between the two that is particularly notable by their personality differences. When they speak about killing comes off as particularly disturbing from both of them since Blake and Wilson show it to have such nonchalance about the subject, and that they seem intent on doing something like it is merely something they feel they ought to do, nothing more than that.

The actual scene of the home invasion that leads to the murders is brilliantly directed by Richard Brooks and portrayed by Blake. This scene plays out in such a low-key fashion that is is becomes especially chilling. Blake does not accentuate any sort of menace in the scene in fact he even has a certain tenderness when Perry prevents Dick from raping one of the women in the house. There is a constant unease in Blake's performance though as if something odd is going on in Perry's mind the whole time as the two men come to realize that there is no substantial payoff to be find in the home. When Perry suddenly decides to brutally murder all the people Blake is especially disconcerting as he shows it as just something that Perry must do. There is no great anger or even that much of great emotion in him, but rather he seems compelled by just a simple mental urge to kill the family. It's a brutally effective scene as both Blake and Wilson are so believable in the matter of fact way the murders play out.

Due to the fact that both men quickly confess they are sentenced to hanging and are forced to spend the rest of their days waiting out for their fate inside the walls of the prison. Where Dick basically stays to his usual self, although Wilson is quite in showing the slowly growing dread that eats away at his confidence, Blake portrays Perry as become even more introverted as he reflects only more on what has happened to him and what he has done. Blake's performance of Perry's monologue, as he awaits, execution is flawless. Blake manages to make the moment so poignant as Perry awaits his own death and reflects on the time when his father almost killed him. There is such a palatable despair that Blake creates as a man revisits one last, unhappy, memory before meeting his own fate. Blake is equally unforgettable in his portrayal of Perry's physical deterioration as Blake shows Perry trying hard to maintain his composure. In his face and in his nervous walk though Blake creates the fear of a man who is about to lose his life.

Robert Blake gives a great performance as Perry Smith because there never seems to be a performance in there. There is not a single moment of his interactions with Wilson as Dick Hickock that seems forced or inauthentic. The idea that is put forth at the end of the film that the only way the two could have did what they did was together is made convincing by both actors. Each of them separately seem as though there is humanity in them yet when they speak and act together they show such a blunt heartless nature in them. Blake's performance works especially well in creating sympathy for the man yet never seeming to create an apology for him either. He is indeed rather terrifying in his moments of presenting a man capable of such deeds by having seeming to be hollow in his view of life. He manages to be quite heartbreaking though by making this part of a man who has suffered, and most of all was indeed still a man not a monster, though a man capable of monstrous acts.


Michael McCarthy said...

What were your rating and thoughts for Wilson?

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I've never seen this version, but I admit I've always been a big fan of Clifton Collins Jr.'s take on Perry. In fact, I liked him a lot more than Hoffman in that movie, but I'm in the minority/

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@Robert: I liked Collins Jr. too though not as much as you. Blake is really superb though, you should check it out.

Speaking of superb and not so superb, I've recently seen Birdman and Fury. Let's just say they were very...different films.

Keaton: 5
Norton: 5
Galifiankis: 4
Stone: 5
Watts: 4
Ryan: 4
Riseborough: 3
Duncan: 4.5

Pitt: 2.5
Lerman: 2
LaBouef: 3
Pena: 2
Bernethal: 2

I'll give extended thoughts,on any of them if anyone wants

luke higham said...

GDSAO: Your thoughts on the films in general, as well as your thoughts on Keaton & Norton.

I'm not surprised, by the looks of it, that you didn't like Fury, looks very overpraised to me.

Matt Mustin said...

Also, thoughts on Emma Stone?

Matt Mustin said...

Oh, also Pitt and Galifianakis.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

@Luke and Matt:

Birdman was, simply put, great. The one-shot gimmick is pretty ingenious, but it really is an actor's film despite also being terrifically directed. Definitely my Best Picture choice for the year so far.

Keaton-the best way I can describe this performance is by comparing it to James Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life. Like Stewart he incorporates different aspects of his comic and dramatic performances to create a very original character. He's very, very funny in his "big" scenes but equally great in his smaller, more emotional scenes. He hits all the notes of the character perfectly and he couldn't possibly have been played by anyone else.

Norton-in a nice contrast to Keaton, who dominates every scene of the film, Norton's performance perfectly supports the film. He's very good in playing out the egotistical tendencies of a rather pretentious snob, and is absolutely dynamite in his quieter scenes with Emma Stone. I think this might just be his comeback.

Stone-speaking of Stone, she takes what could've been the most cliched character in the film and turns it into one of the most affecting performances I've seen recently.

Galifianakis-he's good. It's not the most substantial role but he is very sweet and offers some nice support to Keaton.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Fury was awful. It's a shame I didn't like it since I love End of Watch and Training Day (yes, Training Day). The film is just one cliche after another, and the violence just felt a bit gratuitous after a while.

Pitt-I could kind of see what he was going for with this performance, but it didn't work out for me. His tough guy schtick was pretty unconvincing. His final scene is pretty good though, even if he is let down considerably by Lerman.

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

I've got more thoughts to make on Emma Stone and Zach G actually, but I need to think awhile on what scenes exactly I want to pick out.

Louis Morgan said...


Wilson - 4.5(Close to be a five. He gets to be less introspective and is often less focused upon but he's still great. Wilson is particularly good in showing the conman side to Hickock as he definitely has quite a charm and is especially good in the scene where he is able to pass the bad checks to a store owner. Wilson is equally good as Blake in bringing out that underlying and very natural chilling quality to the way the immorality of his character eventually rears its head)

Michael McCarthy said...

It was so interesting to see Wilson in this after only seeing him in The Walking Dead, where he was easily the warmest character on the show.

Anonymous said...

He sounds amazing, I want to see him.