The Killer Inside Me

Jessica Alba in The Killer Inside Me

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

15 November

 

 

The Clutter family murder, 1959

On this day in 1959, ex-prisoners Dick Hickock and Perry Smith killed wealthy farmer Herbert Clutter, his wife and his two teenage children in their remote farmhouse home in Holcomb, Kansas. Acting on information gleaned from a cellmate while inside, Hickock believed that Clutter kept a safe full of cash at his house and that he would easily be able to get his hands on it, abscond and start a new life in Mexico with the money. Clutter, a solid methodist, a conscientious family man and well-liked employer who paid his workers above the going rate, did not in fact keep any money at the farm, and did not even own a safe. Hickock had picked up Smith en route as wingman, and on the night in question the duo broke into the isolated house and roused the family from their beds. On learning that there was no safe, no money, it is believed that the probably psychopathic Smith murdered all four members of the family. The two fled the murder scene but were picked up in Las Vegas six weeks later. Smith claimed in his police interviews that Hickock had murdered two of the Clutters, though when it came to signing the confession Smith said wanted to accept responsibility for all four as a kind of favour to Hickock’s mother, who had been kind to him. The writer Truman Capote read a short report on the murders in the New York Times and decided to investigate, turning the results of his lengthy investigations (conducted along with Harper Lee, later of To Kill a Mockingbird) into his celebrated work In Cold Blood, which is often cited as the original non-fiction novel, a landmark piece of what has since been called New Journalism.

 

 

The Killer Inside Me (2010, dir: Michael Winterbottom)

Capote’s In Cold Blood examined a psychopathic murder in chilling detail, from set-up to payback on the end of a hangman’s rope. Jim Thompson’s original 1952 novel takes a similar path, except that instead of working his way from the facts back to the men, as Capote did, Thompson is inside the killer’s head looking out at the mayhem. Michael Winterbottom’s film cannot, of course, situate itself inside someone’s head, so instead has to rely on an actor who can suggest inner mental life without going down the Vincent Price route. In Casey Affleck Winterbottom has his man, an intelligent actor willing to take on roles that more conventional stars would run a mile from. After The Killing of Jesse James etc etc, this was Affleck’s second “coward” role, as Lou Ward, the smalltown deputy sheriff in 1950s Texas who kills because “I had to destroy them”, as the lurid tag line on the cover of the original Thompson novel put it. Winterbottom understands that to live up to Thompson’s brutal original, he’s going to have to include some shocking stuff. Hence the much discussed ugly nasty murder of Joyce Lakeland, a “hustling lady” played by lovely Jessica Alba, whom Ward has been ordered to go see and warn off a local bigwig’s son. It is horrible, gruesome, through-the-fingers stuff, but then this is murder we’re talking about; it’s not meant to be nice. The sexual stuff, too, is dark meat – Ward’s girlfriend (Kate Hudson) giving him a blowjob and tasting Joyce’s vagina on him – a moment that leads to more ugly unpleasantness. Affleck is the smiling killer par excellence, his light high voice the antithesis of the Clint Eastwood growl the most of Hollywood favours – and Winterbottom pairs it beautifully with Hank Williams on the soundtrack, singing songs of love and loss that hint at what has so disturbed this man. If you haven’t seen the film you might be surprised to hear that it is in fact, atrocity aside, a work of quiet restraint, of beautiful interiors, gorgeous clothes, elegant cars. Which makes Winterbottom’s choice of finish all the more surprising and welcome, funny even, in a rasping kind of way.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A film about a psychopath that doesn’t prettify or condone
  • The original book is a pulp classic
  • Jessica Alba as a cheap prostitute – so unlikely it’s funny
  • Richard Redlefsen’s gruesome “beat-up” make-up for Jessica Alba

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

The Killer Inside Me – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

18 September

 

 

Tiffany and Co founded, 1837

 

On this day in 1837, Charles Lewis Tiffany and his partner Teddy Young opened a fancy goods and stationery shop in Lower Manhattan. Tiffany, Young and Lewis changed its name to Tiffany & Co when Charles Tiffany took sole control in 1853. At the same time he shifted its emphasis to jewellery. Growing fat on the revenue from its mail order operation, Tiffany also started to get a name as a provider of quality items – silverware, surgical instruments and swords. By the 1880s it had become closely associated with diamonds after buying the French crown jewels (no longer required in France since the country no longer had a monarch). Through the 20th century, Tiffany’s became a byword for opulence – Marilyn Monroe sings its name in Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend in the 1953 movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; James Bond’s love interest in the 1956 Ian Fleming novel Diamonds Are Forever is named Tiffany Case. So when Truman Capote wrote a novella in 1958 about a New York socialite called Holly Golightly who wanted the best of everything, the name Breakfast at Tiffany’s seemed entirely appropriate.

 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961, dir: Blake Edwards)

The film that made Audrey Hepburn in her little black dress, string of pearls and cigarette holder, an enduring icon, is actually a story about a woman not a million miles away in modus operandi from Truman Capote’s mother. Not a prostitute, exactly, more a good time girl from a good family who is using her extended sojourn in New York as a way of catching a rich husband. An “American geisha” as Capote put it in a 1968 Playboy interview. Not that there’s any hint of impropriety in Hepburn’s performance. Nor does George Peppard exhibit any of the characteristics that seemed to mark him out as a gay gigolo in Capote’s original story. In fact Peppard’s character has been so rinsed through that he has become pretty dull. But Breakfast at Tiffany’s, like a lot of Blake Edwards films of the 1960s, is at least as much an exercise in style as it is in plot – which is presumably why when it debuted critics almost unanimously didn’t dwell on the selling oneself for cash, child sex (Holly’s husband reveals she was 13 when they married), drugs, unwanted pregnancy and relentless deception. Nowadays we’d add appalling racial stereotyping (Mickey Rooney’s bucktoothed Japanese) and smoking (that cigarette holder) to its list of crimes. Though no one then or now really seems too concerned by any of those things, possibly because the entire film takes place in a milieu that’s a collision between Hollywood make-believe and Hepburn high style.

 

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • Catch a glimpse of Mel Blanc – the voice of Bugs Bunny
  • The film that set Hepburn’s screen persona in stone
  • The iconic “little black dress” movie
  • The Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer song Moon River, written specifically for Hepburn

 

© Steve Morrissey 2013

 

 

Breakfast at Tiffany’s – at Amazon