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A father serving time for murder convinces his three teenage sons that his life is being threatened by fellow inmates and that they should break him out of jail. However, when his sons succeed in the jailbreak attempt, the father brings along his cell-mate, a former two time killer, and soon the sons find themselves involved in the pair's murderous crime spree. Written by
Murderous Mitchum, aided by sons, breaks out of jail and tragedy follows
"A Killer in the Family" is based on a true crime story, like "In Cold Blood", "The Onion Field", and "Badlands". These movies are all chilling when they show the criminals murdering people. Be warned. There is a certain curiosity and fascination in watching because we want to understand this extreme behavior that rips apart the ordinary human bonds and so violates conscience.
This picture has excellent performances from the veterans, Robert Mitchum and Stuart Margolin. Both use their facial expressions, jaws, grimaces, and eyes to convey menace and brutality in critical portions of the picture. Combine that with their guns and they become truly frightening and sickening monsters. A few minutes later, Mitchum is again covering this with his good ole father behavior. Margolin switches over to a man who is citing facts about the desert once having been under water, and telling Mitchum's sons the truth about their daddy.
The three actors playing Mitchum's sons who break him out of prison in a very suspenseful sequence do a creditable job. The scripted differences in their characters make interesting contrasts. James Spader, the oldest, thinks for himself. Eric Stoltz plays the middle boy, and he's inclined to follow general rules like loving his father and being loyal to him, rather than seeing how matters stand and breaking away from his father. The youngest boy, Lance Kerwin, sides with Spader.
The story is mainly about their flight, which although planned has defects, so that they end up improvising and committing more crimes. Mitchum manages to control his sons. He appeases Spader at times, knowing that he can bait and switch.
The movie shows a number of tragedies. One of the main ones is that people can make such big mistakes when they are operating under limited and/or false information. This is especially true of the two younger sons. Spader knows better, but he errs in a different way when his brothers do not heed his counsel.
The moral lesson of this movie is that personal loyalties and emotions do not and should not take priority over greater moral rules.
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