» » Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Short summary

A laid back Southern man is sentenced to two years in a rural prison, but refuses to conform.
Luke Jackson is a cool, gutsy prisoner in a Southern chain gang, who, while refusing to buckle under to authority, keeps escaping and being recaptured. The prisoners admire Luke because, as Dragline explains it, "You're an original, that's what you are!" Nevertheless, the camp staff actively works to crush Luke until he finally breaks.

Trailers "Cool Hand Luke (1967)"

In the "road-tarring" sequence, the actors actually blacktopped a mile-long stretch of highway for the county.

Two hundred hard-boiled eggs were provided for one of the film's most famous sequences. Due to clever editing, Paul Newman only ate about eight altogether. The rest were consumed by the cast and crew, which led to extreme cases of flatulence the next day.

The opening scene, in which Luke (Paul Newman) is cutting off the heads of parking meters, was filmed in Lodi, California. After the filming, the city did not replace the meters, and for many years afterward, you could go there and see a block-long row of metal posts sans meters.

While passing by the prison camp set, a San Joaquin County building inspector thought it was a recently constructed migrant workers' complex, and posted "condemned" notices on the buildings for not being up to code.

Morgan Woodward (Boss Godfrey (The Man With No Eyes)) remained in character during breaks between scenes. He would sit in his chair, still wearing his mirrored sunglasses, and not speak to anyone.

Originally, the scene where Luke plays "Plastic Jesus" as an ode to his mother was scheduled for the beginning of the shoot, but after Paul Newman insisted on learning the instrument, Director Stuart Rosenberg delayed it a few weeks. When they tried it, and the playing was unsatisfactory, it was bumped until the next-to-last day of production. Newman and Rosenberg had a shouting match after Newman still couldn't get it down. In what George Kennedy remembered as a "tense, electrically charged, quiet" place, Newman tried again. When he finished, Rosenberg called "Print". Newman insisted he could do better. "Nobody could do it better", Rosenberg replied.

Joy Harmon (The Girl) has said that she almost turned down her now much-celebrated role in the car wash scene, not because of any discomfort over the sexual nature of the scene, but because the filmmakers wanted her to smoke marijuana before the shoot began, apparently thinking it would put her in the proper mindset. When she voiced her objections, they dropped the request, and she did the scene "unstoned".

According to Jack Lemmon's son Chris Lemmon in an Icons Radio Interview, Jack was originally selected to play the part of Luke, but after reading the script, saw that Paul Newman would be better. So he decided to produce it instead.

Luke is seen as sort of a savior by the other convicts, as he gives them hope. After the egg-eating contest, he is laid out on the table in a posture resembling the Crucifixion.

Although he loved the look of Morgan Woodward as the intimidating Boss Godfrey, Director Stuart Rosenberg felt that his voice didn't match up with his appearance. So Woodward had almost all of his dialogue stripped out, helping to establish his character as one of the more memorable ones that appeared in the film. His only line was " Luke, fetch the rifle." just before shooting the turtle.

Luke's prison number (37) is a reference to the Bible, Luke 1:37. ("For with God nothing shall be impossible.")

One of Paul Newman's instructions to writers Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson was that they did not tailor the script for him. He wanted a part that would really stretch him, and not just play to his strengths.

The line "What we've got here is failure to communicate" was voted as the number eleven movie quote by the American Film Institute. When Frank Pierson wrote that dialogue to be delivered by an uneducated, redneck prison guard, he worried that people wouldn't find it authentic. So he wrote a biography of the guard, explaining that in order to advance to a higher grade in the system, he had been required to take criminology courses, thus exposing him to the kind of academic vocabulary that would justify him using the "communicate" phrase. But as it turned out, no one questioned the line, nor needed to read the fictional account.

On the pilot of Cheers (1982), the regulars are arguing over what was the sweatiest movie ever made. Ultimately, they agreed on this film.

Harry Dean Stanton (who is listed only as "Dean Stanton" in this movie's opening credits) taught Paul Newman how to play "Plastic Jesus".

The scene in which Luke was chased by bloodhounds, and other exteriors, were shot in Jacksonville, Florida, at Callahan Road Prison. Luke was played by a stuntman, using dogs from the Florida Department of Corrections.

The scene where Luke is visited by his mother needed to be filmed in one day. Given that the scene was eight dialogue filled pages long, that was quite a tall order. However, because the cast members involved, Paul Newman and Jo Van Fleet, were stage-trained professionals, it went off without a hitch.

In later years, Composer Lalo Schifrin would often be asked why he used the theme for Eyewitness News (1983) in the film. Schifrin would then rather bemusedly explain that he composed the music for the film, and Eyewitness News (1983) adopted it.

A Southern prison camp was built for this movie just north of Stockton, California. A dozen buildings were constructed, including a barracks, mess hall, warden's quarters, guard shack, and dog kennels.

Truckloads of Spanish moss were shipped from Louisiana to the set in California to hang in the trees around the prison.

The first of four collaborations between Director Stuart Rosenberg and Paul Newman.

Stuart Rosenberg wanted the cast to internalize life on a chain gang, and banned the presence of wives on-set.

The fight scene between Dragline and Luke took three days to shoot. George Kennedy said they were both completely worn out from fighting and, in Paul Newman's case, from falling onto hard ground for three full days.

Paul Newman asked to play the leading role after hearing about the project. In order to develop his character, he travelled to West Virginia, where he recorded local accents and surveyed people's behavior.

Stuart Rosenberg viewed the character of Luke as an avatar for Jesus Christ. The film is packed full of Christian imagery as a consequence.

During the Oscar nomination process, George Kennedy was worried about the box-office success of Camelot (1967) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967), so he invested five thousand dollars in trade advertising to promote himself. Kennedy later stated that thanks to the award his salary was, "multiplied by ten the minute I won", also adding, "the happiest part was that I didn't have to play only villains anymore."

Although she played his mother in the film, Jo Van Fleet was only eleven years older than Paul Newman.

When the famous line "What we've got here is a failure to communicate" is originally spoken by the Captain (Strother Martin), he omits the "a"; but when Luke (Paul Newman) repeats the line at the end while in the church, he says "a failure to communicate." Thus, the line can be quoted correctly with or without the "a".

Paul Newman enjoyed making the film, and when he wasn't needed on-set, often tooled around the Stockton area either in a blue Mercury convertible or on a motorcycle. "I had great fun with that part", he said. "I liked that man."

At Dennis Hopper's invitation, avant-garde filmmaker Bruce Conner shot some footage of the cast clearing brush from the roadside under a blistering, hot sun. The resulting film, Luke (1967), captured on 8mm and edited entirely in camera, is a haunting slow-motion study of how a film is made, with an electronic score by Patrick Gleeson.

Jack Lemmon was the owner of Jalem Productions, which co-produced many of his films, as well as this one.

According to George Kennedy, after filming the boiled egg scene, Stuart Rosenberg yelled "Cut" and Paul Newman vomited into a garbage can.

Bette Davis was first offered the role of Luke's mother, but refused the bit part.

When Joy Harmon filmed the scene in which the men watch her wash her car, she had no idea how suggestive it was. It never occurred to her until she saw it in the theater. "I just figured it was washing the car. I've always been naive and innocent", she said. "I was acting and not trying to be sexy. Maybe that's why the scene played so well. After seeing it at the premiere, I was a bit embarrassed."

For her single day of shooting, Jo Van Fleet sat on a tree stump, two hundred yards from everyone else, looking over her lines. Harry Dean Stanton recalled that she asked him to sing to her before her take, and it made her cry.

Originally set to be filmed in Florida, at the last minute, Warner Brothers vetoed that decision due to budgetary concerns, and insisted that the film be made in California.

Stuart Rosenberg was able to set up the film with the assistance of Felicia Farr and her husband, Jack Lemmon. Lemmon had a deal with Columbia Pictures, and was anxious to produce a film, in which he did not star.

Blonde Joy Harmon was cast for the scene where she teases the prisoners in washing her car after her manager contacted the producers. She auditioned in front of Stuart Rosenberg and Paul Newman wearing a bikini, without speaking.

The uncredited role of the Sheriff was played by Rance Howard, father of Ron and Clint Howard.

Reportedly, Telly Savalas was originally considered for the role of either Luke or Dragline. However, he was in Europe filming The Dirty Dozen (1967), and refused to fly back.

A version of the song "Plastic Jesus" sung by Luke after learning that his mother died was used by radio personality Don Imus as the theme song to his Dr. Billy Soul Hargis character while broadcasting from New York City in the 1970s.

After Joy Harmon arrived on-location, she remained for two days in her hotel room and wasn't seen by the rest of the cast until shooting commenced. Despite Stuart Rosenberg's intentions, the scene was ultimately filmed separately. He instructed an unaware Harmon of the different movements and expressions he wanted. Originally planned to be shot in half a day, her scene took three. To film the other angle of the scene, featuring the chain gang, Rosenberg substituted a teenage cheerleader, who wore an overcoat.

Morgan Woodward described his character as a "walking Mephistopheles".

George Kennedy's Oscar winning performance is his only Academy Award nomination.

Film debut of Anthony Zerbe.

The lines "What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it, well, he gets it. I don't like it any more than you men" can be heard in the introduction of the song "Civil War" by Guns N' Roses. They would use audio of the first line again during the song "Madagascar" on the 2008 album "Chinese Democracy".

Luke's legendary consumption of fifty eggs was repeated on a Jackass (2000) episode in 2001.

Director of Photography Conrad L. Hall said the studio drove him "insane", and that his filming techniques were repeatedly questioned. Eventually, it was explained to him that he wasn't showcasing Paul Newman's famous blue eyes enough. He had to shoot a scene four times before he was judged to have shot Newman "correctly".

Paul Newman said to a visitor to the film's set, "There's a good smell about this. We're gonna have a good picture."

The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.

Paul Newman's brother, Arthur S. Newman, Jr. was a Production Manager.

Luke is given a full plate of rice for dinner, an amount that would be impossible for him to eat by himself after not eating for four days. The other inmates take spoonfuls of his food so that he doesn't break the rule: "You gotta clean your plate or go back in the box."

Paul Newman's Best Actor Oscar nominated performance was the only one in the category not in a Best Picture nominee that year.

Jo Van Fleet and Richard Davalos made their feature film debuts in East of Eden (1955). Davalos beat out Paul Newman for the role of Aron Trask.

Film debut of Ralph Waite.

In a 1989 interview with the "Miami Herald", Author Donn Pearce said, "I seem to be the only guy in the United States who doesn't like the movie. Everyone had a whack at it. They screwed it up ninety-nine different ways." For one thing, Pearce thought Paul Newman was "too scrawny" and completely wrong for the part.

After Luke finished eating the fifty eggs, Dynamite (Buck Kartalian) laid his big spoon on the table next to his head, thus quietly knighting the new champion hog-gut.

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.

Aldo Ray auditioned for the role of Dragline.

No less than three cast members appeared in the James Bond film franchise: Joe Don Baker (The Living Daylights (1987), GoldenEye (1995), and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)), Anthony Zerbe (Licence to Kill (1989)), and Clifton James (Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)).

Included among the American Film Institute's 1998 list of the 400 movies nominated for the Top 100 Greatest American Movies.

Film debut of James Gammon.

In an interview aired on TCM, George Kennedy discussed how Joy Harmon's iconic car washing scene was originally scheduled for half a day, and how that shoot ended up taking 3 days. Kennedy laughed and said "Somewhere...there's 80,000 feet of film with Joy Harmon washing that car!"

Cool Hand Luke's is the name of a chain of steakhouses in California and Idaho with a Western theme (hungry buckaroo) that has nothing to do with this movie.

Dennis Hopper, Luke Askew, and Warren Finnerty appeared in Easy Rider (1969). Hopper also directed.

The car receiving the famous wash is a 1941 DeSoto coupe.

Film debut of Robert Drivas.

A gun shop in Buckport, Maine is called Cool Hand Luke's Firearms.

According to George Kennedy, the footage of actress Joy Harmon (the voluptuous blonde who teases the chain gang prisoners by washing her car) was filmed separately. Instead, director Stuart Rosenberg had an unpaid 15-year-old school girl wearing a large overcoat mime the scene, forcing the actors to use their imaginations as they "ogled her" on camera.

Donn Pearce: As a convict named "Sailor". Pearce wrote the novel on which the movie was based, after spending two years on a chain gang for safecracking.

Just before Luke (Paul Newman) is brought back from one of his escape attempts, Dragline (George Kennedy) lets Koko (Lou Antonio) look at the picture of Luke that he hides in the magazine. As Koko opens the magazine, clearly visible on the opposite page is an article titled "The Illusion That Kills", with an image of a hunter firing a rifle, which is pointed directly at Luke's chest. This is a reference to "The Man With No Eyes".

When Stuart Rosenberg shot the convicts in the ditch watching Lucille, he used a stand-in for Joy Harmon: an overcoat-wearing fifteen-year-old girl. Despite the coat, George Kennedy remembered her teeth were chattering from the cold weather. He also wrote, "Those guys shivering in a ditch did some great acting."

Columbia Pictures passed on making the film, having just lost a lot of money on the prison movie, King Rat (1965), that few people went to see. They were also not keen on the fact that the lead character dies at the end.

User reviews

  • comment
    • Author: Tygokasa
    This film got me from the first frame to the last. It's not even because of the story (which I love, of course) - it's just so very well made. And so modern. The kind of angles and perspectives the camera uses, the way it zooms in and out or even allows itself (literally) to get dirty - the way this whole picture was shot is just something I haven't seen in an American film released prior to this one.

    And yet, although it is considered a classic, when people talk about the "New Hollywood" somehow 'Cool Hand Luke' is hardly ever mentioned - despite the fact that it came out only a couple of months after 'Bonnie and Clyde' in 1967 and before 'The Graduate'.

    I look at this film mainly as a character study but the story arc also works very well and it hasn't aged a bit. This is one of those rare films that was way ahead of its time and which has simply everything: great acting, iconic characters and scenes, wonderful music - and the cinematography is just unbelievable.

    Funny, tragic and moving, 'Cool Hand Luke' is one hell of a film. What we've got here is NOT failure to communicate - but a 10 star masterpiece.

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  • comment
    • Author: Hrguig
    Having had the advantage of reading Donn Pearce's novel about a year before seeing Cool Hand Luke, it was with great anticipation that I awaited it's transfer to the big screen. I was not disappointed.

    Cool Hand Luke could easily be classified by the misguided as just a prison yarn, but it is so much more than that. It is the story of a man who refuses to be nailed down or conform to the rules and regulations of a society that he has never craved to fit into. When Lucas Jackson is arrested for cutting heads off parking meters, his explanation to the prison captain(Strother Martin) is "Small Town, not much to do in the evening", which would have us believe he was just being drunk and stupid. Later, to one of the other inmates he mutters the same answer, but importantly adds "just settlin some old scores". It is a brief but important point in helping to define the character of Luke beyond just being drunk and damaging public property. As a service man, we also discover that Luke won a bronze star, achieved the rank of sergeant but came out as a private. Again, early evidence that Luke is unable to conform to any body's rules but his own. Yet, we are given clear evidence that Luke knows what is right in principal and what is wrong. At one point in the film when they are putting Luke in the box under less than reasonable circumstances, he tells the boss, "calling it your job don't make it right, Boss." In a visit from his mother Arletta(Jo Van Fleet), Luke says plenty about his own character by telling her, "A man's got to go his own way" or as he also puts it, "I tried to live always free and above board like you but I can't seem to find no elbow room".

    As Luke enters the prison that will supposedly be his home for the next two years, we meet the other inmates. Some of them wear chains, some of them do not. It is a point early in the film that director Stuart Rosenberg, emphasizes. We understand quickly that sooner or later you conform. You either walk the line the way the bosses tell you to, or they will find the means to get you to walk the line. As the Captain reiterates, "for your own good, you'll learn the rules" A point driven home often.

    What we discover about their crimes is minuscule. One is jailed for manslaughter after hitting a pedestrian with his car, another is a paper hanger, another new inmate is charged with breaking, entering and assault. The nature of their crimes is unimportant to us. It enables to view these prisoners as men, and while we don't feel any genuine sympathy for them, feeling disgusted by their crimes would have been a distraction from the true purpose of Pearce's story, and Luke as the focal point.

    Because of his individuality, it doesn't take Luke long before he unexpectedly becomes a hero to the other inmates. It is not a role he chooses, or even wants. It unexpectedly imposes the burden on him of having to live up to the expectations of others. He never truly understands the nature of this hero worship, and would be just as happy if he didn't have to deal with it. He is still trying to find his way in the world, and if there is any real purpose for his existence.

    Another principal character is Dragline(George Kennedy). It is he who finally establishes the fact that Cool Hand Luke is a man who can not be beaten. Dragline's admiration for Luke seems to extend from the fact that he(Dragline)has learned the rules on how to get by, but yet regrets having lost some of his own individuality in the process. He is the rest of the inmates in microcosm. I can't remember a role that George Kennedy has ever been better in, and he deservedly won the best supporting actor award.

    Cool Hand Luke is not without it's humorous moments especially in the early going. It is these moments that help move the film from the early stages to the darker more despairing later stages. Perhaps, for that reason alone we are even more effected by Luke's dilemma.

    In translating his novel to the screen Donn Pearce along with Frank Pierson, has managed to bring the heart and soul of his nove to the big screen. Lalo Shifrin's memorable score emphasizes often the repeated drudgery of working on the chain gang. Director Stuart Rosenberg made more good films after Cool Hand Luke, but in my opinion never achieved the same degree of perfection that he does here.

    As Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman give one of the most memorable performances in a long distinguished career. It is not an easy task portraying a man who travels the road from being a sincere individualist, to a man who may be beaten and defeated, yet in the end is still unwilling to accept that fate. Although Rod Steiger won the best actor award that year, one could argue that Newman's role was more difficult, as it required substantially different subtle ranges in character. As for the failure of Cool Hand Luke to achieve a Best Picture nomination, I'm at a loss to explain that malfunction, especially when the likes of Doctor Doolittle and Guess Who's Coming To Dinner, far lesser efforts than this were nominated.

    Cool Hand Luke is a true classic in every sense of the word. It is a film that will long be remembered.

    My grade: A+
  • comment
    • Author: Ttyr
    I first saw "Cool Hand Luke" the first week it came out. Went to see it with my father at a theater on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. We were just a few blocks away from the hospital where my Mom was dying of cancer and we just needed a break. It was cathartic. Feeling as beat up and left for dead as I was at the time, I came across a character who knew how to take the punches. "Luke" is a beautifully crafted film. Not one wasted frame or moment. Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson's screenplay is nothing less than a working man's parable of a truly good soul who just couldn't seem to get a break. In ways, it could be said he truly didn't let himself. But the strength within Luke that would not let him compromise who he was for who he was told to be, the resilience to fight back against those who tried to fight him on that was inspirational. Whether it was a carefully chosen remark or just one of them Luke looks, They knew They couldn't knock him out no matter how badly They knocked him down. Seems he handled life like that, and it was an example I've clung to and have tried to follow in the almost fifty subsequent years. Conrad Hall's cinematography was breathtaking, providing the scope of all the integral parts of the story with the immediacy of all the most intimate moments. Any single frame could hang on your living room wall as the centerpiece. The cast: Dennis Hopper, Strother Martin, Lou Antonio, Ralph Waite ... and George Kennedy. Academy Award Winner George Kennedy. "Dragline". The most unforgettable "gentle giant" I believe I've ever seen on the silver screen. Each and every one of them, in all their glory and in the simplest of nuances, helped raise Paul Newman's masterful portrayal to an ever higher level, maybe his best work ever. The character is very much the story in "Cool Hand Luke" and the ensemble brings it to life. Frustrating, challenging, confusing, pain- in-the-ass life with just enough of that rebellious spirit to bring hope to those facing some of their tougher times. I saw the film four more times that first year, and probably twice each year since whenever I could find it. Check in with Luke and the boys for a breath of fresh air and some world-shaking hope. Can't speak for anyone else, but Luke is right up there with Atticus Finch for me when it comes to celluloid heroes, these are the two whose stories got me through some really, really bleak times. And for me, "Cool Hand Luke" was ultimately a story of hope. The story of a man who never gave in. Never gave up. And never stopped grinning. All that they piled on him, all they tried to bury him under ... just wasn't worth his getting worked up over. Wasn't gonna get to his spirit.
  • comment
    • Author: Pringles
    One of the reasons that the late 60s/early 70s was such a powerful era in filmmaking is the emergence of the anti-hero (defined as an individual with heroic qualities, but not in a position we would usually find a hero). This is symbolized greatly in `Cool Hand Luke'. We can identify with Luke because his crime is venial and his concerns over the great questions of life are ours. It is because of this and his persuasive charm that the other prisoners (played remarkably well by Kennedy and a host of others to include Wayne Rogers, Ralph Waite, Dennis Hopper and one of the actors who played a crewmember on `Alien') live vicariously through him.

    Filled with memorable scenes (the boxing match, 50 eggs, the fealty of his fellow prisoners who help him finish his food after his stomach is shrunk in solitary confinement, `shakin' it here boss', the sneezing dogs, and of course the carwash part) and outstanding character development (created by what is said and what is not said, i.e. the visiting brother), one of screen history's most repeated lines and the great acting of Newman, this movie deserves to be called a classic. Released the same year as `Bonnie and Clyde', it makes one long for the days when you needed a real script to make a movie.
  • comment
    • Author: Cerar
    The rebel character in Hollywood after the death of James Dean went through a period of transition and did not gain definite new characteristics until the late sixties...

    The three established rebel/anti-heroes in movies were Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, and Steve McQueen...

    In 1967, screen audiences were exposed to two new rebel hero characters, Clyde Barrow, a rebel without a cause with enough guts to strike out against any bank, and Luke Jackson, an anti-hero 'born to lose,' but a man full of pride and dignity...

    "Cool Hand Luke" resumes Newman's career as another rebel, a non-conformist, a perfect hero who beats the system wherever...

    Superbly directed by Stuart Rosenberg, Newman exhibits a complete arrangement of emotions invading every nuance and implication... Resources of his true command of his technical acting are breathtaking in their impact... The motion picture (nominated for 4 Academy Awards) won him his 4th Academy Award nomination...

    Newman is again a cynical loner, but he's also charming, and everything is calculated to involve us with him; like "Hombre," the film begins and ends with closeups of his face, but here, appropriately, he has an engaging smile…

    The opening, where he drinks beer, unscrews tops from parking meters and mumbles to the arriving cop, recalls Dean's drunken incoherence at the start of "Rebel Without a Cause"—an apt title for Luke… He breaks rules for no apparent reason, wherever he is, including the chain gang to which he's sentenced…

    Unlike Paul Muni in "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang," who steals only to eat and is turned by society into a hardened criminal, Luke is a criminal from the start, and his crime isn't motivated by hunger… It's a meaningless anti-authority gesture—the existentialist "gratuitous act," committed purely for the sake of committing it… Luke engages our sympathy not because he is economically deprived or the product of an unhappy home, but because for him the act of rebellion is its own justification: he's the perfect sixties hero…

    Initially, Luke alienates the prisoners by his indifference and sarcasm, and the top dog, Dragline (George Kennedy) picks a fight with him… Luke is severely beaten but keeps fighting, and this—plus his continual defiance of the guards—wins him the men's respect… Their admiration grows when he proves he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs, one after the other, in only one hour, another gratuitous act ("somethin' to do").

    But Luke gradually becomes a victim of the excessive admiration, rebelling because they expect him to, which leads to a pattern of escapes and captures… As the warden says, "What we got here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach." Even though Luke becomes subservient after torture, he again escapes… Dragline admires the way he fooled the guards while planning all along to escape… But Luke says he really did break down, and asserts: "l never planned anything in my life." Even his last act is motivated not by heroism but by impulse…

    The physical punishment Newman's characters often undergo reaches an extreme here, as Luke constantly invites pain (in his fight with Dragline, he says, "You're gonna have to kill me."). Underlying his sometimes vigorous rebelliousness is despair at a cruelly indifferent world… But the men need a hero, and Dragline perpetuates the myth, telling them that he had "that Luke smile" to the very end… We last see a montage of shots of Luke smiling—the men's vision of him as unbeaten and almost immortal…

    Newman's performance is among his best, and Luke is one of his definitive studies of non conformism… As in "Hombre," he underplays, but in a loose, relaxed, "cool" manner… He's affecting in a wide range of moods: quiet detachment, wry contempt, raw courage, exhaustion, exuberance, gentleness, anger, resignation…

    There's a superb1y understated scene in which Luke's dying mother (Jo Van Fleet) visits him… Like Rocky Graziano, he says he tried to live cleanly, but could never find a way… But the mood is quite different here: instead of intense emotion, there are on1y ingenious expressions of uneasiness, regret, sadness, acceptance… Newman conveys his unspoken affection entirely through his glances and reactions, as she wistfully remarks that she once had high hopes for him…

    The actor even survives the film's pretentious attempts to make him a mock-Christ figure… Besides the obvious sacrifice-resurrection parallel, he's even shown in the exact crucifixion position following his fifty-egg (Last Supper?) ordeal… There are two badly conceived dialogs with a God he doesn't believe in—after which he realizes, "l gotta find my own way," a rather unconcealed statement of existential despair—but Newman performs them with quiet conviction….

    His mock religion is better suggested by the bottle opener he wears in lieu of a religious medal… And the despair is effectively dramatized in his reaction to his mother's death… The men leave him by himself, and he sits on his bed, playing the banjo… With a sad, breaking voice, he sings a religious parody: "l don't care if it rains or freezes, long as 1 got my plastic Jesus…" He looks down and begins crying, but sings faster, obsessively, withdrawing into himself and expressing his utter loneliness in a world that has no God… It's one of the most moving scenes in all of Newman's work…

    Paralleled to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Cool Hand Luke" is a character study, which works beautifully, very well-made with sense of graphic imagery and cinema view, a good-looking film with superb photography in Color, extremely good as an entertainment...
  • comment
    • Author: Yndanol
    Truly a memorable movie, and more than just a documentary about southern road gangs. It's a study on the theme of the indomitability of the human spirit in the face of oppression. I was about to name this as Newman's finest performance until I thought of Eddy Felsen in "The Hustler" and Frank Galvin in "The Verdict"; it's impossible to choose among such a cornucopia of acting achievements, but Luke is right up there (the analogy to Luke as Christ becomes a tad heavy-handed when we see him, at the close of the egg-eating scene, stretched out, arms outward, feet crossed, as if crucified; none the less, it's a powerful image). There is no doubt, however, about George Kennedy as Dragline; it is his finest achievement, and fully deserves the Oscar he got for Best Supporting Actor. It is also fascinating to find so many familiar faces among the inmates - actors such as Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, Joe Don Baker, Ralph Waite. and Wayne Rogers - who would go on to fame in their own right. This movie can unquestionably be called a classic. American Movie Classics just started (11/2000) showing a beautifully restored letterbox version which shows it in all its glory.
  • comment
    • Author: Querlaca
    "For the secret of man's being is not only to live but to have something to live for. Without a stable conception of the object of life, man would not consent to go on living, and would rather destroy himself than remain on earth, though he had bread in abundance." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

    Stuart Rosenberg directs "Cool Hand Luke". The plot? Paul Newman plays Luke Jackson, a young drifter who returns home after WW2. Luke's been dealt one bad hand after the next, and, no matter how he plays his cards, always seems to lose. The film opens with Luke, drunk and shameless, knocking the heads off parking meters. The authorities try to cash in on our everyday movements, and this lack of freedom ticks Luke off. The poor guy just wants to be free, man.

    After being arrested, Luke is sent to a Florida prison. What then unfolds is one of the greatest existential movies of all time. Luke's experiences, his conversations with God, his isolation and alienation, and a pair of profound scenes, both involving his mother, elevate "Cool Hand Luke" above most prison-break movies.

    Of course this period saw a number of strong prison flicks ("The Great Escape", "The Bridge on the River Kwai", "King Rat", "Birdman of Alcatraz", "Papillon", "Cuckoo's Nest", "The Hole", "Escape from Alcatraz", "A Man Escaped", "Riot in Cell Block 11" etc), but "Cool Hand Luke" takes a far more mythical stance. We don't know much about Luke. He's held at a distance, never looks anyone in the eyes when speaking and always has a sly grin on his face. And yet behind his smile we sense deep pain, though its a pain matched by a dogged spirit to continue fighting.

    Interestingly, whilst a film like "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" had a system that despite its flaws genuinely tried to heal and help others, Luke's social institution is corrupt and in many aspects pointless. Still, for a while Luke abides by it. He goes about the state's business with a smile, cutting grass and paving roads. He only has 2 years in chains. He can make it. And like he says, he has no place else to go. No plans. He plays his cards with cool, detached ambivalence.

    In one beautiful scene, Luke's dying mother comes to visit. What follows is a touching conversation, she informing us that tried her best with Luke, giving him nothing but love. And yet, no amount of motherly affection has helped her family. Because of this, she says, she "wishes mankind were like dogs". She wishes she could abandon her children and forget about them, never having to worry or fret about how they are, what they'll do or where they'll go. Of course she loves Luke, but hates the agony he puts her through. And yet we sense that she understands him intimately. Perhaps she admires him because she too has been dealt a life of bad hands.

    Luke's outlook changes when his mother dies and the prison warden locks him in a box for no particular reason. When the Boss says "Just doing my job", Luke replies "That don't make it right."

    From here on Luke begins to fight back. He refuses to spend his life on his knees and refuses to submit. The film then becomes a tale of resistance and idolatry. The other inmates quickly begin to idolise Luke, worshipping his never-give-up spirit. But rather than fight themselves, they sit back and exalt Luke, relying him to personify their own desires. Luke begins to resent this. "Step feeding off me!" he yells. But they're content to sit on the sidelines. He's a one man revolution, and like many revolutionaries is praised for his stance from afar but never actively supported. Why do men have to die for causes before we take notice?

    The film ends on an ambiguous note, in which Luke may or may not be riddled with bullets. Does Luke smile? Does he die? Does he survive? If he does survive, is his survival merely wishful thinking on the part of his fellow inmates? Note that the film's final image is a brief shot of a photograph. It was established in an earlier sequence that this idyllic photograph represents a lie. We also know that the photograph's image was staged and that the photograph itself was torn to shreds earlier in the film. The ending thus suggests that though Luke has died and the system utterly beaten him down, the men nevertheless choose to believe in him. They believe he has risen - indeed, the film is filled with Christian imagery) - that he's survived death and still fighting the fight, sticking it to the man for all of mankind.

    But like that photograph, the inmate's belief is an illusion. Luke is dead, and though his fighting spirit remains in the hearts of these men, it will take something larger to wake them up and shake them out of weak surrender. In the end, "Cool Hand Luke" suggests something almost contradictory: that hope must be held onto lest we submit, but that such hope, fuelled by a kind of mythologising and shared delusion, is precisely what engenders submission.

    9/10- An accidental masterpiece. The planets really lined up for this one. The only flaw is an overly silly (though iconic) car wash scene.

    Worth multiple viewings.
  • comment
    • Author: Xirmiu
    This is an absolute perfect movie in every way.Storyline,acting,settings---everything is perfect.Hollywood used to make great movies like this before it became the special effects driven computer generated movie making schlock capitol of the world.

    The great Paul Newman plays a prisoner locked up in a Southern jail after a night of petty crimes.His constant struggle to be free even while locked up makes this one of the greatest roles ever seen in a movie.Newman is at his absolute peak playing the cool Lucas Jackson.I was so struck by Newman's performance in this movie I was determined to name my son Lucas Jackson,but alas,I only had daughters and my wife wasn't too thrilled about naming either of them Lucas.Oh well.

    George Kennedy plays Jackson's enemy turned buddy and he is absolutely perfect also.His portrayal of Dragline is Kennedy at his finest.The sublime Strother Martin plays the prison captain and damn is he ever good.He was always so underrated as is Kennedy too,I think.

    In fact this whole movie is full of familiar faces that would go on to other big time roles in TV and movies.In this movie everyone meshes perfectly to create an unforgettable movie that will stay with you long after many other movies you've seen fade from memory.

    You must see this movie.
  • comment
    • Author: Watikalate
    Set in the rural south, a man serves time on a chain gang after vandalising parking meters. When inside, he stubbornly refuses to bow down to anybody, be it the prison authorities or his fellow inmates. Soon, though, he becomes a symbol of hope to the other prisoners and his rebellious nature teaches them that their integrity is the most important thing they have.

    This anti-authoritarian film is very much in a similar mould to Bonnie and Clyde which also came out in 1967. In both of these films the establishment are shown to be the bad guys and the criminals anti-heroes deserving of our sympathy. With this in mind it would only be fair to say that, like Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke could be regarded as one of the very first New Hollywood movies. It certainly is a film which indicates that the cinematic norms were changing. It's also one of the first of a new type of prison drama which tried to reach for more authenticity. In many ways it is a precursor to the classic incarcerated-man-against-the-system movie One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975). For me, it's not in the same league as that one but it's pretty obviously a very influential work. It benefits from a good ensemble cast, with Paul Newman leading the picture very well, with impressive support in particular from George Kennedy who would go on to win an Oscar for his efforts.
  • comment
    • Author: Abuseyourdna
    Now that it has become sort of fashionable to speak or write badly about the films of the 60s and 70s, saying that people stopped going to the movie theatres during that fruitful period (which is not true), we must -more than ever-rate a flick as "Cool Hand Luke" as it really deserves. The rebel spirit of the lead character (played to perfection by the excellent Paul Newman) against that brutal and -most of the times- unfair "establishment" represented by the prison guards is a subject that remains as topical as ever. If this picture had been made today, it could also probably be good, but it would undoubtedly be much more unpleasant and filled with four-letter words. Besides, who could match the performances of Newman, George Kennedy (the deservedly Oscar-winner who has kept on making a brilliant career -do you remember him as "The Blue Knight"?), Strother Martin, J.D.Cannon, etc.? Jo Van Fleet´s character as Luke´s mother seems a sort of slightly-aged version of her role as James Dean´s mum in "East Of Eden", and it is really worthwhile. The scene of the hard-boiled eggs is a classic and a gem, but my favourite scene in the movie is that of the car-washing girl so wonderfully played by Joy Harmon (who is really a Joy for any man´s eyes); that character truly says a lot of things without speaking -her gorgeous body speaks for her! I must say that it´s not only one of the sexiest scenes I´ve ever seen in a film but also a very significative one: there is an enormous contrast between the image of the lass moving and shaking in complete and absolute freedom (even in her way of dressing) and the imprisoned men-at-work who watch her as something extremely desirable but, alas, completely out of reach. (The viewer can really feel like a prisoner too!). All in all, this is a fine film of the 60s, but also of the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, the 21st century and whatever God wants it to come.
  • comment
    • Author: Tisicai
    Perhaps one of the last of the chain-gang movies (until it was briefly shown in the beginning of 2000's "O, Brother Where Art Thou?), this has always been (1) an interesting film (2) a wonderfully photographed movie.

    You hear more about the story and about Paul Newman than you usually hear about the cinematography, but it's good and this movie should be seen in widescreen. It was offered as such even on VHS.

    When I looked at this film sometime in the '90s, I was surprised that the famous line from it: "What we have here is a failure to communicate," was only used twice, and the second time being the last sentence uttered by Newman. I had thought that Strother Martin had said it several times. Boy, Martin was one of the more effective villains in some 1960s film, a mean-talking sadistic guy.

    This movie was another of the pioneers in promoting a new thing on screen: the "anti-hero," so it was popular in the protest decade of the '60s. Newman's character fit right into the period where the rebel is the hero and the authority figure is the bad guy. You've seen this repeatedly ever since, although filmmakers have always loved rebels.

    George Kennedy gives Newman memorable support as "Dragline" and was aptly awarded for his performance. Someone who I always remembered was the prison guard who said nothing, just stared through his sunglasses. I can always picture that guy and those reflective glasses. That, and eating 50 hard- boiled eggs have stuck with me for over 40 years!
  • comment
    • Author: Gann
    Cool Hand Luke is perhaps Paul Newman's most memorable character. He was outstanding as Hud, but he seems to have topped that performance in this 1967 classic.

    Newman plays a man named Luke. After cutting the heads off some parking meters, he is thrown into a prison system where he's forced to do some hard time tending to country roads. This character has to be one of the biggest enigmas in film history. Luke is likable enough. His mother points out to him that he's even had some good jobs. The viewer is left to ponder why in the heck he can't stay out of trouble.

    Not much is told about his past. We know he fought WWII, and even won some medals. He has no wife or children to care for. He has a mother who appears to be dying of lung cancer or some such ailment. His other family members seem to hold a grudge against him. We never really learn why he feels the need to cut the heads off the parking meters, but he's caught red-handed. The prison he's sent to makes its inmates work their tails off, but it looks like they'll treat you fairly if you follow their rules. Luke has no intentions of following any rules laid down by the warden or the "bosses" that watch over the road work, though.

    After taking a tremendous beating from the toughest inmate (Kennedy), Luke quickly begins to win the admiration of his fellow prisoners. His spirit catches on with the others, and they begin to get their work done more quickly and effectively than ever before. Things begin to go downhill for Luke once he learns of his mother's passing. He repeatedly tries to escape, and soon the warden and his cronies are out to break his spirit and make him conform. The film becomes a test of wills, and a fascinating character study.

    The biggest question the viewer is left with is "why?". Luke could have simply served out his time and then gone on to a more normal existence. That seems to be out of the realm of possibilities for the character, however. He isn't simply out to impress the other prisoners. At one point he even demands they stop trying to feed off of him for all their strength. Luke seems like a man who simply cannot allow others to tell him how to live. There are a few moments where he openly questions the existence of God, but that angle doesn't go very far. It merely makes the guards want to abuse him even more, but that's about it. It becomes almost frustrating to see this man keep digging a bigger and bigger hole for himself. At one point Luke is forced to literally do just that.

    What exactly is the film trying to tell us? It doesn't seem to be advocating disobedience. We cheer for Luke when he's causing trouble for the guards, but we feel his pain when they punish him. The film's conclusion is more somber than inspiring.

    Rosenberg's direction is outstanding, and the supporting cast shines. George Kennedy earned an Oscar for his performance. Overall this is an excellent film not to be missed! 10 of 10 stars from The Hound.
  • comment
    • Author: Nirn
    Amazing movie....watched it for the first time three or four years ago. Seen it plenty of times since......this, along with "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest", is one of my favorite films of all-time. Luke is a truly memorable character; funny, tragic, inspirational.....a lot like Randle Patrick McMurphy. Paul Newman once again proved the Academy to be full of idiots, giving a great performance deserving of an Oscar. How he only won once, when Sally Field is the owner of two statuettes, is inexplicable. His run of classic films and touchstone characters from the 60s-70s (Luke, Fast Eddie, Butch, etc) is unparalleled. George Kennedy was good, too......I mightn't be good at critiquing, but I know what I like. And I like this.
  • comment
    • Author: Xellerlu
    Greetings again from the darkness. I went way too many years without watching this movie again, so when Cinemark included it in the summer classic film series, I was in my seat nice and early. Mention this movie and the first thing people do is quote one of the most famous lines in movie history: "What we have here is failure to communicate." No question that's a great line. But there is so much more to this movie and it holds up beautifully 45 years later.

    Based on the novel by Donn Pearce, who spent two years on a chain-gang, this is the story of Luke (Paul Newman) who just can't bring himself to conform to the rules, regardless whether those be the rules of the military, society, prison, or those self-imposed by the convicts. We are introduced to Luke as he drunkenly cuts off the top of parking meters on main street of a small town. Later, in a throw away line, we learn he was gaining revenge on someone. It's the clear indication that while he doesn't always want to fit in, Luke clearly knows right from wrong.

    There are so many terrific scenes in this film, that it's not possible to discuss each. Every scene with the prison warden, played by Strother Martin, is intense. Each of the Boss guards are frightening, especially Morgan Woodward as the sharpshooter behind the mirrored shades. There are numerous impactful scenes featuring the group of convicts. Even though we learn little about the individuals, we realize the fragile male psyche is on full display. Despite the power of all of these characters and scenes, the real strength of the film is the relationship between Luke and Dragline (George Kennedy). Watching the early cat and mouse game, and the subsequent transfer of power, feature two amazing actors at the top of their game.

    George Kennedy rightfully won the Best Supporting Actor award and continued on to become one of the most successful and prolific character actors of the 70's and 80's, and his career culminated with his iconic role in the Naked Gun series. As for Paul Newman, this is one of his best performance in a long line of standout performances. This one is in the middle stage of his career and he exuded manliness with a touch of sensitivity. He and Strother Martin would meet again in one of the best sequences of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

    Watching Luke win over all the convicts, including the previous leader played by Kennedy is stunning, yet gut-wrenching when offset by the scenes with the guards who are hell bent on getting Luke to understand his place. They understand the risk he poses to the systematic rhythms of the prison.

    The supporting cast is downright incredible. This was the feature film debut for: Ralph Waite (4 years later he became the beloved paternal figure of TV's The Waltons); Joe Don Baker(Buford Pusser from Walking Tall); James Gammon (later the crusty manager in Major League); and Anthony Zerbe, another iconic character actor of the 70's and 80's. Also featured are Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton (singing a few songs), Wayne Rogers (from MASH), Richard Davalos (James Dean's brother Aron in East of Eden), and Rance Howard (Ron's dad as the sheriff). In a brief, but truly great scene, Jo Van Fleet (also from East of Eden), appears as Arletta, and we quickly understand Luke's background.

    Often overlooked by film historians, "Lucille" putting on a show for the convicts as she washes her car, is a scene that is meant for more than titillation. As she creatively buffs the windows, the reaction of the convicts reminds us that these are still men and no amount of humiliation and degradation can change that. One of my friends argues that Joy Harmon was clearly cheated out of an Oscar for this scene.

    The score is the handy work of Lalo Schifrin and expertly captures the moment ... especially in the black top scene. Director Stuart Rosenberg was known only for his TV work when he got this script. He went on to direct another prison movie in 1980 called Brubaker. Starring Newman's Butch Cassidy co-star Robert Redford, the film was a decent prison drama, but not at the level of Cool Hand Luke ... which by the way, was installed into the National Film Registry in 2005.
  • comment
    • Author: Tetaian
    In Cool Hand Luke Paul Newman shows us what the underside of what life is like as a rebel. Picture James Dean doing this part had he lived to do films like these.

    Newman plays his usual non-conformist rebel type, but he's really a rebel without a cause. He's in his early forties, a Korean war veteran who just hasn't found his place in civilian life. He gets himself busted for no great cause, just on a drunken spree in some Southern town he decides to knock the heads off a bunch of parking meters.

    That lands him a stint in a county jail with a lot of outdoor work on a road gang. He fights with, but later wins the respect and becomes friends with George Kennedy the head honcho in his barracks.

    The real tragedy of Cool Hand Luke is that Newman is a failure in life, it's why he's in prison. He gains the respect of his fellow convicts for those ways, but that involves going against the penal system and in the end that gets you nothing. Can you picture James Dean as a forty something doing what Newman is doing? It would have been his kind of role for sure.

    Newman does a fine job playing the non-conformist Luke who seems to be just going on the path fate has decreed for him. George Kennedy got his Oscar winning career role as Dragline. Other men in Luke's barracks are Wayne Rogers, Robert Drivas, and J.D. Cannon and they fill their roles well.

    Strother Martin as the warden of the place is the guy with the film's favorite line, "what we've got is failure to communicate." Martin and his correction officers have many interesting ways of getting their point across.

    Cool Hand Luke may very well be the saddest role Newman ever undertook in his long career.
  • comment
    • Author: Memuro
    This film is set in America's Deep South in the years after the Second World War. Luke Jackson, a down-on-his-luck war veteran, is arrested for vandalising parking meters while drunk and sentenced to imprisonment in a brutally tough prison. At first his offhand, seemingly arrogant, attitude alienates not only the prison governor and guards but also his fellow-prisoners, and he is soon challenged to a fight by another inmate named Dragline. The tall, powerfully built Dragline is an easy victor, but Luke's determination and fighting spirit, never knowing when he is beaten and refusing to quit, arouse the respect of the others, especially Dragline who becomes his close friend. Luke becomes a hero to the prisoners because they see him as a rebel who refuses to be beaten by the system. (His nickname stems from the cool way in which he plays a hand at poker, but it also refers to his remaining cool in the face of persecution). Luke makes two escape attempts, but on both occasions he is recaptured and brought back to the prison for punishment by the guards who are determined to break his spirit. It seems that they have succeeded, but then Luke and Dragnet make one last break for freedom.

    On one level this film is a critique of the inhumanity of the American prison system, part of a tradition going back to "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" and continuing more recently with "Brubaker" (also directed by Stuart Rosenberg) and the less successful "The Last Castle". The regime in this jail is particularly inhuman. The prisoners are put to work all day digging ditches in the hot sun. (It is never made clear whether the ditches need to be dug and the prisoners are a useful source of free labour, or whether putting them to demeaning and useless work is seen as a means of keeping them under control and of giving vent to the sadistic impulses of their jailers). There is a long list of petty regulations, breach of which is punished by "a night in the box", a tiny cell used for solitary confinement. The guards take a perverse delight in tormenting and humiliating the prisoners. Strother Martin's governor (who prefers to be called "the Captain") is a particularly frightening figure, a little man with a grating, high-pitched voice who can even make a piece of bland management-speak like "What we have here is a failure to communicate" sound like a terrifying threat.

    The film is more, however, than a social-realist exposure of conditions in America's jails. It was made in the sixties, the decade when the times they were a-changing and when traditional concepts of authority were being challenged everywhere. Like a number of films from the sixties and seventies, "Cool Hand Luke" reflects this popular mood. The film with which it has most in common is "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in which Jack Nicholson does for mental asylums what Paul Newman does here for prisons. Newman's screen persona was often that of the cool, detached outsider. This may have had the effect of narrowing his range as an actor somewhat- he could often seem too laid back in more traditional types of film, such as Hitchcock's "Torn Curtain"- but it meant that he could be excellent playing anti-heroes in films of this nature. ("Hombre" is another example). Here, in one of his best performances, he makes Luke a symbol of the little man standing up against authority. We learn that he was a hero in the war and was decorated a number of times but that he finished the war as a private after being demoted from sergeant. The implication is that military discipline was as uncongenial to him as prison discipline and that he lost his rank for some act of insubordination. Even his crime can be seen as a protest against the petty tyranny of rules and regulations of which parking meters are a symbol.

    There has been speculation about the possible religious implications of the film and whether Luke is intended to be a Christ-figure. Certainly, the shot in which he is seen in a crucifix-like pose after the egg-eating contest is derived from standard Christian imagery, but in my view this is not a deliberate Christian allegory along the lines of "Whistle Down the Wind" or "The Omega Man". In orthodox Christian thought, Christ is much more than a rebel against authority or even a man unjustly persecuted; he is also the Son of God and the Redeemer of mankind. One scene does not an allegory make. Nevertheless, there are undoubted religious overtones to the film. If Luke is an allegorical figure, the allegory is not with Christ but with Everyman, a man in search (sometimes a despairing search) of God. He claims not to believe in God, yet has long conversations with Him. The song he sings after the death of his mother is irreverent, possibly blasphemous, but blasphemy is the sin of the angry believer, not of the unbeliever. A true atheist cannot blaspheme, because there is nothing for him to blaspheme against.

    Newman was nominated for "Best Actor" and George Kennedy won a well-deserved "Best Supporting Actor" for his portrayal of Dragline, but I was surprised that the film was not nominated as "Best Picture", especially as the nominations in 1968 included a film as weak as "Dr Doolittle". Whatever the Academy may have thought, however, "Cool Hand Luke" is a film that has matured well. It is a multi-layered film that works well on each of its several levels of meaning. With "I am a Fugitive…." and "The Birdman of Alcatraz", it is one of the greatest of all prison dramas. This was Stuart Rosenberg's first feature film, but like Orson Welles ("Citizen Kane"), Sidney Lumet ("Twelve Angry Men") and Bryan Forbes ("Whistle Down the Wind") he made a great film on his first attempt. 9/10
  • comment
    • Author: Enalonasa
    Luke (Paul Newman) lands himself in a Deep South prison farm for drunkenly cutting the heads off of parking meters. Once at the farm Luke refuses to be ground down by the system and its grinning warden (a brilliant Strother Martin). As things role by Luke becomes something of a hero to his fellow inmates and this is not lost on the authority in charge of the farm. Things are sure to come to a head as Luke rebels to the point of no return...

    Division of Corrections. Road Prison 36.

    The close examination of Cool Hand Luke over the years has rightly thrown up the fact that it's a Christ allegory. Which is just fine given that Stuart Rosenberg's film is one of the finest films that the 60s had to offer. It also boasts, arguably of course, the Paul Newman signature role (yes even better than The Hustler). As the title suggests, Cool Hand Luke, both the film and character, there is a great deal of cool here, in fact for a great deal of the first half of movie it's laced with comic touches as we warm easily to the "rebel against the system" machismo and charm that Newman provides as Lukas Jackson. Yet the film then shifts considerably at the mid-point to give us something far more potent and dramatic to alter any preconceptions the audience had of this just being a movie about a macho loner earning our sympathy.

    Calling it your job don't make it right Boss.

    Much in the film has been firmly ensconced in the memorable moments department, 50 eggs, tar that road quickly, the "Kick a Buck" poker game, "still shaking boss", a mountain of rice to be eaten, sneezing bloodhounds, the boxing match and one of the greatest and most iconic of tag-lines ever, "what we got here is a failure to communicate", all forming part of a truly great whole. However, revisiting the picture often brings the realisation that so much more is on offer than at first thought. Luke is a real war hero (this has been missed by both pro and amateur critics) whose crime is pretty tame for the sentence he finds himself faced with. The Dragline (George Kennedy kicking up a storm of acting quality) and Luke friendship that builds with grace and thunder, sexual frustration of the incarcerated male and a mother and son arc that attacks the soul and lets Newman show many of his acting peers just how grief should be acted out on screen...

    "Well, I don't care if it rains or freezes, Long as I have my plastic Jesus, Riding on the dashboard of my car. Through all trials and tribulations, We will travel every nation, With my plastic Jesus I'll go far"

    With Newman, Kennedy and Martin holding court with every scene they are in, it would be easy at first glance to ignore the supporting roles, but Rosenberg ensures that supporting players make telling marks. It's a roll call of sweaty and twitchy character actors that features the likes of Anthony Zerbe, Joe Don Baker, Clifton James, Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper, Morgan Woodward, Wayne Rogers and J.D. Cannon. Filmed in Technicolor and Panavision, Rosenberg and cinematographer Conrad Hall do an amazing job of making Stockton, California feel like the actual Deep South. Film unfolds to the backdrop of a sun drenched land inhabited by life's unfortunates and the supposed upstanding face of American officialdom...

    Iconography and martyrdom unbound, Cool Hand Luke is a slow-burn classic of deep thematic worth. 10/10
  • comment
    • Author: Grotilar
    'Cool Hand Luke' is the (long) story of a charismatic misfit in a Southern segregated convict road gang. There is an interesting turning point in the film where Luke (Paul Newman) refuses to shelter from a deadly(?) rainstorm with the rest of the gang, and defies God to do anything to him; his character is defined by this sort of bravado. In the next scene, he learns that his beloved mother has died and the famous 'Plastic Jesus' song scene follows. Luke then simply becomes reckless and hurtles towards his doom.

    The problem with the film is that this interesting pivotal moment - his mother's death and how Luke might feel he had provoked God - is all but obliterated in the corny dramatisation of the convicts' lives. Clichés abound; apart from the effective depiction of the back-breaking work of the gang, the compound seems to be more like a frat house. Perfect hairstyles, no fights except on Saturdays, plenty of food and booze, and basically everybody manages to keep their chins up, play poker and have a good laugh most of the time. Other reviewers have cited the 'Hogan's Heroes' and 'Bilko' similarities. They're right.

    So what could be a really affecting story just turns out to be a series of upbeat and downbeat setpieces, with a 'modern' nihilistic ending. Actually, there's a completely irrelevant bit tacked on after that where George Kennedy tells the gang what a 'world-shaker' Luke was. No he wasn't, he was possibly a complicated character but we learn nothing about what he really feels or why he did what he did. Whether that's Paul Newman's or the script's fault I can't tell, but Paul Newman does his overblown 'Hustler' performance, chewing more scenery than eggs in the process. A curate's egg, even - a few parts of this bad egg are excellent.
  • comment
    • Author: Gunos
    Interesting flick about the deprivations and subhuman conditions of a chain gang and a rebel prisoner to whom wardens will attempt to break his free spirit . Based on a real story by Donn Pearce who wrote the novel on which the movie is based , he spent 2 years on a chain gang for safe-breaking ; Pearce makes a cameo appearance in the movie as a convict named Sailor . It deals with Luke (Paul Newman ) who is sent to a prison camp , where he gets a reputation as a hard man . He becomes a prisoner on a Southern chain gang , there the head of the gang hates him , and attempts to break him by beating him up . It doesn't work, and he gains respect and not even the deprivations of these wrong conditions will break his spirit . Irrepressible Luke even manages to win the admiration of his rival (George Kennedy) in the chain gang . Luke is visited by his ill mother (Jo Van Fleet was only 11 years older than Paul Newman , Bette Davis was first offered the role of Luke's mother, but refused the bit part) ; after that , Luke refuses to conform to life in a rural prison and he getaways , but is caught, but escapes again .

    Modern slant on chain gang sub-genre with one of Paul Newman's greatest interpretations from his prestigious and long career , here as an obstinate , stubborn prisoner . George Kennedy's acting was equally excellent and deservedly won him a supporting Academy Award . Rosenberg's magnificent direction that underlines the strength of personalities involved , undercutting the less pleasant aspects and putting the focus squarely on Newman's tough performance and including the memorably unforgettable egg-eating contest . Top-notch secondary cast who gives splendid performances as Strother Martin , Lou Antonio , Wayne Rogers , J.D. Cannon , Dennis Hooper , Harry Dean Stanton , Morgan Woodward , Joe Don Baker , and Ralph Waite , Anthony Zerbe's film debuts , among others . Good sets and fine scenarios , as a Southern prison camp was built just north of Stockton, California , a dozen buildings were constructed, including a barracks, mess hall, warden's quarters, guard shack, and dog kennels . Colorful and glimmer cinematography by Conrad L. Hall . Atmospheric musical score by Lalo Schifrin in his usual style .

    Stuart Rosenberg was one of the best TV directors of the 50s and 60s and subsequently realized segment of crime and mystery series . In 1967 directed his first film , ¨Mystery Inc¨ , and subsequently the successful ¨Cool Hand Luke¨ with Paul Newman . Rosenberg and Newman attempted in vain to repeat the formula in three further movies together as ¨WUSA movie¨, ¨Pocket money¨ and ¨The drowning pool¨ . However he achieved other two hit smashes , in the terror genre with ¨The Amityville horror¨ and again with a prison film titled ¨Brubaker¨. Since then Rosenberg's output has been unsatisfactory and sporadic as ¨The Pope of Greenwich village ¨ a Mickey Rourke vehicle . Rosenberg directed 5 actors in Oscar nominated performances: Peter Falk, Paul Newman, Lee Grant, Geraldine Page and of course George Kennedy with his top-drawer performance as Dragline . Rating : Above average , wholesome watching . Essential and indispensable seeing for the Paul Newman's fans .
  • comment
    • Author: Blackbeard
    I read another comment on here that said that this and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are two films which are pretty much identical. While I was watching Cool Hand Luke I did recollect the other classic (to me still much more extraordinary) guys-locked-up movie Cuckoo's Nest, as it did have its hero knocking an authority as tough as a ton on bricks. But there's a big difference between the two films- in Cuckoo's Nest, you had in Nicholson a rebel-rouser who didn't mind getting some real words across to people with his plight, and the people he was locked up with are actually, to a basic degree, sane. Newman is, much as the title suggests, 'cool', as he really doesn't have that much dialog for most of the picture, and the system he's bucking isn't supposed to be "helping" him and the people he's with. They're there on the chain gang to bust ass and do the work that nobody in their right mind would do unless pointed by a gun to do so. Though on the other hand, this dynamic from Newman, amid a very good prison movie, still makes Cool Hand Luke quite memorable for its ways of bucking the system.

    It's also by turns an often funny movie, with the centerpiece of the 50 egg bet being one that is just sheerly, unabashedly entertaining. And it's the kind of scene that does almost remind someone of that scene in Cuckoo's Nest where they all get riled up during the 'baseball game' on TV. But sometimes the filmmakers doing Cool Hand Luke do perhaps push a wee bit much allegory on such a simple set of events, less a story, than necessary. At the end of the 50 egg sequence, Newman is basically laid out on the table- and I'm sure it's meant to be intentional- in the form of Christ. This is played up for a lot of the rest of the film, as it's perhaps really intuited that he's suffering for the other prisoner's sins, and may even perhaps someday die for it all. This side ends up becoming a little preachy, even if its meant to be subtle, which I don't think it is, and it detracts from the greater pleasures of watching a picture like this.

    Because really, aside from the allegory, this is just good old prison picture, and one that pushes the boundaries of the prisoner-escape angle, such as that Newman's Luke escapes for the whole second half of the movie! It's also kind of bittersweet that the filmmakers decide not to show how Newman gets captured, but leaves it at first on the prisoners- who after getting beaten up by Oscar winning George Kennedy's rily character, and getting them to fix a road like its some competition- and then just suddenly he's caught again. At one point this even leads to the now classic line, once sampled in a Guns n Roses song, "what we've got here is failure to communicate" by the always great character actor Strother Martin. Though if you're not really looking for message or allegory, it's also just a really neat 'guy' movie, in the best sense of the word, with scenes like the torturous girl-washes-car-in-front-of-chain-gang scene, and of course ones that just show them acting like real guys. It's populated by a plethora of acting talent, with Kennedy, Dennis Hopper, Luke Askew, and even a guitar strumming/singing Harry Dean Stanton! (Which is a hoot if you've seen as mant Stanton films as me).

    And then finally there's Newman himself, definitely in one of his seminal roles even if it's not a full-on total masterwork. Here he actually does create a character out of someone who is really sort of a nobody with no real aims. He doesn't even know what do to when he breaks out of prison, even as he gets as far as Chicago. "I never planned anything in my life", he says at one point. That the character only has maybe 15 lines in the film isn't a problem for Newman either. He makes such a thin character, ultimately, likable and strong, and fulfills such an anti-hero very believably, especially when he's most needed to put up his acting chops towards the end of the picture. Even if you're not too much into prison movies- and this one does have in it the kind of spirit that speaks back to the films of the 30s (in a good way for the old-school fans)- it's worth it just to see what Newman does, alongside the other actors. It also holds up pretty well decades later, which is a credit not just to Newman but to the screenwriters and director Stuart Rosenberg, probably the highlight of an otherwise journeyman filmmaker career.
  • comment
    • Author: Wnex
    "What we got here . . . is failure to communicate!" -- Hardly.

    Someone once remarked that "there is no accounting for taste". That said, I throw in my tuppence for this film as the "best" ever made. Whether you are a deep thinker or a fluffy gen-X-er, this film provides much food for thought. Indeed, it will probably remain as the best treatment of Buddhist philosophy ever produced.

    'Nuff said
  • comment
    • Author: Mr_TrOlOlO
    Forty years ago.

    When I first saw this, I was completely captured by it. I was a simple soul who believed in simple situations. It was a bad time, a time of evil politicians and a bad war. This resonated, as a strong soul, casually defiant. It mattered in an affirmative way, to the emerging counterculture (what we thought was such, anyway).

    Twenty years ago, I saw it again and was struck by the genre nature of it. The 30's was the previous era where the powerful establishment was distrusted and people suffered as a result. In that time prison movies formed a strong genre that has all but disappeared now. But the then it was a subgenre to have an innocent, good man, often a war hero, sent to prison to suffer at the hands of the man. By simple dint of Biblical-quality goodness, he wins in some way. The viewers silently celebrate, and then left the theater to fight their own fights with the system.

    It struck me how similar this was to that template, and how similar the reasons. The only difference was that in the 30s the audience would be swept toward socialist ideals and in the sixties the war was against some disembodied notion of domino communism. And the genre had to be hidden by setting it in the south, then as now evoking a backward people.

    But I just saw it again. Since the last time I have heard Paul Newman speak of it. He is annoyed because he can see himself obviously acting. His character works when the character is acting a role — and we see him do it. Its an unintentional fold, the sort of acting that Paul could pull off in later years, starting with "The Verdict." But because the job is bigger than his chops at the time, you can see how poorly he does when his character isn't creating a self: when he comes back to the barracks beaten. When he speaks to God. Even when he says that famous last line. He is inadequate, and the idea that a lessor self could be so attractive kept him drunk for decades.

    Its really not a very good movie: a collection of templates put together at the right time and striking a nerve.

    A pretty remarkable phenomenon. Now, I wonder, where is the modern equivalent of this film, one that seems to be about charm, but which depends on dishonest politicians who destroy us? Will it be a jail movie, or does that reference not carry the same weight today?

    As I write this, Paul is ill.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
  • comment
    • Author: Gajurus
    This is one of those films I managed to not see for decades. When I finally saw it recently, I was left at quite a loss. What is it that draws people to watch bored characters make themselves into losers for no good reason? In Cool Hand Luke, the main character, Luke, played by Paul Newman, ends up in prison for a short sentence he earned by destroying public property (parking meters). For anyone with any shred of common sense, serving the short sentence would be enough. Get in, get out, lesson learned.

    But, to make the story interesting, Luke manages to create friction where there was none, for no good reason other than tendency to self-destruct. He is not an anti-conformist, not very smart, and not really having much of a goal. He is healthy, and perfectly capable of earning a living. But he decides to go down in flames, albeit with questionable style. I found it torturing to watch dumb character doing dumb things. In few instances we see Luke trying to talk to God, but the "conversation" is lacking, uninspiring and pointless. Those moments make Luke sound like a spoiled, self-absorbed, angry teen.

    Perhaps the book's author and filmmakers would like to believe that Cool Hand Luke is a story about someone who was wronged, or searching for God, or inspiring others to be different, but it is none of those. This film falls flat on its face in all departments, and earns only high marks for its shallowness and decent performances. For a truly great story about anti-conformism, one should watch One Flew Over The Cuckoo's nest. Cool Hand Luke is nowhere near that.

    All in all, this depressing, pointless story is the best way to ruin your evening. I gave it 2 stars only for Paul Newman's performance, otherwise, it would be a firm zero.
  • comment
    • Author: Daizil
    Okay, I had written an enormous blurb about how great the ending of this film was and how the ending is a film's most important part, but I think we all understand that well enough. I am going to talk about something else:

    George Kennedy's Oscar winning role. Wow, is he awesome! I, like I assume many people of my generation are, am only familiar with Kennedy through his role as the police Captain Ed from the Naked Gun series, in which he was hilarious, and his stint selling breath mints on infomercials. I never expected that he ever won an Oscar! And it was entirely deserved. He created a very complex character in this film. Bravo!

    I loved Paul Newman, too, of course. I just looked at who else was nominated that year, and I have not seen either the winner of that year's best actor Oscar (Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night) or one other nominee (Spencer Tracy in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner), but of those I have seen (Warren Beatty, Bonnie and Clyde and Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate) I would personally have picked Warren Beatty, seeing as Bonnie and Clyde is one of my very favorite films, and I love Beatty in it. Anyway, Cool Hand Luke was a masterpiece itself, and I do give it a 10/10
  • comment
    • Author: Tenius
    This movie tries hard to convince you that right is wrong, black is white, up is down, and most importantly, that the antagonist is the protagonist.

    The main character is Luke, a jobless deadbeat who is arrested for sawing off parking meters while drunk. He is sentenced to two years in a chain gang. Despite the fact that he is apathetic, rebellious, irreligious, selfish, and totally deserved to go to jail, we the audience are asked to root for this person.

    The law-officers are portrayed as evil, and somehow rules are "bad" and those who defy authority are heroes.

    The plot is long, drawn-out, and boring. We simply watch two hours of this man Luke smart off and try to escape the chain gang, until he finally dies at the end during his final escape. Then he is called a "world-shaker." What? This man contributed nothing to his fellow human beings except to be a deadbeat rebel, and yet he's some kind of hero? The most Luke ever does in his life is eat 50 eggs. How inspirational! Don't waste your time with this movie that tries to warp the rules of morality, logic, and good-movie-making.
  • Cast overview, first billed only:
    Paul Newman Paul Newman - Luke
    George Kennedy George Kennedy - Dragline
    J.D. Cannon J.D. Cannon - Society Red
    Lou Antonio Lou Antonio - Koko
    Robert Drivas Robert Drivas - Loudmouth Steve
    Strother Martin Strother Martin - Captain
    Jo Van Fleet Jo Van Fleet - Arletta
    Clifton James Clifton James - Carr
    Morgan Woodward Morgan Woodward - Boss Godfrey
    Luke Askew Luke Askew - Boss Paul
    Marc Cavell Marc Cavell - Rabbitt
    Richard Davalos Richard Davalos - Blind Dick
    Robert Donner Robert Donner - Boss Shorty
    Warren Finnerty Warren Finnerty - Tattoo
    Dennis Hopper Dennis Hopper - Babalugats
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