on November 27, 2002
This movie is anything but cool. The characters are rough, foul, and awkward. The setting is realistic and harsh. It takes place in the scorching sun and humidity. There's many a scene of sweat and overheating men. Luke, though, is cool. He's the figure of composure; he's classy, smart, proud, and witty, but he rarely talks, keeping aloof. Or he's independent free man who won't let anyone get him down.
There's a scene when he bluffs his way to victory in a poker match, thus his nickname "cool hand Luke". Another scene has him fighting with another inmate until he's nearly unconscious, but he never surrenders. Yet another has him eating 50 eggs in an hour for a bet, and he doesn't give up. And I think this is the metaphor for the rest of the film. You can either see him as a cocky stubborn man, or more appropriately, a man who won't give up his freedom. He's thrown in prison and chain gang labor for a case of petty vandalism during a drunken stupor, yet he never utters a word about it, even during the most humiliating or painful punishment, but his conviction and sentence are hardly a matter in this film. Here is a man who is troubled and dysfunctional (as the story slightly exposes), but is already in an advanced state of personal freedom. Though he'd like to be living a normal life, searches for it, and deserves as much, he doesn't need it. He's spiritually and mentally invincible, and eventually it leads to his ultimate fate.
Cool Hand Luke is a marvelous film. It's one fourth romantic, three fourths gritty reality. Paul Newman and the gorgeous cinematography are the romance. Newman nearly carries the film. Here's this movie star, a charismatic leading man who liberally uses his smile to get himself through scenes, but he immerses himself into his character. I think Luke is one of the greatest, most complex male characters to grace the screen, and Newman is really the only actor who could ever do him justice. But he isn't playing Newman, he's playing Luke, every inch of Luke. He IS Luke, he is this renegade rebel, this charming dapper Dan, and this tragic everyman. Newman's supporting cast is superb, in one of the best acted films I've ever seen. George Kennedy is incredible as the only sizable supporting character, though the rest of the cast do their utmost to fit their roles, especially the various sinister and slimy wardens, and they do it beautifully. No actor wastes his time on screen. They create the atmosphere.
I just have to mention the dialogue. This is one of those films with incredible dialogue. Nothing is sappy or soupy. It embraces wit and logic, a lovely razor sharpness, and a down to earth realism. Every sentence is perfectly placed, there are no superfluous words, every character with they're own style that still allow them to sound like real people. End of dialogue discussion.
This film is simple. It's simply told, simply filmed, and on the outside it's a simple story, but I think it delves a lot deeper than at first appearance. It's unpretentious. Without us knowing it paints an environment, it paints a setting. It's a movie with certain faintly stylized points and flourishes, with a bit of a Southern storytelling air and lilt to it, and a definite love for fun. But it's intense, from the acting, to plot twists and character developements, to minor "action" sequences (a movie populated by inmates and movie stars has to have some excitement), it has incredible depth in it's subtle symbolism and it's layered messages and it's performances with their emotional tapestries. Thus, it has an immense replayability quotient.
This is drama at it's finest. It is a complex intriguing film that can get under your skin in it's rawness, but can still entertain you, and send you into that dreamy mesmerized state of being in awe of a film and the characters portrayed in it.
on May 18, 2000
And I really mean it. They used to show this film often on the Superstation. When I was twelve, I watched it; the next time it came on, I taped it, and watched it probably more than 50 times over the next few years (I didn't know for a long time that the TV version has several scenes cut out for length, so getting it on video was a new revelation). What is it about "Cool Hand Luke" that is so moving? Well, it starts with Paul Newman's performance. Lucas Jackson is one of the most psychologically complex characters in the history of cinema, and Newman, criminally denied the Oscar for this film, makes him seem larger-than-life without saying much. Everything that comes out of his mouth is a revelation. The Christ allusions, which are fittingly done, heighten the sense of injustice that Luke is being slowly crucified by the lawmen, simply because he won't bend to their rules. On the surface, Luke seems self-destructive and ignorant, but in repeated watchings of the film, it becomes apparent that Luke is answering to a call that is bigger than the prison, bigger than the bosses, bigger than the law itself. I could go on and on about the myriad other ways in which this film is perfect, but why bother? I only get 1,000 words. Suffice it to say that this is the movie that makes George Kennedy, of all people, seem noble. YOU MUST SEE THIS FILM. The only flaw: I grew up in Georgia, and I can assure you that it is not filmed where it is set. Looks more like the Central Valley of California to me.
on February 15, 1999
The first time I saw "Cool Hand Luke" I was not overly immpresed with it. I thought he was a "punk" who had desevedly fallen on hard luck.I have since seen the movie ten-twelve times. I think a lot can be learned about "Luke" (Paul Newman)in the scene when his mother goes to visit him. It is clear that he always wanted to please his mother, but he ended up more like his father. Arletta(Luke's mother) makes allusions to Luke's father not being good at sticking around. From the start, there have been many people who have left Luke far behind. The girl from Kentucky, all of his mates, he lost in the War, and finally his mother when she passed on. This was the "final straw" so to speak. Luke was going to run for sure. The true beauty of "Luke's" character was the fact that he was able to give many people, hope without having any of his own. He makes two references to "The Man Upstairs". Once in the rain asking his to just let him know that he is up there, and another time letting him know that he felt cheated. Every man in that camp loved and respected "Luke". "Dragline"(George Kennedy)called Luke "a natural born world shaker". I could not have put it any better myself. I felt this was a top-notch screen play, and the acting was incredible. I have not seen Newman give a better performance. Kennedy was well deserving of the "best supporting actor" Oscar. Look closely for Dennis Hopper, Joe Don Baker, Harry Dean Stanton and many others. This film should be on everyone's must see list.
Paul Newman portrays Lucas Jackson, an iconic film anti-hero, in this classic film.
Luke seems to have wandered aimlessly after winning several medals in WWII, and in the beginning of the film he's arrested for "maliciously destroying municipal property" - using a pipe cutter to cut the heads off of parking meters.
The film has little exposition and in the next scene plunges our anti-hero in the middle of Division of Corrections, Road Prison 36, in the south. Strother Martin plays the "Cap'n", the warden of this group, and Luke is instructed that all the other guards are to be called "Boss". The bosses are frighteningly sadistic. Morgan Woodward is terrifying as "the man with no eyes". He speaks no words from behind his mirror sunglasses, but has a rifle brought to him every so often so that he can demonstrate his sharp-shooter accuracy.
George Kennedy won Best-Supporting Actor Oscar as "Dragline", bull of the herd of prisoners. Dragline leads the group, running gambling and the small barracks "bank", and all the other prisoners follow his example and look to him as the source of what little self-respect they have.
Luke and Dragline knock heads, figuratively and later on, literally, when Dragline beats Luke nearly unconscious in a brawling boxing match. Dragline and the other prisoners live a pretty vivid fantasy life. They blow-up the smallest slivver of hope into a bright shining ray of hope. In a famous scene the prisoners are working just down the road from a beautiful blonde who stretches and teases and caresses the car she is washing with a soaped up sponge (this scene has been copied many times since in more juvenile films). The other prisoners immediately attach themselves to the fantasy image of "Lucille". She is just some innocent, beautiful girl who "didn't know what she was doin'" while she postured her curvy side for the men. "Oh, she knew what she was doing, and she loved every minute of it", Luke states plainly, bursting the fantasy balloon of the other prisoners. This leads to the famous boxing match with Dragline.
Luke is insolent and rebellious and talks back to the Bosses in a way the other prisoners wouldn't dare. He gradually earns the respect of the other prisoners, and one of the best scenes of the film occurs at a poker game where Dragline finally comes to respect Luke and gives him his nickname.
Luke doesn't want responsibility, even the responsibility of the admiration of the prisoners. The film charms it's way under your skin, though, and it's very easy to lose the perspective that by the end you've spent the entire movie rooting for a man who by almost any other definition would be a loser.
Paul Newman has seldom been better.
"Cool Hand Luke" was adapted from the novel by Don Pearce, who spent some time on a Florida chain gang and based his leading character, Lucas Jackson, one-third on a real man he knew in prison, one-third on himself, and the rest is fiction. Lucas "Luke" Jackson (Paul Newman) is sent to a Southern prison camp for "maliciously destroying municipal property while under the influence" -busting parking meters, where the prisoners work on a chain gang doing road work. A big, boisterous inmate nicknamed "Dragline" (George Kennedy) at first sees Luke as a challenge to his position, but soon comes to admire Luke's daring and stubbornness. His fellow prisoners find Luke's fearlessness inspiring, but the prison warden and guards are uneasy with it.
George Kennedy won the 1968 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the friendly, simple country guy who idolizes Luke. He's one of many notable character actors in the film's large supporting cast. "Cool Hand Luke" harkens back to the prison films of the 1930s, also produced by Warner Brothers, in its social conscience message and antihero protagonist. It particularly reminds me of "I Am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang" (1932), written by another man with experience on a Southern chain gang. "Cool Hand Luke" is beautifully shot by cinematographer Conrad Hall, who would win an Academy Award much later for another Newman film, "Road to Perdition" (2002). I don't think I've ever seen a camera move so much on landscapes. It's captivating.
One thing that characterizes films with enduring greatness is that they invite more than one reading of the material. "Cool Hand Luke" is a character study of Lucas Jackson, a man whose stubbornness is less a conviction than it is self-destruction. Or perhaps it is not about Luke at all, but about how those around him react to his unwillingness to conform. If we are to view Luke simply as an inmate, he is a masochistic fool. If we interpret the prison as a microcosm of the greater society, he is the nonconformist through whom the rest of the population lives vicariously and whom authorities fear simply because he does not fear them. The prison has nitpicky rules, but there doesn't seem to be much reason to disobey them. Yet Luke cannot bring himself to live that way. Perhaps the conclusion is that we need people who are a little nuts to flout society's norms sometimes.
The DVD (Warner Brothers 2008): Bonus features are one featurette, an audio commentary, and a theatrical trailer (3 min). "A Natural-Born World Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke" (30 min) includes recent interviews with director Stuart Rosenberg, screenwriter Frank Pierson, Paul Newman biographer Eric Lax, novelist Dan Pearce, and many members of the cast and crew who talk about getting the film made, camaraderie on set, and filming. The audio commentary is by Newman biographer Eric Lax, who did not participate in the film, so he has a scholar's view, not personal recollections. He talks about the making of the film, its anti-authoritarian themes, characters, sets, and takes us through the film. Subtitles available in English SDH, French. Dubbing available in French.
on September 19, 2005
I've seen this movie many times and caught it on TV again this weekend, only reminding me what a classic it is, easily among the best of all time.
Paul Newman plays Luke, an unbreakable spirit trapped in a place, and among men, determined to break him. That spirit, though, is as much his strength as it is his burden. As the story progresses, the audience comes to identify, not so much with Luke himself, but with his prisonmates. We're in silent awe of his guts when he won't stay down in the fight scene with George Kennedy, we root for him on the edge of our seats during the oft-referenced egg eating scene, we watch with pity as he digs and fills the ditch - the guards working him to the breaking point, and we cheer like mad as he takes off in the same guards' truck, shackles be damned.
It could easily be regarded as Newman's best acting. I wouldn't disagree with that, but won't go that far myself only out of respect for his other all time great performances (e.g. The Hustler, Butch Cassidy, The Color of Money, The Verdict, and so on).
Also, as a "prison movie", as much as I hate to lump this classic into such a narrow sub-genre, it is by far the best I've seen and its influence on future films of that genre, the good ones and the bad ones (e.g. Escape From Alcatraz, The Shawshank Redemption, and so on), is blatantly obvious.
In short . . . a classic, definitely in my personal top ten of all time.
on March 17, 2011
I'm only 19 and have taken a real shine to older films, Cool Hand Luke is one of my favorites. This film has all the right elements drama,comedy,irony, intelligence,escapism-I could be listing for days. This movie is also very engaging and makes you think, which I love.The variety of characters leaves no dull moment in this film, and Paul Newman's performance is nothing less than excellent.If you want the full experience I suggest reading the book(you can find it here on Amazon)then watching the film. I highly recommend.
on January 31, 2001
It is difficult to find a movie that has all the elements of "Cool Hand Luke," i.e., great screenplay, superb acting, great directing, and a wonderful musical score. The movie is very typical of the 60's genre where rebellion was in, and what we have in Luke is the consummate rebel. But a very lovable rebel at that. We learn of the various psychological complexities of Luke and of the very grim conditions of living on a southern chain gang. There are so many aspects of this movie that make it great that it is hard to isolate just a couple. The friendship that develops between the character "Dragline", beautifully played by George Kennedy, and Luke is wonderful to experience, as is Luke's constant search for God.
The movie is full of humor, for example the famous egg-eating contest, tenderness, sadness and just about any emotion you can think of. I think that is what has made it so appealing over the years.
I greatly appreciate the efforts of Director Stuart Rosenberg, Actor Paul Newman who gave, what I consider to be, the finest performance of his career, George Kennedy for his Academy Award winning performance, and composer Lalo Schifrin who wrote the beautiful musical score. All who worked on this movie deserve great credit, because they created, what I consider to be, the greatest movie ever made.
Released in 1967, COOL HAND LUKE was among a wave of 1960s and 1970s films--BONNIE AND CLYDE, EASY RIDER, and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST to name but a few--to present the classic David and Golitath story of a likeable rebel going up against established powers. In these films, however, David rarely overcame Golithah; he was instead destroyed and we the audience were left to admire his courage and despise the powers that destroyed him. In the case of COOL HAND LUKE, based on a 1965 novel by Donn Pearce, the hero was a World War II veteran who, for reasons of alcohol, amused himself by cutting the heads off parking meters in a small southern town--and consequently finds himself doing time on a chain gang. He also finds himself incapable of following the rules, and it doesn't much matter what the rules are; he is a born rebel, a never-say-die fighter, a man who simply cannot turn from a path once he has set foot upon it. And from his first day the powers that be are determined to rob him of all humanity and break him of all self-respect.
Like ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, most of the film plays out like a comedy, with a host of memorable characters as both prisoners and guards. On the prisoner side the cast includes George Kennedy (who picked up a Best Supporting Oscar for his work here), Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, and Ralph Waite, to name but a few; on the guard side is the truly memorable Strother Martin, who runs the county farm with the assistance of brutal killers. Jo Van Fleet and Joy Harmon also shine, the first as Luke's tough but dying mother, the second as a country girl who decides to give the chain gang a treat by washing her car in the most seductive manner possible. The cast is a director's dream, and Stuart Rosenberg makes the most of it; although most of his previous experience was with television, and although his later films are hardly worth mentioning, he gets the most out of the actors and script, and the result is... both hilarious and bitter, comic and painful, and ultimately incredibly ugly.
The atmosphere captures the feel of a county "farm" prison and a chain gang in an uncomfortably realistic way; I was born and raised in the deep south, and I can attest to the fact that such beat up shacks, brutal punishments, and chain gang labor was common well into the late 1970s--and in some instances are only now beginning to be uncovered and prosecuted. The film is also rife with covert references to homosexuality, a fact that seemes to have gone of the heads of the censors of the day but resonated with audiences in a "boys will be boys" sort of way. But the thing that makes COOL HAND LUKE such a winner is Paul Newman's spectacular performance in the title role and the humor he and the rest of cast brings to the film--from card games to egg eating contests, from escape attempts to outwitting the guards. But as Luke learns the hard way, one can only outwit the guards so many times, and when the establishment wants you broken, you're broken, and when the establishment wants you dead, you're dead. Sometimes we need to be reminded that cinema can be much more than just eye candy--happy dragons and CGI effects and other such foolishness. It's a cruel world we live in, and it hasn't changed much since Newman and company stepped before the cameras to make this film.
You'll laugh at Luke and his prison mates. You cringe at the guards with their icy eyes. You'll cry. You'll be outraged. And although it is a painful trip, when the movie ends, you won't regret having taken it. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on April 13, 2016
Paul Newman is fantastic. I never finished watching this movie because it was so boring and dragged on. It got to the point where I could no longer bare watching it and decided to just watch some television instead.
This movie had no plot, climax, or resolution. Watching it felt like I was watching a series of boring, dull, and repetitive events happening in Luke's life.
I think this movie would appeal to men who want to be admired, liked, and seen as "cool" by other men, basically, a man's man.
Did not appeal to me, as a young woman.