After settling his differences with a Japanese PoW camp commander, a British colonel co-operates to oversee his men's construction of a railway bridge for their captors - while oblivious to a plan by the Allies to destroy it.
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. Written by
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, 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 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. See more »
Just before Luke enters the church to have his talk with God, he looks toward the church which is silhouetted against the late afternoon sky. In the next shot when he starts walking toward the church, it is dark. See more »
[Luke won a game of poker on a bluff]
Nothin'. A handful of nothin'. You stupid mullet head. He beat you with nothin'. Just like today when he kept comin' back at me - with nothin'.
Yeah, well, sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
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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.
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