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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+
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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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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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 gesturethe 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 thisplus his continual defiance of the guardswins 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 smilingthe 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 inafter which he realizes, "l gotta find my own way," a rather unconcealed statement of existential despairbut 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...
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"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." -
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.
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As an earlier excellent reviewer wrote the film is about conformity and Luke's inability to fit in the role cut out for him. He says,"I tried Arletta...," but it is much more than this: it is the voice of the counterculture whose hero Luke is. Like Dirty Harry, Luke looks at 'the man's world,' and sees nothing that interests him. A modern, much lesser parallel is Coppola's RUMBLE FISH. Rourke is like Luke; he just cannot find anything that is offered that appeals to him. His rebellion is existential; he simply has a being in the world that will not work anywhere. So, he becomes nihilistic like Motorcycle Boy. Both Harry, Luke and Motorcycle Boy have great courage but they were born in the wrong place and the wrong time. Boredom consumes Luke; the egg eating contest, besides providing the only levity in the film, delineates the depth of Luke's nihilistic rebellion. He vents at the Deity; on the road and in the church daring Him to let me have it," you there Old Man?"
It must be seen for what it is at its core; like all films it is a product of its zeitgeist. Here, it is the 60s, get the man. Like Harry, the system is stupid, broken and cruel. Luke sneers contemptuously at the boss and says,"saying its your job don't make it right boss." The other target is the hypocrisy of his keepers protecting their tender consciences from the cruelty they are subjecting the prisoners too. I love,"I wish you'd stop being so good to me captain." This provokes Strother Martin because they all need to hide in the 'man's game' of putative rehabilitation instead of sadistic punishment which is what it is. Luke's strength that wins the hearts of all the others is also his fatal flaw. Luke cannot stop his rebellion; it is inherently nihilistic like Motorcycle Boy's. He wishes to die; after Arletta goes the last tether to existence is cut. He goes down a death spiral. Dragline looks at him befuddled; why does he not stop?: because he can't.
Yes, like both of Rosenberg's prison movies this and BRUBAKER they are about the cruelty of prison. Yet, COOL HAND Luke is a study of an existential drop out; the world simply has no place for him. It is an error to attack the movie as not really a movie but a series of episodes. These episodes: egg contest, dragline fight, escapes, all function to reveal Luke's Dasein or being there. Luke is escaping but from life; he does not really grasp it himself. Arletta's death is the final straw; as he sings PLASTIC Jesus, that is how the world is to him; an empty, phony facade full of rule making hypocritical liars. He wants no more of it; they break him, but the pull downward is ineluctable. He cannot help himself. The last sneering mockery that brings about his death is the quintessence of Luke: he vomits back their lying hypocrisy. We see astonishment on his face; the world he never really was in destroyed him.
It is a sad, dark often sacrilegious film; it may deviate from my beliefs that does not make me honor it any less. PAUL NEWMAN'S BEST MOVIE. Watch what society does to deviants; it is not a pretty picture.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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. But the film 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 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
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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.
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