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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 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...
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.
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.
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
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!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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.
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.
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.
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