The movie's line "What we've got here is failure to communicate." was voted as the #11 movie quote by the American Film Institute. When Frank Pierson wrote that dialog to be delivered by a 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 or needed to read the fictional account.
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 intro 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."
According to Jack Lemmon's son Chris Lemmon in an Icons Radio Interview, Jack Lemmon was originally selected to play the part of Luke, but Lemmon, reading the script, saw that Paul Newman would be better. So Lemmon decided to produce 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.
While passing by the prison camp set, a San Joaquin County building inspector thought it was a recently constructed migrant worker's complex, and posted "condemned" notices on the buildings for not being up to code.
The opening scene, where Luke 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.
Morgan Woodward, who played Boss Godfrey, a.k.a. "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.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
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 both with and without the "a".
Just before Luke is brought back from one of his escape attempts, Dragline lets one of the inmates (Koko) 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 obviously a reference to "The Man With No Eyes".
Boss Godfrey, a.k.a. "The Man With No Eyes" never removes his mirrored shades until the end of the movie when Dragline attacks him and knocks them off. Even then, his face and eyes are obscured. The glasses are later seen in the mud as the car runs them over.