Cool Hand Luke (1967)

cool hand luke poster 1967 movie
9.0 Overall Score
Story: 9/10
Acting: 9/10
Visuals: 9/10

Great movie that can be enjoyed on multiple levels


Movie Info

Movie Name: Cool Hand Luke

Studio:  Jalem Productions

Genre(s): Drama

Release Date(s): November 1, 1967

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

cool hand luke boxing dragline paul newman george kennedy

Don’t get up…

Luke (Paul Newman) has had a troubled life.  Serving in the war, he has a perchance for bucking authority and when he is caught cutting the heads off parking meters while drunk, he finds himself sentenced to two years in a chain gang prison camp.  Luke’s cool personality and the fact he won’t stand down earns him the respect of Dragline (George Kennedy) and the prisoners, but puts him at odds with the heads of the camp.  Luke’s two years could be a hard two years…and getting out could be impossible.

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg, Cool Hand Luke is a prison drama.  The film is an adaptation of Donn Pearce’s 1965 loosely autobiographical novel and Pearce helped adapt the screenplay with Frank R. Pierson.  The film won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Kennedy) with nominations for Best Actor (Newman), Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score.  The movie was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2005.

cool hand luke paul newman 50 eggs

Nobody can eat 50 eggs…at least without some great Paul Newman dressing!

Cool Hand Luke is one of those odd films.  Watching it, there are times where the tone is so light that it could be a comedy, but it also gets darker than dark.  It is a film that can make you angry but it is also a movie that has you questioning the “he’s brought it on himself” mentality.  Regardless, it is a great movie and story.

Luke is quite messed up and it never spells out what is wrong with him.  He might have some PTSD from the war and definitely possesses suicidal tendencies…he is wrecking his life somewhat intentionally.  His meeting with his mother indicates that Luke was always troubled even before joining the military so it is possible that he would have ended up in jail regardless.  In jail, his cool demeanor makes him an idol of the other prisoners who use him to “fight” the system that they won’t fight themselves…he becomes a tool for the men running the jail as what can be done to a prisoner who fights back.  Death was the only possible outcome for the character…and it made him a mythic being who practically rises from the dead to the others (not unlike Jesus which goes with the idea that Luke rejects God through most of the film).

cool hand luke what we got here is failure to communicate paul newman

What we got here is failure to communicate

Newman’s portrayal of Luke has that Paul Newman charm.  You like Luke and you also don’t get why he is such a screw-up…you don’t want it to end the way it does for him, but you also see it can end no other way.  Kennedy likewise is the lovable bully of the camp that comes to worship Luke.  He’s not that bright, but he’s big and loyal.  The movie has a ton of stars in minor roles including Dennis Hopper, Clifton James, Wayne Rogers, Ralph Waite, Joe Don Baker, Anthony Zerbe, James Gammon, and Harry Dean Stanton.  Strothers Martin gets the utter the famous line “What we got here is failure to communicate” which is often the line taken from the film.

cool hand luke church scene paul newman

Looks like I get to be Jesus

The movie looks good.  It has that rusty, burn look of the hot summer sun.  The characters look like POWs just as much as prisoners and they work the land and maintain roads.  It is a sweaty, hot movie where it feels like the characters are all close to boiling.

Cool Hand Luke is a movie worth seeking out.  It is stylish, has a great cast, and a story that has multiple layers (yet is attainable as a basic story as well).  The movie is about fighting the establishment and came out at a time where civil discord was growing in America…but there are some aspects of the story that don’t condemn the system.  I do feel like with all the eating competitions out there the “no one can eat 50 eggs” should become one of the standard challenges.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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