(1967)

What we've got here is failure to communicate.

When petty criminal Luke Jackson is sentenced to two years in a Florida prison farm, he doesn't play by the rules of either the sadistic warden or the yard's resident heavy, Dragline, who ends up admiring the new guy's unbreakable will. Luke's bravado, even in the face of repeated stints in the prison's dreaded solitary confinement cell, "the box," make him a rebel hero to his fellow convicts and a thorn in the side of the prison officers.

Oh Luke you wild beautiful thing!
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. Yet the film then 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 (this has been missed by both pro and amateur critics) 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

Warner Bros. Pictures, Jalem Productions by Stuart Rosenberg, Donn Pearce, Frank Pierson, Hal Dresner.
Stars: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin.

Genres: Crime, Drama

Keywords: prison rebel loss of loved one based on novel or book florida harassment imprisonment dying and death escape barbed wire death boxing prison farm

11/01/1967

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