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Cool Hand Luke

Posted by admin | Posted in Movies | Posted on 25-09-2010

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Luke butts heads with authority and attempts to escape his Florida chain gang.Amazon.com essential video
Paul Newman gives one of the defining performances of his career, and cemented his place as a beautiful-rebel screen icon playing the stubbornly tough and independent title character in Cool Hand Luke. And before he became familiar as a sidekick in 1970s disaster movies (Earthquake and the Airport movies), George Kennedy won an Oscar for playing Draglin… More >>

Cool Hand Luke

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Comments (5)

That’s the answer that Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) gives when asked why the heck he was wrenching off the tops of all those parking meters. The first shot of the movie, in fact, shows his handiwork — a whole row of decapitated meters sticking up out of the sidewalk.

He’s one odd boy, this Luke. He hardly even seems to care he’s in stir for having done this. To him a work farm just seems like another place for him to wait for something interesting to happen — and when it does (as it always does), there’s that big, lazy smile of his. Was he waiting for something? Probably not — by the time it’s all over, he hasn’t gotten a single thing he wanted (except for a hilarious out-of-town stint), but he’s given a lot of other people more than they could have ever asked.

What makes “Cool Hand Luke” such a wonderful movie is its tone and tenor — widely imitated but not surpassed by other movies of its stripe. The movie is not about prison or chain gangs, but about the weather of a man’s spirit, and how he deals (or chooses not to deal) with what he’s been handed. Luke himself says it: “Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand,” and he sums himself up in that sentence. Here is a fellow with no particular skills in life, no real direction, no ambition — in short, something we are ostensibly taught from the git-go to hate. His crime? Parking meters.

The film draws a simple case: Luke as a quietly selfish free spirit vs. the system. But instead of loading it down with symbolic baggage, the movie works by making its case with drama and often great humor. The egg-eating contest, for instance — it finds just the right balance between humor and drama to make its points, and ends with Luke passed out on the bed in a Christlike pose. (Whether or not that’s a deliberate shot is open to speculation; it certainly looks like it was composed, but it’s not held too long to force the issue on us.)

The best thing about the movie is the performances. Nobody hits a false note or an unconvincing turn. A big chunk of George Kennedy’s reputation comes from this film, and you can see why: he’s more or less the direct foil for Paul Newman throughout the movie, commenting on and playing off the man’s actions. But look how many others are also in here: Strother Martin (as Captain), Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton… a veritable roll-call of actors who’re all independently watchable and fascinating.
Rating: 5 / 5

This movie is anything but cool. The characters are rough, foul, and awkward. The setting is realistic and harsh. It takes place in the scorching sun and humidity. There’s many a scene of sweat and overheating men. Luke, though, is cool. He’s the figure of composure; he’s classy, smart, proud, and witty, but he rarely talks, keeping aloof. Or he’s independent free man who won’t let anyone get him down.

There’s a scene when he bluffs his way to victory in a poker match, thus his nickname “cool hand Luke”. Another scene has him fighting with another inmate until he’s nearly unconscious, but he never surrenders. Yet another has him eating 50 eggs in an hour for a bet, and he doesn’t give up. And I think this is the metaphor for the rest of the film. You can either see him as a cocky stubborn man, or more appropriately, a man who won’t give up his freedom. He’s thrown in prison and chain gang labor for a case of petty vandalism during a drunken stupor, yet he never utters a word about it, even during the most humiliating or painful punishment, but his conviction and sentence are hardly a matter in this film. Here is a man who is troubled and dysfunctional (as the story slightly exposes), but is already in an advanced state of personal freedom. Though he’d like to be living a normal life, searches for it, and deserves as much, he doesn’t need it. He’s spiritually and mentally invincible, and eventually it leads to his ultimate fate.

Cool Hand Luke is a marvelous film. It’s one fourth romantic, three fourths gritty reality. Paul Newman and the gorgeous cinematography are the romance. Newman nearly carries the film. Here’s this movie star, a charismatic leading man who liberally uses his smile to get himself through scenes, but he immerses himself into his character. I think Luke is one of the greatest, most complex male characters to grace the screen, and Newman is really the only actor who could ever do him justice. But he isn’t playing Newman, he’s playing Luke, every inch of Luke. He IS Luke, he is this renegade rebel, this charming dapper Dan, and this tragic everyman. Newman’s supporting cast is superb, in one of the best acted films I’ve ever seen. George Kennedy is incredible as the only sizable supporting character, though the rest of the cast do their utmost to fit their roles, especially the various sinister and slimy wardens, and they do it beautifully. No actor wastes his time on screen. They create the atmosphere.

I just have to mention the dialogue. This is one of those films with incredible dialogue. Nothing is sappy or soupy. It embraces wit and logic, a lovely razor sharpness, and a down to earth realism. Every sentence is perfectly placed, there are no superfluous words, every character with they’re own style that still allow them to sound like real people. End of dialogue discussion.

This film is simple. It’s simply told, simply filmed, and on the outside it’s a simple story, but I think it delves a lot deeper than at first appearance. It’s unpretentious. Without us knowing it paints an environment, it paints a setting. It’s a movie with certain faintly stylized points and flourishes, with a bit of a Southern storytelling air and lilt to it, and a definite love for fun. But it’s intense, from the acting, to plot twists and character developements, to minor “action” sequences (a movie populated by inmates and movie stars has to have some excitement), it has incredible depth in it’s subtle symbolism and it’s layered messages and it’s performances with their emotional tapestries. Thus, it has an immense replayability quotient.

This is drama at it’s finest. It is a complex intriguing film that can get under your skin in it’s rawness, but can still entertain you, and send you into that dreamy mesmerized state of being in awe of a film and the characters portrayed in it.
Rating: 5 / 5

The first time I saw “Cool Hand Luke” I was not overly immpresed with it. I thought he was a “punk” who had desevedly fallen on hard luck.I have since seen the movie ten-twelve times. I think a lot can be learned about “Luke” (Paul Newman)in the scene when his mother goes to visit him. It is clear that he always wanted to please his mother, but he ended up more like his father. Arletta(Luke’s mother) makes allusions to Luke’s father not being good at sticking around. From the start, there have been many people who have left Luke far behind. The girl from Kentucky, all of his mates, he lost in the War, and finally his mother when she passed on. This was the “final straw” so to speak. Luke was going to run for sure. The true beauty of “Luke’s” character was the fact that he was able to give many people, hope without having any of his own. He makes two references to “The Man Upstairs”. Once in the rain asking his to just let him know that he is up there, and another time letting him know that he felt cheated. Every man in that camp loved and respected “Luke”. “Dragline”(George Kennedy)called Luke “a natural born world shaker”. I could not have put it any better myself. I felt this was a top-notch screen play, and the acting was incredible. I have not seen Newman give a better performance. Kennedy was well deserving of the “best supporting actor” Oscar. Look closely for Dennis Hopper, Joe Don Baker, Harry Dean Stanton and many others. This film should be on everyone’s must see list.
Rating: 5 / 5

And I really mean it. They used to show this film often on the Superstation. When I was twelve, I watched it; the next time it came on, I taped it, and watched it probably more than 50 times over the next few years (I didn’t know for a long time that the TV version has several scenes cut out for length, so getting it on video was a new revelation). What is it about “Cool Hand Luke” that is so moving? Well, it starts with Paul Newman’s performance. Lucas Jackson is one of the most psychologically complex characters in the history of cinema, and Newman, criminally denied the Oscar for this film, makes him seem larger-than-life without saying much. Everything that comes out of his mouth is a revelation. The Christ allusions, which are fittingly done, heighten the sense of injustice that Luke is being slowly crucified by the lawmen, simply because he won’t bend to their rules. On the surface, Luke seems self-destructive and ignorant, but in repeated watchings of the film, it becomes apparent that Luke is answering to a call that is bigger than the prison, bigger than the bosses, bigger than the law itself. I could go on and on about the myriad other ways in which this film is perfect, but why bother? I only get 1,000 words. Suffice it to say that this is the movie that makes George Kennedy, of all people, seem noble. YOU MUST SEE THIS FILM. The only flaw: I grew up in Georgia, and I can assure you that it is not filmed where it is set. Looks more like the Central Valley of California to me.
Rating: 5 / 5

I’ve seen this movie many times and caught it on TV again this weekend, only reminding me what a classic it is, easily among the best of all time.

Paul Newman plays Luke, an unbreakable spirit trapped in a place, and among men, determined to break him. That spirit, though, is as much his strength as it is his burden. As the story progresses, the audience comes to identify, not so much with Luke himself, but with his prisonmates. We’re in silent awe of his guts when he won’t stay down in the fight scene with George Kennedy, we root for him on the edge of our seats during the oft-referenced egg eating scene, we watch with pity as he digs and fills the ditch – the guards working him to the breaking point, and we cheer like mad as he takes off in the same guards’ truck, shackles be damned.

It could easily be regarded as Newman’s best acting. I wouldn’t disagree with that, but won’t go that far myself only out of respect for his other all time great performances (e.g. The Hustler, Butch Cassidy, The Color of Money, The Verdict, and so on).

Also, as a “prison movie”, as much as I hate to lump this classic into such a narrow sub-genre, it is by far the best I’ve seen and its influence on future films of that genre, the good ones and the bad ones (e.g. Escape From Alcatraz, The Shawshank Redemption, and so on), is blatantly obvious.

In short . . . a classic, definitely in my personal top ten of all time.
Rating: 5 / 5

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