Paul Newman
George Kennedy
J.D. Cannon
Lou Antonio
Robert Drivas
Strother Martin
Jo Van Fleet
Clifton James
Luke Askew
Dennis Hopper
Harry Dean Stanton

Stuart Rosenberg



About Newman

Time: 126 mins.
Rating: Not Rated
Genre: Drama/Prison

Won Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (Kennedy). Nominations for Best Actor (Newman), Best Score and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Even though I haven't seen many of his movies, I really like Paul Newman. With that charming smile and those clear, blue eyes, what red-blooded woman wouldn't? He specialized in the rebellious man from the wrong side of town in the 60s with his role as Cool Hand Luke one of the most memorable. This is a stunning character piece about a good ol' boy and his attempts to buck the prison system and escape from life on a chain gang. I know prison movies sound dull and depressing, but COOL HAND actually has a great deal of excitement and humor. Which is not to say that this is a comedy, just that, like it's lead character, it has a light-hearted spirit.

Our first introduction to Luke shows the audience exactly what kind of man we're dealing with. He's completely drunk, cutting the tops off parking meters in the wee hours of the morning. For his crime of destroying municipal property, he gets sent up for two years on a prison farm chain gang. The prison captain doesn't quite know what to make of Luke, who doesn't seem at all bothered by his new future, unable to understand why he would destroy parking meters. Luke alludes to a grudge with the city, but by the smirk on his face you get the feeling he did it just for the fun of it. Luke is definitely an outsider, playing by the rules of both the guards and the prisoners, but refusing to kiss up to either group. This doesn't sit well with Dragline (Kennedy), the inmates unofficial leader, who can't scare him or befriend him.

It doesn't take long for Luke's unorthodox attitude to make him the most popular man on the gang. He gets his nickname, Cool Hand, while playing cards and it crystallizes his personality perfectly. Nothing seems to phase him. Though he only has a two year stretch, Luke's innate loathing of authority soon has him attempting to escape over and over again. The first time, right after he learns of his momma's death, angry over the unfairness of being placed in the hole to keep him from running to attend her funeral. He proves their methods to be useless against his will. His subsequent attempts at escape only bring him more acclaim with the other inmates and more pain on his own head. Even with double chains on his legs and days full of torturous hard labor, they still can't deny him his freedom. In the end, Luke gets it and the infamy that comes with beating the system, but not exactly in the way he intended.

"Now what we have here is a failure to communicate."

Luke is one of cinema's greatest anti-heroes. An average joe, who could have succeeded in life if he was just willing to play by the rules of the system. Unfortunately for him, that's not really an option. He was just born that way. For those of you wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to Newman, this is the performance to see. Luke isn't a big talker. He doesn't have to be. Everything he's thinking comes clearly through his eyes. It's amazing how much more physical mannerisms can convey than words. The fact that Newman is able to convey everything about Luke in the first few minutes of the film and make you instantly like him is a pure master stroke. George Kennedy's performance as Dragline is also mesmerizing, giving me a new found respect for this journeyman actor.

No one else really stands out, each man giving just the right performance for the role they were given. Though it's fun to spot a young Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton and Wayne Rogers in small supporting roles. The film's most famous line – "What we have here is failure to communicate." – boils down the essence of this tale to a tee. The editing, music and cinematography are spectacular as well, creating an intense and vibrant world, making this straightforward story all the more interesting. What's great about COOL HAND LUKE is that the only thing that's aged about the picture is the actors in real life. Though it's ending is something you rarely see today, the rest of the film could have been made last year. It's a timeless story that everyone can enjoy.

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