Cool Hand Luke (1967) – Stuart Rosenberg

Paul Newman is Cool Hand Luke, the next title up for watching as I delve into the What Else to Watch list of DK Canada’s The Movie Book following my screening of The Shawshank Redemption.

Featuring an all-star cast including George Kennedy (who took home Best Supporting Oscar), Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper (though I don’t think he has a single line in the film), Clifton James, and Wayne Rogers, Luke is a non-conformist in the most strict of societies, a road prison.

Unwilling to back down, Luke is laconic, relaxed, but seems almost unbreakable, not only by his fellow inmates who soon begin to idolize him, but also by the guards and the warden. But how far can he go, and how much can one man take before he may be broken.

And does it matter that he’s broken if he keeps getting up?

There’s a lot of great stuff going on in this film. The cinematography is great, conveying the heat, and the starkness, the sheer isolation of the prison and those who live there. Luke struggles to keep his humanity, though he’s never been able to find his place in the world, and has few beliefs. He seizes on every opportunity he can to escape to get away from this society that has him trapped.

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We are afforded only brief glimpses of the outside world as Luke brushes up against it, but the prison is his world, it is the whole of his reality, and anytime he gets a brief escape, he ends up being hauled right back to it. As if it is the only thing in his world that truly exists.

Looking at the prison as a microcosm for reality, Luke doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere, and though he is liked by his fellows (after proving himself) even if they don’t understand him, as Kennnedy’s Drag demonstrates.

Newman seems perfect for this role, slipping easily into Luke’s prison garb and shoes, and giving that sly smile even when he knows he’s beaten. The sheer determination of his character keeps him on his feet.

This is one of those films that I should have seen a ling time ago, that should have been an essential part of my cinematic upbringing, but this was the first time I have watched it. I mean, of course, I know the iconic, oft-repeated line that is associated with the film, but I had never seen this one before.

I thought it was a fantastic film, and really enjoyed the performances, Kennedy deservedly earns his Oscar in the film, as an almost larger than life character who doesn’t quite understand the troubles of the modern man as portrayed by Newman.

But where does Newman’s character of the modern man fit in the modern world? I guess the ending of the film tells us…

Check out this classic or find a new to you cinema treasure in DK Books’ The Movie Book!

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