Welcome to The Best Movies I’ve Never Seen! This is the part of the blog where I work my way through 100 films I’ve never seen that are generally considered to be great. You’re invited to watch along with me if you can find a copy or find it streaming. So grab some popcorn and let’s get started!
Cool Hand Luke
Directed by Stuart Rosenberg
Quick synopsis… “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) is a man who likes to do things his own way, which leads to a world of hurt when he ends up in a Southern prison camp — and on the wrong side of its warden (Strother Martin). George Kennedy copped an Oscar as a fellow prisoner who tries to break Luke and later comes to revere him. The cast also includes a young Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton and Joe Don Baker.
This is another one of those classics that I’ve always felt a little guilty for having never seen. After all, I am a fan of the Christmas-y rom-com Serendipity, and John Cusack’s character does claim that Cool Hand Luke is his favorite movie. For whatever reason, I’ve just never gotten around to it.
Well, that changes today.
Paul Newman plays Luke, a decorated war hero who gets arrested during a night of heavy drinking and popping the heads off a line of parking meters. It’s almost like he wanted to get caught. He didn’t resist when the police pulled up to ask him what he was doing.
Most of the film takes place in a southern prison camp where the men are taken out each day for hard labor on the side of those old country roads. Luke, who has no problem bucking authority from time to time, quickly earns the respect of his fellow prisoners with his easy going smile and attitude.
Things take a turn for him when news arrives that his mother has passed away. Instead of running a risk of him trying to escape to attend her funeral, they pull him off road detail for a couple of days and put him in the “box,” a tiny version of solitary confinement that’s barely large enough to sit in, much less stretch out to sleep in. It’s about this time that Luke decides he’s had enough and makes the first of several escapes.
Obviously, he’s caught and returned, since I said “first of several.” But I won’t spoil the ending for you in case you want to watch the movie for yourself. And I would recommend taking time to watch it. It’s a little over two hours long and worth it to see one of Paul Newman’s most famous roles. More fun, in my opinion, is George Kennedy’s character, Dragline. Dragline is basically the guy in charge among the prison gang who starts out as an antagonist for Luke, but soon becomes his strongest ally.
The movie employs a lot of Christian imagery. Maybe not as much as you’d find in a typical Superman movie, but it’s definitely blatant and heavy handed. For example, there’s a scene where Luke, on a bet, eats 50 hard-boiled eggs in under an hour. When he finishes, he’s laid out on a table with his arms spread out and his feet crossed over each other in an obvious nod to Christ on the cross. Traffic signs and signals also play an important symbolic role throughout the picture.
Overall I thought it was a good movie and would recommend it to anyone interested in a Paul Newman classic. Having now seen Cool Hand Luke, it ranks at 459 out of 2,258 movies on my personal Flickchart list.
Have you seen Cool Hand Luke? What did you think of it? Let me know down in the comments! Come back next week for a Stanley Kubrick film I’ve never heard of before now: Barry Lyndon.