Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon, Lou Antonio, Robert Drivas, Strother Martin, Jo Van Fleet, Clifton James, Morgan Woodward, Luke Askew, Marc Cavell, Richard Davalos, Robert Donner, Warren Finnerty, Dennis Hopper, John McLiam, Wayne Rogers, Harry Dean Stanton, Charles Tyner, Ralph Waite, Anthony Zerbe, Buck Kartalian, Joy Harmon, Joe Don Baker
Written by: Frank R. Pierson, Donn Pearce, from a novel by Donn Pearce
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg
MPAA Rating: GP
Running Time: 126
Date: 01/11/1967

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

In the Box

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy Cool Hand Luke on DVD

Stuart Rosenberg's Cool Hand Luke now seems more like a well-made entertainment than any kind of American masterpiece; most of its charm rests in the hands of Paul Newman's effortless, charismatic performance. He plays Luke, who in the movie's unforgettable opening moments, gets arrested for drunkenly decapitating a row of parking meters. He lands in a rural prison and begins working on a road crew in the dead of summer heat. The prison's alpha male, Dragline (George Kennedy), takes an immediate dislike to him, but Luke eventually earns everyone's respect with his blatant disregard for authority and carefree attitude. The film mostly plays in a series of unconnected incidents, rather than a forward-thrusting plot, which is one of its best assets; it feels more laid-back and less depressing than a prison movie might be. It actually has a lot in common with the much-rewarded One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which came a decade later. It lured in 1960s audiences with the promise of a hero who sticks it to the man, but with the "reassuring" conclusion that everyone must eventually conform (or die). Today, the movie's most memorable scenes are the egg-eating and Strother Martin's line "What we have here is failure to communicate." Conrad L. Hall's widescreen cinematography nicely captures the baking heat, especially in the road-tarring sequence. Hall's work and the screenplay by Frank Pierson and Donn Pearce (from Pearce's novel) actually contribute more to the success of the film than Stuart Rosenberg's direction; the film is not as well-shaped or as tight as it could have been, and a montage of Luke's smiles at the end is a serious mistake. The film was nominated for four Oscars; only George Kennedy won, for Best Supporting Actor. Newman lost (for the fourth time). Some of the young faces in the prison eventually went on to bigger things, including Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper and Joe Don Baker.

DVD Details: Warner Home Video remastered and re-released the DVD in 2008 (replacing their not-so-good 1997 disc), with a new commentary track by Paul Newman biographer Eric Lax, a making-of featurette and a trailer. Note: the MPAA has never bothered to change its original "GP" rating, which is essentially the same thing as a "PG" today. It means "all ages admitted; parental guidance suggested." Also available on Blu-Ray.

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