Behind the Camera On COOL HAND LUKE
Location shooting around Stockton and the San Joaquin River delta in California substituted for the South. Spanish moss was imported from Louisiana to hang from the trees around the prison for a more authentic Southern feel.
A dozen buildings were constructed for the prison set, including a barracks, mess hall, warden's quarters, guard shack, and dog kennels. While passing by the prison set, a San Joaquin County building inspector thought it was a recently constructed migrant worker's complex and posted condemned notices on the buildings for not being up to code.
The opening scene of Luke cutting the tops off parking meters was filmed in Lodi, California. The city did not immediately replace the meters, and for a few years after filming, you could see a block-long row of meterless metal posts.
According to one source, the actors actually blacktopped a mile-long stretch of highway for the county in the road-tarring sequence.
Newman enjoyed making Cool Hand Luke, and when he wasn't needed on set, often tooled around the Stockton area either in a blue Mercury convertible or on a motorcycle. "I had great fun with that part," he said. "I liked that man."
Newman learned the basics of playing the banjo for the scene in which he sings "Plastic Jesus" after his mother's death. The instrument is not an easy one to learn, and he became more frustrated and angry with every mistake he made, which he did not show on camera except for the increasing acceleration of his playing. When the song was finished, director Stuart Rosenberg called "Print," but Newman insisted he could do it better. "Nobody could do it better," Rosenberg replied.
In an interview for Turner Classic Movies, George Kennedy talked about the shooting of the car wash scene. Voluptuous actress Joy Harmon was hired for a half day's work to get shots of her character "Lucille" scrubbing the old vehicle seductively with one eye on the road gang. The actors playing the convicts, however, were not present. Kennedy said it took three days, not half a day, to get the shots. "Somewhere in this world, there is about 86,000 feet of that girl washing that car," he joked. Kennedy also noted that when the time came for the actors to play the reverse shots of the convicts working in a ditch and being driven crazy by the sight of the sexy car wash, director Stuart Rosenberg didn't use Harmon. Instead, he substituted a teenage cheerleader fully dressed in an overcoat. "It took a lot of imagination," Kennedy wryly commented.
The fight scene between Dragline (George Kennedy) and Luke (Paul Newman) took three days to shoot. Kennedy said they were both completely worn out from fighting and, in Newman's case, from falling onto hard ground for three full days.
Cinematographer Conrad Hall later recalled shooting one scene five times because executives at Warner Brothers, which was distributing Cool Hand Luke, complained that Newman's famous blue eyes weren't coming through prominently enough in the dailies.
by Rob Nixon