skip navigation
The Essentials - March 2011
share:
Remind Me
Cool Hand Luke,Cool Hand Luke

The Critics' Corner: COOL HAND LUKE

Sunday October, 5 2014 at 12:00 PM

Films in BOLD will Air on TCM *  |   VIEW TCMDb ENTRY


Awards & Honors

Cool Hand Luke was voted one of the year's Ten Best Films by the New York Times film critics

Oscar® honors for the film included the Academy Award to George Kennedy for Best Supporting Actor; nominations to Paul Newman (Best Actor), Lalo Schifrin (Original Music Score), Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson (Best Writing)

Directors Guild of America nomination for Stuart Rosenberg

Golden Globe nominations for Paul Newman and George Kennedy

Laurel Award (exhibitors) to George Kennedy for Male Supporting Performance; 3rd place to Paul Newman for Male Dramatic Performance

Cool Hand Luke was chosen by the National Film Preservation Board in 2005 to be one of the films preserved in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress

Critic Reviews: COOL HAND LUKE

"Maybe the best American film of 1967" - critic John Simon, 1967

"That traditional object of sorrow and compassion in American folk song and lore, the chain-gang prisoner, is given as strong a presentation as ever he has had on the screen in Cool Hand Luke.... What elevates this brutal picture above the ruck of prison films and into the range of intelligent contemplation of the ironies of life is a sharp script by Donn Pearce and Frank R. Pierson, ruthlessly realistic and plausible staging and directing by a new man, Stuart Rosenberg, and splendid acting by Paul Newman and a totally unfaultable cast. Mr. Newman is excellent, at the top of his sometimes erratic form, in the role of this warped and alienated loner whose destiny it is to lose. George Kennedy is powerfully obsessive as the top-dog who handles things his way as effectively and finally as destructively as does the warden or the guards. Strother Martin, Luke Askew, Morgan Woodward, and several others are blood-chilling as these red-necked brutes, and any number of others are fine as prisoners. A special word of commendation must be said for Jo Van Fleet as Mr. Newman's mother, who, in one scene, in which she comes to visit him propped up in the back of a truck, does as much to make us comprehend the background and the emotional hang-up of the loner as might have been done in the entire length of a good film." - Bosley Crowther, New York Times, November 2, 1967

"TV Director Stuart Rosenberg (The Defenders) distinguishes his first full-fledged feature [sic] by fragmenting his mob of a cast into many highly individual sufferers. His occasional failures are those of ambition, not laxness. The heavy-handed Christian symbolism--Luke is several times shown in crucified positions and has some unconvincing monologues with the God he doesn't believe in--is not only labored but out of style with the rest of the film. Rosenberg's treatment of evil, personified by the brutal prison guards, descends too often from portrayal to caricature. Still, there is enough left in the old theme to make Luke a prisoner of grace, and a picture of chilling dramatic power." - Time, November 10, 1967

"Mr. Newman's Luke is a genuine creation, funny and touching; George Kennedy is superb as his illiterate buddy whose devotion speeds him to his doom; and Jo Van Fleet has a single marvelous scene as Luke's dying mother...." - Penelope Gilliatt, The New Yorker, 1967

"The camerawork is efficient and copes well with those few difficult occasions when it has to deal with confined spaces. Every light source becomes a glaring irritation. The sun, light-bulbs, headlamps: all illuminate every moment of the prisoners' agony, for they are not allowed the privacy of darkness." - David Austen, Films and Filming, 1967

"If there is such a thing as tasteful violence, this film has it. We are made to understand what is going on, why it is going on, and what is right or wrong about it. Cool Hand Luke may not be humane but it is certainly human." - Hollis Alpert, Saturday Review, 1967

"A gutsy and powerful and well-made drama in its own right. But with Paul Newman heading its cast, it approaches grade-A artistry." - Lawrence Quirk, Screen Slants

"Rarely has an important star suffered more, in a film wall-to-wall with physical punishment, psychological cruelty, hopelessness and equal parts of sadism and masochism. It is a great film. On that most of us can agree. ... Much was made by many critics, myself included, of Newman's 'anti-hero' stature in Luke and other films he made around the same time. ... I'm no longer sure he's an anti-hero in Cool Hand Luke. I think he's more of a willing martyr, a man so obsessed with the wrongness of the world that he invites death to prove himself correct. ... In my review from 1967, I wrote that Luke was 'always smiling, always ready for a little fun. He eats 50 hard-boiled eggs on a bet and collects all the money in the camp. That's Luke, he's a cool hand.' What was I thinking? Today, the egg-eating scene strikes me as all but unwatchable. The physical suffering and danger are sickening.... Having seen this powerful, punishing movie again freshly, I reflect that in 1967 I didn't approach it with the proper amount of pessimism." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, July 10, 2008

"A caustically witty look at the American South and its still-surviving chain gangs, with Newman in fine sardonic form as the boss-baiter who refuses to submit and becomes a hero to his fellow-prisoners. Underlying the hard-bitten surface is a slightly uncomfortable allegory which identifies Newman as a Christ figure (and reminds one that Rosenberg once directed the awful, Moral Rearmament-ish Question 7). But this scarcely detracts from the brilliantly idiosyncratic script (by Donn Pearce from his own novel) or from Conrad Hall's glittering camerawork (which survives Rosenberg's penchant for the zoom lens and shots reflected in sun-glasses)." - Tom Milne, Time Out Film Guide

by Rob Nixon VIEW TCMDb ENTRY
TCM Shopping
  • Cool Hand Luke: Deluxe Edition DVD
  • "What we've got here is... failure to... more info
  • $9.99
  • Regularly $19.98
  • Add to cart
  • Cool Hand Luke: Deluxe Edition DVD
  • "What we've got here is... failure to... more info
  • $9.99
  • Regularly $19.98
  • Add to cart
  • Cool Hand Luke: Deluxe Edition DVD
  • "What we've got here is... failure to... more info
  • $9.99
  • Regularly $19.98
  • Add to cart
  • Love Me Tonight DVD
  • This little known Rogers and Hart musical... more info
  • $29.95
  • Regularly $29.95
  • Add to cart