Trivia & Fun Facts About COOL HAND LUKE
Films in BOLD will Air on TCM * | VIEW TCMDb ENTRY
"There's a good smell about this. We're gonna have a good picture." - Paul Newman to a visitor to the film's set
Cool Hand Luke opened in November 1967. It was a tremendous box office success.
In the shot in Cool Hand Luke where they're taking the mortally wounded Luke away, the lights on the traffic signal are reversed--green at top, red on the bottom.
Although the novel based on his life on a chain gang was relatively obscure, Donn Pearce had some hope that the critical and commercial success of the movie would bring a turn in his fortunes. But lasting success has eluded the Pennsylvania native born in 1928. Although he wrote the first draft of the screenplay and got co-credit for the adaptation (with Frank Pierson), appeared in a small role as the convict Sailor, and acted as the production's technical adviser, Pearce says he wasn't invited to the premiere. He did attend the Academy Award ceremony, where he and Pierson were nominated for their writing, but they lost to Stirling Silliphant for In the Heat of the Night (1967). Pearce continued to try to make a career as a writer, but his follow-up books were not well received until the 2004 publication of his novel Nobody Comes Back. Over the years, he has also supported himself as a process server, bail bondsman, and private investigator.
"I seem to be the only guy in the United States who doesn't like the movie. Everyone had a whack at it. They screwed it up 99 different ways." - Donn Pearce, author of the book and co-screenwriter, to the Miami Herald, 1989. For one thing, Pearce thought Paul Newman was "too scrawny" and completely wrong for the part.
Co-writer Frank Pierson won an Academy Award for his original screenplay for Dog Day Afternoon (1975), for which he also received an award from the Writers Guild of America. He served as that organization's president from 1981 to 1983. Pierson has also directed for television and film; his two theatrical features are A Star Is Born (1976) and King of the Gypsies (1978).
For the first nine years of his career, director Stuart Rosenberg worked almost exclusively on television; his credits there include The Twilight Zone, The Untouchables, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. His only feature film before Cool Hand Luke was Question 7 (1961), a suspense drama about Christians trapped in Communist East Germany, financed in part by a Lutheran organization. After Cool Hand Luke, he worked with Paul Newman three more times, on WUSA (1970), Pocket Money (1972), and The Drowning Pool (1975). He also directed the original The Amityville Horror (1979) and the prison drama Brubaker (1980), starring Robert Redford. He died in 2007 at the age of 79.
Rosenberg taught filmmaking at the American Film Institute in 1993. Among his students was Darren Aronofsky, who made Requiem for a Dream (2000), The Wrestler (2008), and Black Swan (2010).
Cinematographer Conrad Hall (1926-2003) was one of the most respected film craftsmen in the business, a three-time Oscar® winner for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), American Beauty (1999), and Road to Perdition (2002), awarded posthumously. His other outstanding works include In Cold Blood (1967), Fat City (1972), and Smile (1975).
Cool Hand Luke was the first Academy Award nomination for Argentine-born composer Lalo Schifrin. His most famous composition is the theme song from the television series Mission: Impossible.
While Paul Newman was considered a shoo-in for an Academy Award nomination as Luke, George Kennedy was taking no chances. "With Warners pushing Camelot and Bonnie and Clyde, I'm afraid that not enough people will see Cool Hand Luke," he said. Kennedy spent $5,000 on trade-paper ads to urge Academy voters to check out his performance. His ads showed a shot of him in the film carrying a wounded Newman with the words: "George Kennedy--Supporting." Even after getting nominated, Kennedy was so sure he wouldn't win that when the award was given to him, he had no prepared speech.
Despite his auspicious beginnings in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956), Dennis Hopper's career fortunes in the late 1950s and early 1960s were not high, thanks in large part to being so at odds with the mainstream Hollywood community, and he was usually relegated to minor roles on television and the occasional feature, as he is here in a role that has almost no dialogue. It wasn't until Easy Rider (1969), that Hopper began to achieve the status he retains to this day. He died in May 2010 with more than 100 films to his credit.
Jo Van Fleet (Arletta, Luke's mother) and Richard Davalos (convict Blind Dick) made their feature film debuts in East of Eden (1955). Davalos beat out Paul Newman for the role as James Dean's brother in East of Eden.
Although she played his mother in Cool Hand Luke, Jo Van Fleet was actually only 11 years older than Paul Newman. This wasn't the first--or worst--such casting for Van Fleet. She was only 11 years older than Peter Sellers when she played his mother in I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! (1968) and less than three years older than screen "daughter" Susan Hayward in I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955).
Strother Martin, who utters the film's most famous line, labored for many years as an often-seen but little-noted character actor in such films as The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955) until his performance as Captain in Cool Hand Luke made him something of a celebrity. Since then, he was much sought after for roles in many films and TV shows, including The Wild Bunch (1969) and two more pictures with Paul Newman, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Slap Shot (1977). Martin died in 1980 at the age of 61.
The cast contains a number of character actors who have since become better known for other work. Wayne Rogers (Gambler) was a regular on the TV series M.A.S.H. for many years. Ralph Waite (Alibi) later played the father on the series The Waltons. Harry Dean Stanton (Tramp) has had a long career ranging from villains to victims to just regular guys in such films as A Fistful of Dollars (1964), Kelly's Heroes (1970), Wise Blood (1979), and the lead in Paris, Texas (1984). Recently he has been seen as the patriarch of a splinter religious group in the HBO series Big Love. After several television appearances, Anthony Zerbe (Dog Boy) made his film debut with this picture. Among his other notable roles were Papillon (1973), The Turning Point (1977), Licence to Kill (1989), and the last two films in The Matrix trilogy (2003). Joe Don Baker appears in an uncredited role as Fixer. His breakthrough role came as the indomitable Sheriff Buford Pusser in Walking Tall (1973).
The uncredited role of the Sheriff is played by Rance Howard, father of actor-director Ron Howard and actor Clint Howard.
In addition to the very obvious crucifixion symbolism in the picture, some have read biblical significance into Luke's prison number, 37, as a reference to Luke 1:37, which reads "For with God, nothing shall be impossible."
Memorable Quotes from COOL HAND LUKE
CAPTAIN (Strother Martin): It's all up to you. Now I can be a good guy, or I can be one real mean sum-bitch.
CARR (Clifton James): Them clothes got laundry numbers on them. You remember your number and always wear the ones that has your number. Any man forgets his number spends a night in the box. These here spoons you keep with you. Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box. There's no playing grab-ass or fighting in the building. You got a grudge against another man, you fight him Saturday afternoon. Any man playing grab-ass or fighting in the building spends a night in the box. First bell is at five minutes of eight when you will get in your bunk. Last bell is at eight. Any man not in his bunk at eight spends the night in the box. There is no smoking in the prone position in bed. To smoke you must have both legs over the side of your bunk. Any man caught smoking in the prone position in bed spends a night in the box. You get two sheets. Every Saturday, you put the clean sheet on the top, the top sheet on the bottom, and the bottom sheet you turn in to the laundry boy. Any man turns in the wrong sheet spends a night in the box. No one'll sit in the bunks with dirty pants on. Any man with dirty pants on sitting on the bunks spends a night in the box. Any man don't bring back his empty pop bottle spends a night in the box. Any man loud talking spends a night in the box. You got questions, you come to me. I'm Carr, the floor walker. I'm responsible for order in here. Any man don't keep order spends a night in...
LUKE (Paul Newman): ...the box.
CARR: I hope you ain't going to be a hard case.
LUKE: (on why he was cutting the heads off parking meters) You know how it is, small town, not much to do in the evenin'. Mostly was just settling old scores.
DRAGLINE (George Kennedy): He ain't in the box because of the joke played on him. He back-sassed a free man. They got their rules. We ain't got nothin' to do with that. Would probably have happened to him sooner or later anyway, a complainer like him. He gotta learn the rules the same as anybody else.
LUKE: Yeah, them poor old bosses need all the help they can get.
DRAGLINE: Anything so innocent and built like that just gotta be named Lucille.
LUKE: Sometimes nothin' can be a real cool hand.
ARLETTA (Jo Van Fleet): Ya know, sometimes I wished people was like dogs, Luke. Comes a time, a day like, when the bitch just don't recognize the pups no more so she don't have no hopes nor love to give her pain. She just don't give a damn.
DRAGLINE: Oh Luke, you wild, beautiful thing. You crazy handful of nothin'.
LUKE: I can eat fifty eggs.
DRAGLINE: Nobody can eat fifty eggs.
SOCIETY RED (J.D. Cannon): You just said he could eat anything.
DRAGLINE: Did you ever eat fifty eggs?
LUKE: Nobody ever eat fifty eggs.
GAMBLER (Wayne Rogers): Hey, Babalugats. We got a bet here.
DRAGLINE: My boy says he can eat fifty eggs, he can eat fifty eggs.
LOUDMOUTH STEVE (Robert Drivas): Yeah, but in how long?
LUKE: A hour.
SOCIETY RED: Well, I believe I'll take part of that wager.
DRAGLINE: You gone too far when you mess with the man with no eyes.
DRAGLINE: That's my darlin' Luke. He grin like a baby but he bite like a gator.
CAPTAIN: You gonna get used to wearin' them chains after a while, Luke. Don't you never stop listenin' to them clinking. 'Cause they gonna remind you of what I been saying. For your own good.
LUKE: Wish you'd stop being so good to me, Captain.
CAPTAIN: Don't you ever talk to me that way. Never! Never!!
CAPTAIN: What we've got here is...failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. I don't like it any more than you men.
DOG BOY (Anthony Zerbe): You gettin' so you smell so bad I can track you myself.
LUKE: Yeah, well, that oughta be easy for a genuine son of a bitch.
CAPTAIN: You run one time, you got yourself a set of chains. You run twice, you got yourself two sets. You ain't gonna need no third set, cause you gonna get your mind right. And I mean right.
LUKE: Boy, he can have this little life any time he wants to. Do ya hear that? Are ya hearin' it? Come on. You're welcome to it, ol' timer. Let me know you're up there. Come on. Love me, hate me, kill me, anything. Just let me know it. (looks around) I'm just standin' in the rain talkin' to myself.
LUKE: (talking to God in empty church) Anybody here? Hey, Old Man. You home tonight? Can you spare a minute. It's about time we had a little talk. I know I'm a pretty evil fellow--killed people in the war and got drunk and chewed up municipal property and the like. I know I got no call to ask for much, but even so, you've got to admit you ain't dealt me no cards in a long time. It's beginning to look like you got things fixed so I can't never win out. Inside, outside, all of them...rules and regulations and bosses. You made me like I am. Now just where am I supposed to fit in? Old Man, I gotta tell you. I started out pretty strong and fast. But it's beginning to get to me. When does it end? What do you got in mind for me? What do I do now? Right. All right. (kneels to pray) On my knees, asking. Yeah, that's what I thought. I guess I'm pretty tough to deal with, huh? A hard case. Yeah. I guess I gotta find my own way. (cops cars pull up) Is that your answer, Old Man? I guess you're a hard case, too.
DRAGLINE: He was smiling. That's right. You know, that, that Luke smile of his. He had it on his face right to the very end. Hell, if they didn't know it 'fore, they could tell right then that they weren't a-gonna beat him. That old Luke smile. Ol', Luke. He was some boy. Cool Hand Luke. Hell, he's a natural-born world-shaker.
Compiled by Rob Nixon