Cool Hand Luke
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During his reign as a top box office star in the sixties, Paul Newman made his mark in films featuring rebellious, anti-establishment characters. Cool Hand Luke (1967) is a perfect example and one of his most audience-pleasing movies. Unlike the characters he played in The Hustler or Hud, Luke is actually based on a real-life character, Donald Graham Garrison, who was a convicted safecracker. In the course of his career, Garrison stole between $4 and $5 million dollars. Garrison's exploits inspired a novel by Donn Pearce, another ex-convict, who combined details from his own incarceration with Garrison's story to create a compelling anti-hero. Pearce even makes a brief cameo in the film as an ex-con named Sailor.
Cool Hand Luke was set in the Deep South but actually filmed on location in Stockton, California. While the movie painted an authentic visual portrait of life on a chain gang, it was individual scenes that earned Cool Hand Luke a cult reputation: Strother Martin as the head jailer uttering the famous line, "What we got here is a failure to communicate," Newman's egg-eating contest, and the brutal boxing match between Newman and his fellow in-mate George Kennedy. The movie makes for particularly interesting viewing today due to its eclectic and fascinating supporting cast - Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, Wayne Rogers (from the TV series M.A.S.H.), Ralph Waite (from the TV series The Waltons), Joe Don Baker, Anthony Zerbe, and Richard Davalos, who appeared with James Dean in East of Eden.
The biggest surprise in Cool Hand Luke, however, is George Kennedy's breakout performance as Dragline, the hulking chain gang leader who at first despises Luke and then comes to admire him. Kennedy, who had previously been typecast mostly as heavies, walked off with an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in the film. The other Academy Award nominations were for Best Actor (Newman lost to Rod Steiger in In the Heat of the Night), Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score.
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Producer: Gordon Carroll
Screenplay: Donn Pierce, Frank Pierson
Cinematography: Conrad Hall
Editor: Sam O'Steen
Music: Lalo Schifrin
Cast: Paul Newman (Luke), George Kennedy (Dragline), J.D. Cannon (Society Red), Strother Martin (Captain), Jo Van Fleet (Arletta), Robert Drivas (Loudmouth Steve), Clifton James (Carr), Lou Antonio (Koko), Luke Askew (Boss Paul Hunnicut), Morgan Woodward (Boss Godfrey), Richard Davalos (Blind Dick), Dennis Hopper (Babalugats), John McLiam (Boss Kean), Harry Dean Stanton (Edgar 'Tramp' Potter).
C-127m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford