During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.
There’s something impossibly cool about Paul Newman. He oozes a quiet kind of masculinity born not from his bravado or might, but his charm and confidence. Likewise, his 1967 movie, “Cool Hand Luke” has ample charm and confidence. Unfortunately, unlike Newman, we thought the movie was much ado about not really anything.
Newman plays Lucas Jackson, a new prisoner in a Florida chain gang. Despite being a decorated veteran of World War II, he ends up being arrested for cutting down parking meters while intoxicated. There appears to be no reason for this behavior.
The film plays out as he first joins the chain gang and follows some of his early trials and tribulations. Diane called it a “prison slice of life” movie and I do not disagree.
Some scenes are funny. For instance, Luke says he can eat fifty eggs in an hour, to which the fellow prisoners make bets over. It is a wonderful scene that shows just how he manages to win over the affection of his fellow inmates. Along with an earlier fight where he refused to back down to Dragline, played by George Kennedy (who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role), the prisoners revere “Cool Hand” Luke as a reverential figure. The egg eating scene even ends with a bloated Luke lying down on the table in a pose reminiscent of Christ on the cross.
Other scenes, such as the car washing scene where a large-breasted woman washes a car for a very, very long time in the most provocative way possible are crass and a waste of time.
Maybe it’s a failure to communicate or maybe it’s a failure to understand, but neither of us “got” the fuss. The acting, cinematography, and soundtrack are all superb, but the movie either has nothing to say or doesn’t know how to say it. Another review I saw referred to Newman’s Luke as an “existential Jesus figure”. Sure, that’s probably true, but other than some clever allusions, the script doesn’t seem to say a whole lot about why I should care about “existential Jesus figures” or how stories about them ought to enrich or entertain me.
And that’s a shame because beyond everything else being so right, I loved the atmosphere. I didn’t really understand the time period or that we were in Florida, but it felt like the South all the same. I could almost smell the heat, humidity, sweat, and cut grass – all things I heavily associate with the South (and hate).
If “Cool Hand Luke” is little more than a movie about standing up to authority figures, then I echo its premise in this review. To all the movie authorities out there, “Cool Hand Luke” is okay. Not bad, not great, but enough to pass the time.
For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.