Cool Hand Luke
|Cool Hand Luke|
Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
|Directed by||Stuart Rosenberg|
|Produced by||Gordon Carroll|
|Screenplay by||Donn Pearce
|Based on||Cool Hand Luke
by Donn Pearce
|Music by||Lalo Schifrin|
|Editing by||Sam O'Steen|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.-Seven Arts|
|Running time||126 minutes|
|Box office||$16,217,773 (Domestic)
Cool Hand Luke is a 1967 American prison drama film directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring Paul Newman. The screenplay was adapted by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson from Pearce's 1965 novel of the same name. The film features George Kennedy (in an Oscar-winning performance), Strother Martin, J.D. Cannon and Morgan Woodward.
Newman stars in the title role as Luke, a prisoner in a Florida prison camp who refuses to submit to the system. In 2005, the United States Library of Congress deemed Cool Hand Luke to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
In the 1940s, Lucas "Luke" Jackson (Paul Newman) is arrested for cutting the heads off parking meters one drunken night. He is sentenced to two years in prison and sent to a Florida chain gang prison run by a heartless warden, the Captain (Strother Martin). Luke turns out to be a decorated war veteran.
Luke fails to observe the established pecking order among the prisoners and quickly runs afoul of the prisoners' de facto leader Dragline (George Kennedy). When the pair have a boxing match, the prisoners and guards watch with interest. Although Luke is severely outmatched by the larger Dragline, he won't stay down, and eventually Dragline refuses to continue the fight. Luke takes a beating but earns the respect of Dragline and the rest. Later, Luke wins a poker game by bluffing with a hand worth nothing. Luke comments that "sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand," and Dragline promptly bestows on him the prison nickname "Cool Hand Luke."
After receiving a visit from his sick mother Arletta (Jo Van Fleet), Luke becomes more optimistic about his situation. Luke continually confronts the Captain and the guards, and his sense of humor and independence in the face of incarceration prove to be both contagious and inspiring to the other prisoners. This struggle for supremacy peaks when Luke leads the work crew in a seemingly impossible but successful effort to complete a road-paving job in less than a single day. Then the other prisoners start to idolize him after he makes and wins a spur-of-the moment bet that he can eat fifty hard-boiled eggs in one hour.
After news of his mother's death reaches Luke, the Captain, anticipating that Luke might attempt escape in order to attend his mother's funeral, has him locked in the prison punishment box by one of the bosses who recognizes the injustice and says, "Sorry Luke. I'm just doing my job. You gotta appreciate that," to which Luke replies, "Nah, calling it your job don't make it right, Boss." After this, Luke is determined to escape. After an initial escape attempt under the cover of a Fourth of July celebration, he is recaptured by local police and fitted with leg irons to prevent further attempts. Upon his return, the Captain delivers a warning speech to the other inmates, beginning with the famous line, "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."
Some time later, Luke escapes again, first visiting a nearby house where he uses an axe to remove his chains and spreads curry powder to throw off the prison's tracking Bloodhounds. This escape is successful but short-lived. While free, Luke mails the prisoners a magazine that includes a photograph of him with two beautiful women. He is soon recaptured and beaten, then returned to the prison camp and fitted with two sets of leg chains. Luke is now annoyed by the other prisoners' fawning and lashes out spitefully, revealing that the picture in the magazine was a fake. At first the other prisoners are angry, but after a long stay in the box, when Luke is being forced to eat a huge serving of rice, the other prisoners help him to finish it.
As punishment for his escape, time and again he is forced to dig a grave-sized hole in the prison camp yard, fill it back in, then be beaten by the guards. Finally, as the other prisoners watch from the windows of the bunk house, an exhausted Luke collapses in the hole, begging God for mercy and the bosses not to hit him again. Believing Luke is finally broken, the Captain stops the punishment. Shamed by Luke's capitulation to the Captain, the prisoners begin to lose their idealized image of Luke. A fellow prisoner pulls out the magazine with Luke's picture in it and tears it up.
Though seemingly broken in spirit, Luke takes one last stab at freedom when he gets the chance to steal a prison dump truck. Dragline impulsively jumps in the truck with Luke and they drive off. They travel until at night near a church, Luke tells Dragline that they should split up. Saddened and regretful, Dragline thanks Luke as they part and Luke enters the church. Here, Luke decides to talk with God, whom he believes made him the way he is but is sabotaging him so he cannot win in life. Luke prays and asks God what he should do but gets no reply. Moments later, police cars arrive outside. Dragline enters the church and tells Luke that he made a deal with the bosses and that they won't hurt them if they surrender peacefully. Luke, knowing better, moves to an open window and mimics the Captain's famous line, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." Luke is immediately shot in the neck by Boss Godfrey. A distraught Dragline carries Luke outside then attacks Boss Godfrey, but is stopped by the other guards. When the sheriff (Rance Howard) says he's called ahead to the local hospital, the Captain insists he is taking Luke to the prison hospital. When the sheriff says that it's an hour's drive away and that Luke would never survive, the Captain says "He's ours."
Later, Dragline and the other prisoners reminisce about Luke. Dragline describes Luke's unique smile over scenes of Luke's escapades, with a final image of a now-repaired picture of Luke and the two women, superimposed on an aerial view of a cross-shaped road junction.
Production notes 
Although no specific time period for the film is given, a 1940s setting is suggested: the bulk of the automobiles and trucks onscreen (including police vehicles) date from the late-1930s to the mid-1940s (with one International Harvester truck dating to 1953); Leg irons of the kind featured in the film were discontinued in Florida in 1945; the parking meter heads are in the classic 1940s Duncan Miller design. Novelist and screenwriter Donn Pearce, whose book was published in 1965, was himself incacerated for two years beginning in 1949. All of the source music in the film, with the exception of 1957's "Plastic Jesus," is pre-1950: "Cotton Fields," "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," and "Midnight Special."
The film contains several Christian themes, including the idea of Luke as a Saint who wins over the crowds and is ultimately sacrificed; an exhausted Luke lying in a Christ-like pose after winning the egg-eating bet; his fellow inmates as Christ's disciples and his 'last supper' of rice shared by all of them; Dragline and Luke in the "Garden of Gethsemane" as Judas and Christ before the 'Romans' arrest them; and the final cross-roads shot with the repaired photo of Luke and the two women superimposed.
"Failure to communicate" 
- 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. And I don't like it any more than you men.
The line is frequently taken as "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." Both are correct. This line is heard twice in the film, first in its entirety, with no indefinite article "a", by the Captain (Strother Martin), and later with an "a", said by Luke. In the "making of" feature on the Blu-ray disc, Frank Pierson, the screenplay's co-writer, says that the line "just appeared" on the page as he was typing (that is, it was the result of his subconscious thought). After some debate over whether it was "too intellectual" a remark for the Captain, it was retained.
Strother Martin himself recalled in the book, Films of the Sixties, that he felt the line was the kind that his character would very likely have heard or read from some "pointy-headed intellectuals" that had begun to infiltrate his character's world under the general rubric of a new, enlightened, approach to incarceration.
The quote was listed at #11 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 most memorable movie lines. An audio sample of the line is included in the Guns n' Roses songs "Civil War" and "Madagascar".
Upon its initial release, Bosley Crowther wrote an NYT Critic's Pick review, saying "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"; besides Newman, Crowther commended Kennedy's "powerfully obsessive" depiction of the "top-dog who handles things his way as effectively and finally as destructively as does the warden or the guards" and Jo Van Fleet, "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." Variety magazine said the "versatile and competent cast maintains interest throughout rambling exposition to a downbeat climax."
The Toronto Star, in a 2007 home video review, said the film's anti-establishment message fit well with the mood of the 1960s. All of the forty-four reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a positive review, generating a 100% 'Fresh' rating.
Awards and honors 
At the 40th Academy Awards, Cool Hand Luke won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (George Kennedy), and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Paul Newman), Best Music, Original Music Score and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.
In 2003, AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains rated Luke Jackson as the number 30 greatest hero in American cinema, and four years later, AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers: America's Most Inspiring Movies rated Cool Hand Luke number 71. Cool Hand Luke was included in the United States National Film Registry in 2005. In 2006, Luke was ranked 53rd in Empire magazine's "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters".
- American Film Institute lists
The original score was composed by Lalo Schifrin. An edited version of the musical cue from the Tar Sequence (where the inmates are on the road paving project) has been used for many years as the news music package on several television stations' news programs around the world, mostly those owned and operated by ABC in the United States. Although the music originated from this film, to this day many people associate the tune with television news as opposed to the film itself, in part because its melody is similar to the sound of a telegraph. ABC's flagship station, WABC-TV in New York, first used it in 1968 for their Eyewitness News newscast, and it was subsequently imported to ABC's other television properties. Frank Gari, who created many news music packages, recorded an arrangement of the Tar Sequence in 1983 as News Series 2000 for WLS-TV in Chicago; this version was gradually imported to ABC's other owned-and-operated stations as well.
Schifrin significantly increased the royalties for his score in 1994, effectively pricing it out of the American news music market. However, in Australia, Nine Network's Nine News WIN Television's WIN News and NBN Television's NBN News in Northern NSW all still use an edited version of the music, as does Radio Tonga in the Kingdom of Tonga and RPN's NewsWatch in the Philippines.
The book has been adapted into a West End play by Emma Reeves. Cool Hand Luke opened at London's Aldwych Theatre on 3 October 2011 starring Marc Warren, but closed after less than two months, following some poor reviews. Michael Billington of The Guardian called it "an oddly undramatic evening that, in strenuously seeking to mythologise Luke, undercuts his defiant humanity", whilst Charles Spencer of The Daily Telegraph, comparing it to the film only so far as it was "inferior in almost every respect". However, Libby Purves, writing for The Times, defended the production. In a four star review, she praised the adaptation's addition of "a shatteringly effective wartime flashback and brilliantly deadpan account of brutalities", concluding that "it's a proper play, worth doing". The show was chosen by The Times both as Critic's Choice and What the Critics Would Pay To See.
- "Cool Hand Luke, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 5, 2012.
- Variety film review; May 31, 1967, page 6.
- Florida Department of Corrections 1966-1969 timeline
- Florida Department of Corrections Timeline: 1966 to 1969
- The Internet Movie Car Database entry for Cool Hand Luke
- Bible Films Blog
- "listen". Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- Crowther, Bosley (November 2, 1967). "Cool Hand Luke (1967)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-10-10.
- "Cool Hand Luke". Variety. December 31, 1967. Retrieved 2010-10-10.
- Pevere, Geoff (March 18, 2007). "Rebel hero captured restless spirit of an era". Toronto Star.
- "Cool Hand Luke (1967)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2010-10-10.
- "The 100 Greatest Movie Characters| 53. Luke | Empire". www.empireonline.com. 2006-12-05. Retrieved 2011-04-06.
- "AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-05-01.
- "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) Official Ballot". American Film Institute. Retrieved September 30, 2011.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Cool Hand Luke|
- Cool Hand Luke at the American Film Institute Catalog
- Cool Hand Luke at the Internet Movie Database
- Cool Hand Luke at the TCM Movie Database
- Cool Hand Luke at AllRovi
- Cool Hand Luke at Rotten Tomatoes
- "Luke as Christ Figure" at Bible Films Blog