The 50 Movies Project is a personal “marathon” of mine. In June, I compiled a list of 50 movies that I felt I needed to see by the end of the year. Old, new, foreign, English — it doesn’t matter. These are all movies that I have heard a lot about and have been wanting to see for some time. This project gives me a way to stay focused on the goal.
Cool Hand Luke 
Directors: Stuart Rosenberg
What we got here is… failure to communicate.
Watching The Hustler made me appreciate the awesomeness that is Paul Newman, and I was eager to check out Cool Hand Luke, another well-regarded movie of his. I had heard this titled as the “ultimate guy’s movie”, and everyone spoke volumes about Paul Newman’s character. I couldn’t help but be intrigued.
Cool Hand Luke tells the story of Lucas Jackson (Newman), a guy who lives by his own rules and doesn’t back down from anything or anyone. After getting arrested for cutting heads off parking meters (while heavily drinking at the same time), Luke is sent off to prison for two years. At the prison, he keeps to himself yet somehow ends up in a boxing match with the much larger “Dragline” (George Kennedy), who is the leader of the chain gang. Despite getting his ass kicked, Luke keeps getting back up after every punch before finally his adversary walks away. This single act of courage (or just plain recklessness) earns Luke respect from his fellow prisoners, and many begin to look up to him.
This is the beginning of a recurring theme, as Luke continually stands up to others, especially the law, and attempts to do things his own way. What makes him so likeable is that he is just a laidback dude who is always up for a challenge — whether that is trying to eat 50 eggs in one sitting or attempting to escape prison. He is a real “cool hand”, as Dragline affectionately labels him.
One thing that has surprised me in reading about Cool Hand Luke is that not many articles mention the significant amount of Christ imagery present in the movie. The most obvious example is after the egg-eating scene when Luke collapses on top of a table, spread out like Jesus on the cross. Another major comparison between the two is in the form of Luke’s name combined with his prisoner number: 37. Hence, Bible verse Luke 1:37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” It is interesting to think of things this way, and the comparisons are not far-fetched, as both were nonconformists who developed followers through their actions.
I can’t think of anyone else that could have played the role of Luke other than Paul Newman. He just oozes charisma here, making it real hard not to root for the guy. He is aided by an outstanding supporting cast led by Kennedy as his strong righthand man. There are a lot of bit roles here, including spots from Harry Dean Stanton and a young Dennis Hopper, with everyone performing well. There are not many women in the movie, which gives credence to the whole “guy’s movie” reputation, but the passing role of Jo Van Fleet as Luke’s mother creates one of the most emotional scenes of the film.
While a little slow by today’s standards, Cool Hand Luke is still a fascinating study of one of Hollywood’s great characters. Paul Newman’s performance is incredible, and it’s baffling that he didn’t win the Oscar for this. With a lot of great quotes (such as the one at the beginning of the review) and some truly unforgettable scenes, this is well worth seeing.