Cool Hand Luke


What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach.

From Cool Hand Luke, 1967

Cool Hand Luke is a film about a non-conformist named Luke Jackson played by Paul Newman. Luke got into trouble with the authorities when he cut off parking meters due to drunkenness. He received a two years sentence to a stretch on a southern chain gang in a Georgia road prison camp run by a sadistic captain played by Strother Martin. While in prison, Luke refuses to conform to the system and this is where the story of the film revolves.

Being a decorated veteran, prisoners initially call Luke “Lucas-War Hero”. However his neck name was changed to “Cool Hand Luke” after a few important events in Luke’s prison life. First, Luke had a fistfight with the prisoner’s de facto leader named Dragline played by George Kennedy. Although Dragline is a bigger opponent, Luke’s persistence and refusal to stay down tire down Dragline who eventually refuses to fight. Although Luke suffers from a bad beating from Dragline he gains the respect of his fellow prisoners. On another event Luke wins a poker game even with bad cards by playing it smart and staying cool. Then he comments that “sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand” and listening to this Dragline gives Luke his new neck name “Cool Hand Luke”.

Although prison condition is often harsh and brutal, Luke becomes more optimistic about his situation after her mother visited him at prison. Hard physical labor and confinement at the box are the most common conditions prisoners like Luke suffer while serving time in prison. Despite all these harsh conditions, Luke shows a voracious spirit which gains the admiration of other prisoners. Luke becomes the prisoner’s idol.

Luke refuses to conform to the system and tries to find a way to make things easier for other prisoners. He finds a way to help prisoners finish their tasks earlier giving them enough time to rest. During the course of his time in prison, Luke’s mother died. Luke became so depressed upon learning of her mother’s demise. Because of this he makes a plot to escape. His attempts to escape were unsuccessful at times. However, he was persistent and tries to escape again after failing to succeed in his attempts. When Luke finally made a successful escape he sends magazines to fellow prisoners with photos of him with women. This freedom however was short lived and he was captured again. He escapes and recaptured again, each episode becomes harder than the first ones. Later his actions became a symbol of hope for many prisoners.

This 1967 movie was nominated for four academy awards including Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Music Score. Aside from the stellar performance of Paul Newman and George Kennedy, the movie Cool Hand Luke was ably supported by actors including Ralph Waite, Harry Dean Stanton, Wayne Rogers, Dennis Hopper, and Joe Don Baker.

Cool Hand Luke was directed by Stuart Rosenberg and written by Donn Pearce and France Pierson. The music was done by Lalo Schifrin and cinematography by Conrad Hall.

Cool Hand Luke was released in 1967. It is a story that pays tribute to the human spirit, and its need to be free. Donn Pearce, and Frank Pierson wrote the script, and Stuart Rosenberg directed this film. Paul Newman plays the lead role, i.e., the role of Cool Hand Luke. Other stars include George Kennedy (as Dragline), Strother Martin (as Captain), Charles Tyner (as prison guard/Boss Higgins), John McLiam ( as prison guard/Boss Keen), Morgan Woodward (as Boss Godfrey), Lou Antonio (as Koko), and J.D. Cannon (as Society Red).

Cool Hand Luke is the story of a spirited army veteran who, in a drunken state, removes the heads of some parking meters; a crime that earns him a sentence of two years in a prison camp of Georgia. The person in charge of this prison is referred to as Captain, and he is a known sadist. Luke’s veteran status earns him some respect initially, which he soon loses because of his defiant attitude. Luke does not conform to unwritten rules amongst prison inmates, such as pecking order. This behavior annoys Dragline, one of the prisoners who is acknowledged as a leader by other prisoners. A fight ensues between Dragline and Luke in which, Luke is beaten up rather badly. Even then, Luke keeps on getting up to fight. It is Dragline who calls the match off looking at Luke’s condition. Other prisoners also start admiring Luke for his spirit. In one of the poker games with inmates, Luke wins with a hand that was most certainly a bad hand, adding that even a bad hand could be a cool hand. Dragline picks the words “cool hand” from that sentence, and starts referring to Luke as Cool hand Luke.

Luke becomes an idol for other prisoners because of his irrepressible spirit, despite hardships. The prison guards and the Captain trouble him a lot, assigning works requiring rigorous physical labor, at times making him stay for longer periods in the heat box, which not only force prisoners to put up with heat, but also isolates them from the rest of the prisoners. But Luke does not leave his defiant behavior. His mother’s visit makes him all the more confident about his prospects, and so he is able to withstand the inhuman prison conditions jovially.

Then Luke’s mother dies. He dreams of a bass fishing boat to escape his dred. Captain chooses to lock Luke up in the box, as chances of him trying to escape are considerably higher because of the news. This only increases Luke’s resolve to escape from prison. His attempt to escape from prison on July 4th fails, making him worthy of some leg irons. This does not deter him. He tries once more to escape and this time he succeeds in leaving the prison. Luke uses axe to cut off his chain, and some curry powder to mislead prison dogs. From outside, he sends a magazine to other prisoners. The magazine contains picture of Luke with a girl on either side, which wins him more admirers in the prison. But soon, Luke is found, and brought back to the prison. Now, he is made to wear two heavy metal chain sets instead of one. He is also beaten up rather badly, making him faint. With rich guitars playing in the background. After coming to senses, Luke is surprised to find prisoners resorting to hero worship. He admits that he’d sent a fake picture to them. Prisoners get angry with him. Luke is sent into the box for much longer period, and asked to consume large quantities of rice after that. Other inmates help in finishing the rice.

Captain and the guards at the prison, who have been nicknamed as bosses, come up with a severe punishment to demolish Luke’s image. Keep in mind, this was before home lift chairs and items similar. Luke is asked to make a large pit in the center of the prison compound, and fill it up with the mud, and again dig it up. All the while, he is beaten up in front of other prisoners to break his spirit. Eventually, Luke falls into the pit, and pleads with the prison guards to spare him. This brings him down in the eyes of other inmates. But Luke once more manages to take a guard’s vehicle, and Dragline joins him in this round of escape. They reach a church, and Luke asked Dragline to go his way. Dragline leaves Luke, who sits in front of god, asking him what he should be doing, and reproaching him for having made him so defiant. But god has no reply for him. A little later, police vans reach the church. Dragline walks in and tells Luke that he has negotiated with the prison guards, who would not be torturing them. But Luke does not believe it, and tries to jump out of window, when he is shot in the neck by the prison guard. The guards choose to take Luke to the hospital in prison instead of taking him to any hospital close by. In the process, Luke dies. Dragline returns to the prison and describes Luke’s attempt to escape, thereby reinstating the dead veteran as hero in the hearts of the prisoners.

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