Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

“You’re gonna get used to wearin’ them chains after a while, Luke.”

A loner prisoner (Paul Newman) becomes a folk hero in the eyes of his fellow inmates when he refuses to be bullied.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Character Study
  • Deep South
  • Dennis Hopper Films
  • Escape
  • Folk Heroes
  • George Kennedy Films
  • Harry Dean Stanton Films
  • Paul Newman Films
  • Prisoners

Few actors have portrayed petulant rebels better than blue-eyed Newman, whose “Cool Hand Luke” remains one of the best-known in cinematic history. For those who dream of “sticking it to the man”, Luke embodies our deepest wish-fulfillment: he refuses to give up or give in, and justifiably earns the intense respect and admiration of his fellow inmates. Indeed, Luke (though all too human in some ways) comes across as an almost Christ-like avatar — an allegorical transference which is far from subtle, but somehow works in this fable-like story. In addition to fine acting by all involved, Cool Hand Luke boasts countless memorable moments: Newman forcing 50 eggs down his gullet simply to win a bet (though it’s painful to watch his triumph); Newman getting up again and again during a fist-fight he refuses to lose; a group of horny prisoners ogling a busty woman as she washes her car. The script is clever as well, and contains one of the most famous lines in cinematic history: “What we got here is a failure to communicate”. Prison-break films may be a dime a dozen, but this remains one of the best.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Paul Newman as “Cool Hand Luke”
  • Luke eating 50 hard-boiled eggs on a dare
  • A group of prisoners lustily watching a busty woman as she washes her car in front of them
  • George Kennedy’s Oscar-winning performance as Luke’s nemesis turned number-one-fan
  • Conrad Hall’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes. This classic prison flick remains worthy viewing.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Cool Hand Luke (1967)

  1. Yes, a must. Arguably the quintessential ’60s non-conformist flick, and more sympathetic a portrait of such a character than, among others of the era, ‘Easy Rider’ (made by one of Newman’s co-stars Dennis Hopper).

    It may be director Rosenberg’s best work, in part due to what he and his writers leave blank. We know only the basics about Luke (re: his character, his past, his family). We’re left to decide the rest: is he a masochist?; does he have a death wish?; is he simply representative of those in life who just never get a break? And what of the religious implication? What’s clearest is that, to his mates, Luke becomes the iconoclast on the pedestal (“I ain’t heard that much worth listenin’ to. Just a lot of guys layin’ down a lot of rules and regulations.”) – and he’s set up for a fall as soon as he fails.

    Best sequence: downing those 50 eggs! It’s also a pretty satisfying movie if you’re in the mood to watch a bunch of sweaty, half-naked guys (inc. some who, at one point, dance together rather interestingly in their quarters!).

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