Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Cool Hand Luke (1967)Cool Hand Luke is an American drama released in 1967 by Warner Bros. The film follows the story of Luke Jackson, played by Paul Newman, as a prisoner in a prison camp in Florida. Luke is very rebellious, and his refusal to conform with the hierarchy of the prison system is what drives along the plot of the movie. Poker plays a role in the movie, and Luke earns the nickname "Cool Hand Luke" after winning on a bluff.

Cast and Crew of Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke featured a variety of stars who were popular in the late 60s, led by Paul Newman. Other film stars appearing in Cool Hand Luke include George Kennedy as Dragline, J.D. Cannon playing Society Red, Strother Martin as the prison camp’s Captain, and Morgan Woodward playing Boss Godfrey. The cast is rounded out by names such as Robert Donner, Warren Finnerty, Dennis Hopper, Lou Antonio, Jo Van Fleet (playing Luke’s mother, despite only being 11 years older than Paul Newman), Clifton James, and Harry Dean Stanton.

George Kennedy won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dragline. Paul Newman was nominated for Best Leading Actor. Cool Hand Luke was also nominated for best original musical score, best music, best screenplay based on material from another medium, and best writing.

Cool Hand Luke was directed by Stuart Rosenberg, and produced by Gordon Carroll. The film was written by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson, with music composed by Lalo Schifrin. Conrad Hall and Sam O’Steen handled cinematography and editing, respectively.

Plot Synopsis of Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke begins with Paul Newman’s character, Luke Jackson, being arrested for removing the tops of parking meters during a drunken evening tirade. Luke is sentenced to two years at a prison camp in Florida, where he meets several colorful characters.

The central plot of Cool Hand Luke is driven by a struggle for power and influence between Luke and the Captain, a sadistic prison warden who runs the camp. Luke is highly rebellious and clever, and inspires the other prisoners to act in the same fashion. Early in the film, it’s revealed that Luke is a decorated war veteran, earning him the initial nickname "War-Hero Lucas." Luke has little regard for authority, and ignores the pecking order established among the prisoners. Dragline, the unofficial leader of the prisoners, decides to set Luke straight, and they engage in a brawl. Dragline outmatches Luke, but Luke’s resilient spirit prevents him from accepting a loss, and Dragline eventually concedes.

This event, in combination with Luke winning a poker game on a bluff and winning an impromptu bet by eating fifty hardboiled eggs in an hour, earn Luke the respect of his peers within the prison community, while simultaneously gaining him unwanted attention from the Captain. The poker game earns him the nickname "Cool Hand Luke." The egg scene has gained fame that transcends the movie itself, and even many people who haven’t seen the film are familiar with the scene.

Luke is comforted by visits from his mother during his most desperate times at the prison, until he finally receives word of her death. Although the prison crew is frequently assigned to outdoor work detail, Luke is instead relegated to solitary confinement by the Captain, who fears that Luke may try to escape in order to attend his mother’s wake. Luke manages to escape anyways during a Fourth of July celebration, but is quickly captured by local police. Cool Hand Luke then has his legs fitted with leg irons in order to prevent further escape attempts. Luke escapes again anyways, using an axe from a nearby house to remove his leg irons and pepper to prevent tracking dogs from following his scent. Luke mails the other prisoners a photograph of himself with two women. Unfortunately, Luke is captured again, and beaten before being brought back to the Florida prison camp.

At this point, the Captain is furious at Luke for his escape attempts, as well as his rabble rousing of the other prisoners. As punishment, he forces Luke to dig a hole and refill it repeatedly. Meanwhile, the Captain beats Luke and makes him beg for mercy. The other prisoners are ashamed that Luke finally succumbed to the Captain, and find themselves losing some of their respect for him.

Luke makes his third and final escape attempt when he steals a truck owned by a prison guard. As Luke is driving off, Dragline hops in the truck as well. They travel for a while before arriving at a church. At this point, Luke suggests splitting up. Luke enters the church, followed by Dragline who informs Luke that the police have arrived outside. Dragline says that if they surrender without incident they won’t be harmed, but as Luke move to a window he’s shot in the neck. Dragline pulls him outside into police custody. The police are ordered to bring Cool Hand Luke to the prison hospital, further than the public hospital, effectively a death sentence.

The film ends with the other prisoners reminiscing about the life of Cool Hand Luke.

Other Notes about Cool Hand Luke

The character of Luke Jackson was ranked at number 30 on AFI’s list of top 100 heroes in American Film. Cool Hand Luke was listed on AFI’s list of most inspiring movies at 71.

The film includes an extremely famous line: "What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate." The line is spoken once by the Captain and again by Luke. The line has become ubiquitous in American pop culture, and has been spoken in numerous other films and TV programs since.