Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Cool Hand Luke (1967)

The best thing about Cool Hand Luke (Deluxe Edition) is what audiences won't see on the screen.

There's a constant tension about what could happen in this prison work camp.

The surroundings seem peaceful enough. Blue skies. Lots of sun. Quiet country roads. But the baying of the bloodhounds and guards toting rifles are ever present. Step out of line and nasty repercussions are not far away.

Luke (Paul Newman) isn't much for rules. His choices are often not the best ones. Here's a guy who gets jail time for taking the tops off parking meters when he's drunk. He's stubborn too. Luke soon crosses paths with Dragline (George Kenney), the top dog in the prisoner barracks. Dragline beats the stuffing out of Luke during a boxing match. Luke won't stay down. He keeps getting up and pummeled some more.

Luke's the one who vows he can eat 58 eggs in an hour and cooks up a scheme to get road work done pronto so the inmates can get some down time.

He earns the respect of his fellow inmates. Some of the guards seem to take a shine to him too. But Luke goes off the rails after his mother dies. Arletta (Jo Van Fleet) visits him shortly before her demise. She still loves Luke, despite all the lousy choices he's made. She misses the girl Luke was seeing and who left him. Prison boss Captain (Strother Martin) has Luke dumped in 'the box' for a spell after his mother's death, expecting inmates in such a situation are a flight risk.

For me, Cool Hand Luke works really well up until this point. We see life on the road gang and the different ways inmates spend their time after hours. Gambling is big. Plenty of quick cuts add to the excitement of the egg eating contest. Luke's repeated attempts to bolt are short lived and stir up animosity among prison guards. If it's a game of wits, they have the numbers and the weapons. Luke is outgunned.

Newman is great as Luke. He's helped out by a stellar cast with a bevy of stars as fellow inmates including Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, Robert Donner and Wayne Rogers.

Funny how one of this film's four Oscar nominations is for best music. I found the score for Cool Hand Luke (Deluxe Edition) to be way over-the-top in several scenes and detracting from the action on the screen.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: George Kennedy won a best supporting Oscar. He's still working. The Gambler is in post-production as of this writing.

Strother Martin appeared in other films with Paul Newman including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Slap Shot.

Wow. Robert Donner as Exidor alongside Robin Williams in television's Mork and Mindy.

Joy Harmon is The Girl who catches the attention of inmates while she washes a car. She appeared in two episodes of The Monkees and made her debut with Gregory Peck in The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.

Wayne Rogers died in January 2016.

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