A prison chain gang in Florida gains its latest inmate in the form of Lucas “Luke” Jackson (Paul Newman), a war veteran sentenced to two years for cutting the heads off parking meters whilst inebriated. However Luke has a fairly serious issue with authority and a tendency to rebel against any order he is given purely on the grounds of it being an instruction, so prison life isn’t something he fits into well.
Cool Hand Luke is this month’s voted for Movie of the Month over at the LAMB, which is very annoying because it was the first show in a long time where I was busy during the recording, and I really like the movie, so the next best thing I could do (other than edit and release the Lambcast show on it, which I’ve done) is watch and review it myself, so here we are. I’ve got a soft spot for movies about prisons, especially ones that involve at least one escape attempts, plus I’m a fan of both Paul Newman and George Kennedy, who plays Dragline, the prison’s blunt-instrument inmate leader, a role which would rightfully earn Kennedy an Academy Award, so Cool Hand Luke ticks a lot of boxes for me. It’s a very episodic, slice-of-prison-life story, which ordinarily doesn’t float my boat too well, but there’s something about Cool Hand Luke‘s characters, atmosphere and performances that makes me love it.
I’ve had those first two paragraphs written for some time and have been struggling with writer’s block for where to go next. That’s a problem I have with a lot of films I’ve seen a lot, ones that I like, but I can’t really explain why, and I’m struggling to form my opinions on Cool Hand Luke into coherent sentences, so instead please accept this batch of stream-of-consciousness rambles instead. I enjoy Luke as a character, and Paul Newman makes great use of his natural charm, blue eyes and big grin to make him likeable from the off. George Kennedy is great as Dragline, providing a bullish brutality initially, but gradually softening over time, although I think he maybe sinks a little too far into being a simpleton for the final few scenes when it goes a little Of Mice And Men (I think, I’ve yet to actually read or see a version of it, but I get the idea). I enjoy playing “spot the younger version of a character actor” with the likes of Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper, Anthony Zerbe and more amongst the supporting cast. I find the car washing scene gratuitous and farcical, yet it provides an element of fun. The escape attempts are entertaining if a little simplistic for my liking, but that’s what you get with a chain gang I suppose, there’s not a lot of room for pre-planning and prop-work in such a limited environment.
The silent, eye-less, sunglass-clad walking boss has always been a figure of imposing, threatening awesomeness. Like most prison movies it’s quite episodic and feels like it’s not really heading to a clear end point, but all the episodes are well depicted and move at a brisk pace, providing interesting insights into the life these men lead, that I enjoy them nonetheless. The ditch-digging scene is brutal, the scene after Luke’s mother passes is heartbreaking, the road-tarring is tremendous fun, and the egg-eating makes me feel ill (I’m not a fan of eggs, let alone quite so many).
I can only apologise for the lack of structure in this review. Maybe next time I’ll get to it sooner after watching, and will have something more cohesive to say, and given how much I like the film I’d hope the next viewing will be soon (this is already the second time I’ve watched it with the intention of writing a review). There are some films you’re just too close to, too familiar with, and this one clouds my ability to review it. Sorry.
Choose Film 9/10