#284 Cool Hand Luke

Watched: November 15 2020

Director: Stuart Rosenberg

Starring: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, J. D. Cannon, Lou Antonio, Robert Drivas, Strother Martin, Jo Van Fleet, Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers

Year: 1967

Runtime: 2h 7min

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Lucas Jackson (Newman) is given 2 years for destruction of property after a drunken sabotage of parking meters. He’s sent to a chain gang where he first gets off on the wrong foot with his fellow prisoners, particularly Drag (Kennedy), before ultimately earning their respect for his cool manner, egg eating ability, and utter lack of fucks to give.

Behold the field in which I grow my fucks. Lay thine eyes upon it and thou shalt see that it is barren.

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Luke’s prison stay seems to go all right considering the circumstances. That is, until his mother (Fleet) dies. The guards are sympathetic and make arrangements for him to get a day’s leave to attend the funeral. Just kidding! They lock him up in their torture device “the box,” which is exactly what it says on the tin – a tiny wooden box where he is forced to spend his days/nights until the burial is over. The reason: he might be tempted to escape to go see his dead mother.

We could probably make a bunch of jokes comparing the size of the box to an average NYC apartment. But we’re better than that.

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After his stint in the torture-box, Luke, who seemed content enough to do his time when he sort of flew under the radar, has had enough. His new goal is to get out, and to cause as much disruption for the guards as possible. So he escapes. And is caught. And put in chains. And escapes. And is caught. And given even more chains. And then tortured physically and mentally to his breaking point.

“Please. No more. I can’t. It’s not right. It’s inhuman. No more burpees!!!”

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We loved, loved, loved this, and are cursing ourselves for having to get a ridiculously time consuming project like this in order to actually watch it. What took us so long? Do not make our mistake!

We’re tempted to punch a bitch. A.k.a. ourselves.

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Like most prison movies (we’re thinking The Hill, The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Great Escape, etc.) Cool Hand Luke is infused with a distinct sense of dread, even through the scenes which are pleasant enough like the poker playing and the tarring of the road. You just know that this cannot possibly end well.

“Hey guys! Let’s humiliate the power hungry sadists pointing guns at us! It’ll be hilarious and not at all dangerous.”

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It’s also a fantastic cannot-hold-me-down-movie with a hero who is quietly rebellious and awesome throughout. And though his lack of self-preservation is a bit frustrating for sensible Norwegians, we recognize the defiance and opposition of Luke. We share those traits – we’d just break a lot sooner…

Also, none of us has ever eaten more than three eggs in a single sitting. Other than that, our similarities to Luke are uncanny. Uncanny.

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Also, we absolutely loved the gratuitous scantily-clad-woman-washing-car scene. Whether it’s the result of the sex starved imaginations of the prisoners, or a woman desperate for “safe” attention (they can’t really do anything), it’s hilarious.

Our similarities to “Lucille” are also uncanny. Uncanny.

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What we learned: Prison is all fun and games until they decide to break you.

Next time: Don’t Look Back (1967)

#207 The Hustler

Watched: October 20 2018

Director: Robert Rossen

Starring: Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick

Year: 1961

Runtime: 2h 14min

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Eddie Felson (Newman) and Charlie Burns (McCormick) are hustling their way across the USA with the goal to challenge legendary pool player Minnesota Fats (Gleason). Find him they do, and the bigwig agrees to play Eddie, starting at $200 per game.

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“How does this work again? Do they both hit the balls at the same time, or..?” “Dunno. I thought they were supposed to take turns or something.” – Real conversation between sisters watching this

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While Eddie gets off to a flying start, he gets drunk, conceited and easily manipulated and end up losing his entire $18 000 winnings back to Minnesota (the guy, not the state. Maybe we should just go with “Fats”?).

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He doesn’t mind what we call him. He’s just happy to be here.

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Humiliated and broke, Eddie leaves Charlie and half of his remaining money and skulks off into the night. At a bus station he meets Sarah Packard (Laurie), a charming alcoholic with a limp, and the two strike up a conversation and later a relationship.

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Ain’t no romance like a bus stop romance ’cause a bus stop romance don’t end (well)!

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The two seem happy together for a while, but then gambler Bert Gordon (Scott) offers to put up Eddie’s stakes in return for 75% of his winnings, and Eddie goes back out into the world of semi-professional pool playing – a world Sarah can see is no good for him. Or anyone else for that matter. But is Eddie ready to let his grudge against Minnesota Fats go? And how much is he willing to sacrifice to get a second chance at besting him?

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“I mean, what do you want with these people? That guy wears shades inside! And I swear that lady just took a flower pot, turned it upside down and called it a hat!”

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We love how there’s very little preamble and backstory to The Hustler. We’re thrown right into the action and never given a moment to stop and catch our breaths until the end.

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Who knew watching people play pool could be so exciting?

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Paul Newman is fantastic in it, and Piper Laurie, reminding us of a (wonderful) cross between Carey Mulligan and Stockard Channing (Grease-era Channing, specifically), equally so. Sure, it centers around pool (ugh – a sport!) but that is not what this movie is about. So if you, like us, tend to avoid these kinds of films, give this one a chance. You (probably) won’t regret it. It’s powerful, moving and heartbreaking.

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Ah, what could have been…

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What we learned: We know way too little about the rules of pool. Also, don’t pursue obsessions at the cost of human relationships.

Next time: The Innocents (1961)