#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)

#95 White Heat

Watched: April 02 2017

Director: Raoul Walsh

Starring: James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O’Brien, Margaret Wycherly

Year: 1949

Runtime: 1h 54min

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After ten years, and 48 entries, James Cagney is back, and we’re thrilled. Cody Jarrett (Cagney) leads a gang of hoodlums with the help of his Ma (Wycherly) with whom he has a relationship worthy of a Freudian study. After several deaths during a train robbery perpetrated by him and his gang, Cody decides to take the rap for another, less violent crime committed at the same time to avoid a life and/or death sentence.

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He seems sadder about leaving his Ma for two years than about leaving his hot wife. See “Freud” above.

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Meanwhile, the man in charge of investigating the train robbery decides to put one of his men, Hank (O’Brien), undercover in Cody’s prison cell to get to the bottom of the case since he knows it was Cody’s doing. Hank’s task is to gain Cody’s trust and get a confession. Or, as it turns out, join him in a prison break and become his right hand man after unfortunate events and treacherous gang members throw Cody’s world off balance.

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“It’s guy love between two guuuuys”

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White Heat is an action-packed noir-thriller-prison break-heist-crime-gangster-film with all the elements we still see in the genre(s). The Cagney Charisma makes you sort of root for him a bit no matter how amoral and unscrupulous his character may be, although in this case it could be partly because the people with which he surrounds himself are pretty much as bad as he is.

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Examples include, but are not limited to, his beautiful but duplicitous wife Verna (Mayo)

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Cagney’s undeniable charm aside, we found ourselves rooting more and more for Hank as the story progressed, and we were really impressed with the often sophisticated investigative and forensic tools employed by the police in this film – they felt very modern to us. We also kind of loved Ma Jarrett although, like her son, she’s a bit of a manipulative sociopath.

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Cody is deliciously insane though, so Ma may have been a stabilizing influence in his life

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It’s a dramatic film with a dramatic score. The storyline is one which would probably have been stretched into an entire season of a TV show nowadays, so with a run time of under two hours, it never gets dull. Very good indeed, and we loved being back in the company of James Cagney.

What we learned: We might all profit from a closer study of classic literature.

Next time: All About Eve (1950)

#56 Sullivan’s Travels

Watched: November 04 2016

Director: Preston Sturges

Starring: Veronica Lake, Joel McCrea

Year: 1941

Runtime: 1h 30min

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John L. Sullivan (McCrea) wants to make a serious film with real social issues and deep meaning (with a little sex in it) which will educate his audience and make them think about the social and economic structures in place in 1940s USA. The only problem is, he’s a pampered Hollywood director who’s never really experienced any of these problems himself. Also, his producers would rather have him make silly comedies and fun action flicks (with a little sex in them).

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“Let’s face it, you can make whatever you want as long as there’s a little sex in it”

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Naturally, he decides to go undercover as a hobo to experience firsthand the suffering of the penniless, with nothing but ten cents (or something like that), the clothes on his back and a crew of five or six reporters, producers and chefs following him in a bus.

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“What do you mean, some people go on the road without the expert advice of costume designers? Then how do they achieve that ‘poor, penniless hobo’-look?”

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His first venture is somewhat fruitless. Although he hilariously manages to shake his entourage with the help of a little boy in a “whippet tank” and then convinces them to take a vacation in Las Vegas, he doesn’t do too well on his own and is eventually kidnapped by a sexually frustrated woman. After escaping through the window he finds a diner where a failed actress (Lake) buys him breakfast and he then “borrows” his own car to give her a ride home.

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There’s just no way any cop would ever pull over a tramp driving an expensive car

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The Girl (who needs a name anyway?) finds out his true identity and decides to join his experiment, dressed (rather unconvincingly) as a boy. Together they go on fun hobo adventures!

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Turns out dressing like a hobo isn’t really enough to fool actual hobos.

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More problems ensue and after a stint in prison Sullivan realises that comedies aren’t really that bad after all and that serious films with real social issues are actually more interesting to the people not experiencing these issues themselves than the ones living them.

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Just like living the hobo life seems more romantic to people not forced into that position

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It’s pretty much impossible to explain how funny this film is. We loved the fast, snappy dialogue, the long, silent Chaplinesque scenes, the wonderful bass voice of the minister who invites the prisoners to movie night in his church, and the satirical view of 1940s Hollywood (and U.S. society in general). This was also our first Veronica Lake (we know – for shame!) and we have now developed major girl crushes on her. Not only is she gorgeous, but she has a very particular presence which is completely fascinating.

Give Sullivan’s Travels a chance. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll change your life!

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Even as a hobo, Veronica Lake is gorgeous.

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What we learned: if we know what we want, we’ll never live in Pittsburgh. Also, the value of escapism in films is not to be underestimated.

Next time: Suspicion (1941)