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
Runtime: 2h 7min
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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, 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.
What we learned: Prison is all fun and games until they decide to break you.
Next time: Don’t Look Back (1967)