Celebrating Having a ‘Cool Hand’
Happy Anniversary to a movie that features one of actor Paul Newman's most-loved and iconic characters. "Cool Hand Luke" was released to movie theaters on this day, 51 years ago. That's right, two years before he played Butch Cassidy and six years before "The Sting" and his role of Henry Gondorff, Newman took on the role of Lucas "Luke" Jackson in 1967's "Cool Hand Luke" and it cemented Newman's status as a top box-office draw.
The plot revolves around decorated veteran Jackson being arrested after cutting the heads off of parking meters one drunken night. He's sentenced to two years at a Florida chain-gang prison run by a sadistic warden(awesome character actor Strother Martin). Jackson, after not giving in and surrendering in a fight with prisoner leader "Dragline"(played by George Kennedy who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role), earns the respect and admiration of the other prisoners. Their admiration grows as Jackson undergoes several escape attempts only to be captured and brought back to the chain-gang to be severely punished. Jackson refuses to cave and give in to the prison system so the warden and the guards focus their sadistic cruelty on him.
Finally in the end, during his last escape attempt(this time with Dragline), Luke decides that life is no longer worth living. The warden and his minions are catching up to Luke and Dragline, and rather than face recapture, Luke makes a decision that ultimately costs him the greatest price.
Now, there is so much more to the movie than that. But if you haven't seen it, you owe it to yourself to check it out, especially if you're a fan of the late Paul Newman. The movie is filled with endlessly quotable dialogue. Perhaps the most famous line, uttered by the warden(Strother Martin) whom Jackson sarcastically calls "Captain": "What we got here is...failure to communicate". There's plenty more, though. "No man can eat fifty eggs."; "One in the box. One in the bush."; "Wish you'd stop being so good to me, Captain."; "That's my darling Luke. He grins like a baby but he bites like a gator."
And of course the quote from which Luke got his nickname. After winning a poker game by bluffing with a hand full of nothing, Luke says, "Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand." And of course, a great supporting cast featuring people who weren't famous at the time but later went on to be. Joe Don Baker; Dennis Hopper; Ralph Waite(a few years before "The Waltons"); Harry Dean Stanton; Wayne Rogers(years before "Trapper" John on "M*A*S*H"); Clifton James; Anthony Zerbe(who probably appeared on EVERY 70's television show at one time or another playing the bad guy); and probably more faces you'll recognize.
It's a classic movie that I almost know by heart, line for line, and yet it still captivates me. Happy Anniversary, "Cool Hand Luke"!