The Movie Snob takes in another classic.
Cool Hand Luke (B). I think it’s hard to rate a movie that is well-made and interesting but also bleak and depressing. That’s how I found Cool Hand Luke, the 1967 film starring Paul Newman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and co-starring George Kennedy (The Naked Gun) in an Oscar-winning supporting performance. Newman plays the title character, a decorated war veteran who lands himself on a prison road gang in the deep South after drunkenly vandalizing a bunch of parking meters. Luke’s blasé attitude and ability to absorb punishment make him an object of suspicion among the prison guards but admiration among his fellow prisoners, who are led by a loud-mouthed fellow called Dragline (Kennedy). In Luke’s shoes, I’d do my best to keep my head down and survive my two-year sentence, but after his ailing mother dies he starts the shenanigans that will get him in increasing amounts of trouble with the sadistic Captain (who has the famous line “What we have here is failure to communicate”) and his goons. What’s Luke’s deal? He’s plainly made out to be a Christ figure, and the movie kind of plays like a drawn-out Garden of Gethsemane sequence. But what’s his message? Love thy neighbor doesn’t seem to fit. Resist authority? What about rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s? Even if Luke’s punishment was excessive, he did vandalize public property, after all. And why is he so rebellious? He alludes to having grown up without a father, and maybe his wartime experience affected him somehow, but I still didn’t really get his motivation. I guess some people are just ornery by nature.
Watch for Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider), Harry Dean Stanton (Escape from New York), and Wayne Rogers (TV’s M*A*S*H) in small parts as fellow prisoners. Apparently Joe Don Baker (Mitchell) was in there too, but I didn’t spot him.