Classic Intel: Cool Hand Luke - DVD Review

'Luke's rebellion, rather like the film itself, is quiet and contemplative and has therefore, rather been silenced'

Cool Hand Luke is one of those oddities of the IMDb Top 250, in that, despite its lofty perch (#125), rarely will you see it featuring in a top ten list. You only have to look at three out of the five films below it in the list to see what I mean; Donnie Darko, The Sixth Sense and There Will Be Blood each have fan bases that could probably be described as passionate whilst Luke's is something more approaching quiet reverence.

Whilst watching Cool Hand Luke (for the first time no less), I could see why this was the case. Sure, its message of social disenfranchisement and rebellion remains relevant throughout the ages but since its appearance in the 60s we've had other films that have presented the same message in a more stylised way (A Clockwork Orange) and have continued to be gorged on others prior to it that have retained a greater sense of iconicity (Rebel Without A Cause). Luke's rebellion, rather like the film itself, is quiet and contemplative and has therefore, rather been silenced.

Which is a shame because Cool Hand Luke is a wonderful film which perhaps suffers from too quiet of a touch by its director Stuart Rosenberg. What I mean by that is that although Rosenberg is right to shy away from Great Escape-alike 'trips to the cooler', he doesn't give us anything particularly grandiose or memorable to latch on to. The review entitled Sticking It To The Man on IMDb identifies the key scenes as being the car wash (because it is out of place) and the two scenes dealing with Luke's mother. I would agree. But if this is Luke's antithesis then it is not difficult to see why Shawshank's rooftop beers and Rita Hayworth poster or The Great Escape's motorcycle jump or Dean's leather jacket are remembered over it and capture similar ideas or genre conventions to a greater degree.

But to say Rosenberg doesn't have some success would be to not tell the full story. Paul Newman's performance, whilst brilliant in only the way Newman can be, was obviously meticulously teased from him by somebody and for that Rosenberg can take great credit. In the second lengthy scene regarding Luke's mother, both director and star give a masterclass as a quiet and contemplative rebel plucks at his banjo and mouths a simple ditty. Elsewhere too, the characters that populate the ramshackle prison are largely individualised rather than marginalised, never more the case than in Dragline, meatily brought to life with some much needed 'oomph' by George Kennedy.

Despite the obvious enjoyment to be had here, I too found Cool Hand Luke neither openly rebellious, nor unique enough in its disagreement, to embrace it fully and must too fall into the category of quiet reverence, although I am all for people who are willing to wave its flag higher and shout its praise louder.

Look further...

'My number one favorite movie of all-time, boss' - Cut The Crap Movie Reviews, 10/10


  1. Good man, glad you dug it. And thanks for the shoutout!

  2. No problem & yeah, just glad I finally got round to watching it!