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Stuart Rosenberg
Paul Newman, George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon, Lou Antonio, Robert Drivas, Strother Martin, Jo Van Fleet, Clifton James, Dennis Hopper
Writing Credits:
Donn Pearce (and novel), Frank Pierson

On the chain gang, they'd seen every kind of man ... but Luke became a legend.

Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) is sentenced to two years on a chain gang after getting drunk and cutting the tops off several parking meters. In jail, he refuses to give in to anyone, even the guards, and he never gives up, which soon makes him a hero to the other inmates. After some time, he escapes, only to be recaptured, a process that is repeated several times.

Rated NR

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Monaural
French Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 126 min.
Price: $12.98
Release Date: 6/25/1997

• Cast and Crew Biographies
• Production Notes
• Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Cool Hand Luke (1967)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 13, 2008)

For some vintage Paul Newman, we head to 1967ís Cool Hand Luke. Newman plays Lucas Jackson, a neíer-do-well who ends up on a prison chain gang after he lops the tops off parking meters during a drunken escapade. Captain (Strother Martin) runs the camp with a heavy hand; virtually any transgression sends the inmate to ďthe boxĒ, a severe method of solitary confinement.

Lucas immediately shows his rebellious nature as he gets to know the other inmates. He stays aloof from the others but eventually earns their respect due to his refusal to back down from a situation, and his extreme poker face earns him the nickname ďCool Hand LukeĒ from inmate leader Dragline (George Kennedy). We follow Lukeís life in the camp and his peculiar adventures.

From very early in Luke, I thought back to an earlier film with another anti-hero: 1954ís The Wild One. Other than his general disdain for authority, Marlon Brandoís motorcycle-riding bad boy Johnny doesnít have all that much in common with Luke, but the filmís iconic dialogue presages this oneís lead character: when asked what heís rebelling against, Johnny replies, ďWhaddya got?Ē

At first, Luke seems aimlessly rebellious; after all, he becomes imprisoned for the pointless amusement that comes from his parking meter decapitation spree. As the film progresses, though, we see more of a purpose, though not a positive one. Luke seems relentlessly self-destructive. He appears to act due to self-loathing, not because of a purposeful assault on authority.

After I watched the flick, I checked out some reviews because I was curious to see other interpretations. Most that I found saw Luke as an inspirational anti-authority figure and a Christ figure. Maybe Iím off base, but I donít agree with the view that weíre supposed to interpret Luke in that way.

To be sure, the flick wants us to observe the Biblical parallels. Heck, after Luke downs 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour, he even strikes a pose obviously modeled after Jesus on the cross. Other similarities occur as well, so I can understand the Christ comparisons.

However, I donít think Luke is that simple. In fact, I view it as more of a parody of the Christ story, not a basic adaptation of it. For one, Luke isnít exactly an admirable figure. Where some see him as a free spirit who challenges mindless authority, I view him as a self-destructive loner with no real philosophy or purpose. When he inspires others, he does inadvertently, and he resists their adulation.

To some degree, Luke can be seen as part of the anti-authoritarian trend of its era. The late 1960s combated against mindless obedience, and the flick reflects that. However, the anti-hero of Luke can come across as stupidly oppositional. He performs actions that serve little purpose other than to harm himself. These indirectly inspire his cohorts, but they usually get caught in the crossfire as well. We see this when Dragline impulsively follows Luke on an adventure even though it seems unlikely to end well and will postpone his not-too-distant exit from prison.

All of this makes Luke a complicated movie, partially because it includes almost literally no admirable characters. We find a selfish, self-loathing lead, sadistic jailers and hypocritical inmates. I donít think we can empathize with any of them. Even though we feel the pain of the prisoners due to the excessive cruelty of their keepers, they blow our sympathy through their general idiocy.

Luke himself tends to inspire pity more than admiration. We get an excellent performance by Newman. He fleshes out Luke in a charismatic and enigmatic manner that turns him into even more of an enigma. Normally a performance of this sort would accompany a heroic, inspirational character, but Luke is decidedly more complex than that.

As is the film as a whole. Cool Hand Luke isnít an easily accessible flick, largely due to the absence of clear plot or likable characters. Nonetheless, it creates an involving, thought-provoking piece, one that should hold up to repeated viewings.

The DVD Grades: Picture D+/ Audio C+/ Bonus D-

Cool Hand Luke appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 and in a fullscreen version on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. While not a total loss, the transfer suffered from many problems.

Plenty of source flaws created a majority of the concerns. I didnít get the impression anyone put a lot of clean-up work into Luke, as it suffered from a mix of specks, scratches, marks, debris and lines. These werenít constant companions, but they created more than a few distractions.

Sharpness was inconsistent. Close shots demonstrated decent clarity and delineation, but wider elements tended to be less distinct. Some edge enhancement came along for the ride, as haloes became noticeable on more than a few occasions. I noticed no issues with jagged edges or shimmering, though the image could look a bit blocky at times.

Colors occasionally looked a little oversaturated, but they usually came across as fairly clear and acceptably full. The film tended toward a dry, natural palette, and the DVD reproduced this in a passable manner. Black levels looked moderately deep and rich, while shadow detail appeared appropriately opaque but not excessively heavy. Though not a complete disaster, the visuals of Luke were unsatisfying.

I found the filmís monaural soundtrack to be more acceptable. The audio seemed consistently decent but unexceptional. Dialogue was a bit thin and flat but sounded easily intelligible and articulate. Music was fairly bright and clear and also boasted some modest low end at times. Effects generally came across and accurate and crisp. I found the soundtrack of Bonnie to provide a presentation typical of the era.

Only some minor extras flesh out the disc. In addition to the filmís trailer, we find some text components. Cast provides short biographies for director Stuart Rosenberg and actors Paul Newman, George Kennedy, JD Cannon, Robert Drivas, Lou Antonio, Strother Martin and Jo Van Fleet. Production Notes tells us a little about the flick and its shoot; donít expect much.

Cool Hand Luke isnít just a film with an anti-hero: itís pretty much anti-everything. This is a movie packed with dysfunction, flawed characters Ė and itís darned fascinating due to those choices. The DVD doesnít work as well, unfortunately. It provides adequate audio but suffers from poor visuals and no substantial supplements. Luke is a great flick, but I canít recommend this flawed disc.

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