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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
English Monaural
French Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 126 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 9/9/2008

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Eric Lax
• “A Natural-Born World-Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke” Documentary
• 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: Deluxe Edition (1967)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 27, 2008)

For some vintage Paul Newman, we head to 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. Newman plays Lucas Jackson, a ne’er-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 “the box”, 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 “Cool Hand Luke” from inmate leader Dragline (George Kennedy). We follow Luke’s life in the camp and his peculiar adventures.

From virtually the start of Luke, I thought back to an earlier film with another anti-hero: 1954’s The Wild One. Other than his general disdain for authority, Marlon Brando’s motorcycle-riding bad boy Johnny doesn’t have all that much in common with Luke, but the film’s iconic dialogue presages this one’s lead character: when asked what he’s rebelling against, Johnny replies, “Whaddya got?”

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 I’m off base, but I don’t agree with the view that we’re 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 don’t 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 isn’t 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 don’t 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 isn’t 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 B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus B-

Cool Hand Luke appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Not too many problems developed in this solid transfer.

Sharpness appeared quite good most of the time. I noticed a little softness in some wide shots, but those instances remained minor. Instead, the movie demonstrated good clarity and delineation through the vast majority of its running time. No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects materialized, and I also thought edge enhancement seemed minimal. Source flaws weren’t an issue. A small speck or two cropped up, but the transfer remained quite clean.

Colors came across as fairly clear and acceptably full. The film tended toward a dry, natural palette, and the DVD reproduced this in a good manner. Within the photography style of the flick, there was only so much life that could come from the hues, so I thought they were fine within those constraints. Black levels looked deep and rich, while shadow detail appeared appropriately opaque but not excessively heavy. I thought the image was very satisfying and barely fell below “A” levels.

I found the film’s monaural soundtrack to be 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 Luke to provide a presentation typical of the era.

How did the picture and sound of this 2008 Deluxe Edition compare to those of the original 1997 DVD? I felt both movies featured similar audio, but the new disc boasted vastly improved visuals. The 1997 disc was a mess with all sorts of problems. The new transfer offered a substantial upgrade.

While the old 1997 release included only minor extras, the DE adds a few more substantial components. First we find an audio commentary from film historian Eric Lax. He provides a running, screen-specific track that examines the source novel and its adaptation, cast and crew, sets and locations, story, themes and interpretation, score and cinematography, and some production tales.

Lax provides an erratic commentary that improves as it progresses. During the early parts, he tends to narrate the film at times, and some dead air mars the proceedings. However, he appears to get into the movie better as it goes, so we find better insights during the flick’s second half. We still encounter lulls, but Lax turns this into a reasonably informative piece by the end.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find a new documentary called A Natural-Born World-Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke. In this 28-minute and 45-second show, we find movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from Lax, director Stuart Rosenberg, writer Frank R. Pierson, novelist Donn Pearce, assistant director Hank Moonbeam, composer Lalo Schifrin, and actors Ralph Waite, George Kennedy, Clifton James, Lou Antonio, Anthony Zerbe, and Joy Harmon. The program looks at the novel’s path to the big screen, how Rosenberg came onto the project, some story and thematic notes, cast, characters and performances, some scene specifics, music and cinematography, the movie’s reception and its legacy.

“World-Shaker” offers a pretty good complement to the commentary. A few of the some notes appear here, but we learn plenty of new facts about the film’s creation. Of course, the absence of Paul Newman disappoints, but this becomes a useful program nonetheless.

Cool Hand Luke isn’t just a film with an anti-hero: it’s pretty much anti-everything. This is a movie packed with dysfunctional, flawed characters – and it’s darned fascinating due to those choices. The DVD features very good picture, era-appropriate audio, and a few informative extras. Luke remains an excellent movie, and this new DVD is the one to own.

To rate this film visit the original review of COOL HAND LUKE

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