Cool Hand Luke (US - BD)
Reviewer Marcus Doidge wishes he was as cool as Cool Hand Luke on BD
’What we got here is... failure to communicate’
Pal Newman plays Luke, who after getting caught cutting the heads off of parking meters whilst drunk, ends up in a Florida prison camp serving two years. Spending much of their time doing manual labour such as cutting weeds, digging mud and laying roads, Luke soon gains the respect and friendship of the rest of the group, including top dog of the camp, Dragline (George Kennedy).
Earning the nickname Cool Hand Luke, for his card playing demeanour, Luke’s attitude and resistance to conform to the world around him soon has the other prisoners idolizing him. Never giving up in a fight, exceeding ‘The Boss’’ expectations, eating fifty hard boiled eggs in an hour and successfully escaping the prison on a number of occasions just because he was told not to, soon makes him something of a legend within the prison walls. However, because of Luke’s unwavering persistence to show that he can leave whenever he wants, he becomes the icon the prison bosses need to beat down, to show the other prisoners that their control over the camp can break even the strongest of spirits.
Cool Hand Luke is, well... cool. The phrase ‘they don’t make them like this anymore’ is one that gets thrown around a lot but it has to be said, they really don’t make them like this anymore. Those movies about the outsider who refuses to conform, but who at the same time is flawed and vulnerable and totally a character we can all aspire to be came from an era in cinema that just ate this sort of subject up and it seemed to have its peak in the late sixties and into the seventies. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest being one that’s very much akin to Cool Hand Luke and one of the few modern examples where this worked almost as well, being Tigerland.
Newman’s Luke is a hero for the everyman; he refuses to just fit into the box he’s been allocated in life, but at the same time there’s a real sense that he’s disenchanted with life generally. He’s not a criminal, despite being in prison, he just seems to have seen through the thin veil of how we’re told to live our lives and is just living it his own way. There are no boundaries for Luke, he doesn’t live within the confines of society like the rest of the world does, and he doesn’t stand in line unless standing in line is what he wants to do. Countering this though, Luke is not the classic ‘rebel’ either. He’s not arrogant; he’s not trying to make people follow him or claiming that his way is the right way. In fact, he's almost a lost soul. Despite being idolized by the inmates around him, he doesn’t seem happy with his life. In fact there seems to be a real sense of melancholy about him that suggests he almost wishes that he was like everybody else, but just can’t be that way.
I guess this is why there’s a section of the movie's audience who see this as a modern day Christ story and in all honesty I can see what they mean. Luke has his disciples and he remains persistent despite the men in charge bearing down on him because of his iconic status. There’s the iconic image of Luke laid out on the table after eating the last of the fifty boiled eggs where he looks exactly like Jesus on the cross, which is by no means unintentional. He refers to God as 'old man' in an almost 'Son talking to his Father way' and the list of similarities could go on if you look hard enough. It’s certainly an angle that you could go with but at the same time Luke is very much just the classic image of what the flawed hero is and you respond to him no matter what beliefs you may have.
All of this is what makes Cool Hand Luke such a great movie, mainly because none of this is spelt out to its audience. The story unravels at its own pace and you are really allowed to discover Luke and the inmates around him on your own terms. The director, Stuart Rosenberg, has enough respect for the screenplay that he just lets the story tell itself by just keeping a steady hand over the scenes that set up Luke and his inmate friends motivations and it’s refreshingly well handled.
Made in 1967, this is the oldest colour movie I own on Blu-ray and deep down I was almost hoping that it would be disappointing and avoid me getting too caught up on upgrading older movies I already own onto Blu-ray. Well, Cool Hand Luke totally blew that theory out of the water. It looks glorious. All of the chain gang scenes in the hot midday sun have a golden glow and it just looks incredible. Details on the men’s sweaty faces and bodies are incredibly high, considering the age of the movie and add to that the level of detail in the wide open surroundings is all jaw dropping stuff and one hell of a nod to its restoration.
There was very little about the image that I could find at fault outside of what was inbuilt to the movies era. I didn’t notice any surface marks or dirt, yet it never feels too clean, if that makes any sense. It respectfully still feels of its time, as all of these classics should and there’s a real sense that nothing has been tampered with, just cleaned up and enhanced for our HD viewing pleasure.
Even though this is only presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 it has to be said that I didn’t notice its limitations at all. The movie doesn’t call for grand scale surround shenanigans really and everything that’s within the mix is clear and strong. It has the slight air of 60s sound recording but like I’ve said in previous reviews of older movies, it just wouldn’t be the same without it.
There’s a short and sweet documentary ‘Natural Born World Shaker’ (28:46) that covers a few stories from the director and the screenwriter as well as some selected cast, though sadly no input from Newman. This is real AFI documentary-esq stuff but still a nice companion piece that has become the norm with these Warner classics.
The commentary by Eric Lax, who is a Paul Newman Biographer, is a joy. The guy has a voice you could listen to all day and he's packed with detail about the movie, the story behind the movie and even specific details about Florida inmates and how their day to day lives worked within the realms of what's seen in the movie.
Also included is the original trailer, which is as weird as abstract as many of the 60s trailers were.
Oh and on a side note, whilst not exactly an extra feature, I wanted to mention how great the box art against the blue Blu-ray box is for this release. It’s a fine choice for a cover and with the shiny Warner Bros 85 Years anniversary sticker as well, it really makes it feel like a great little release. Maybe a strange thing to mention, but what with everything going download now-a-days and movie covers generally sucking, I wanted to take the time to celebrate someone getting it right. A round of applause for Warner Bros.
Cool Hand Luke is very deserving of its praise. Newman’s Luke is a character to believe in as much as his fellow inmates did. The movie has a timeless feel that feels as relevant now as it did then and it’s good to see that it’s been treated so well on this HD release. Well worth your time and money.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 9th September 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 English, Dolby Digital 1.0 French, Dolby Digital 1.0 Italina, Dolby Digital 1.0 Spanish, Dolby Digital 1.0 Portuguese
Subtitles: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: Making of, Commentary with Eric Lax, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Cast: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Dennis Hopper
Length: 126 minutes
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