Cool Hand Luke
is a 1967 American drama film
starring Paul Newman
and directed by Stuart Rosenberg
. The screenplay was adapted by Donn Pearce
and Frank Pierson
from the novel by Pearce.
Newman stars in the title role as Luke, a prisoner in a Florida prison
camp who refuses to submit to the system. His inability to conform drives the plot of the movie, in the same vein as characters such as Winston Smith
from Nineteen Eighty-Four
, Randle McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
, and Jake Holman in The Sand Pebbles
Luke is sent to the prison camp for cutting the heads off parking meters one drunken night. His unquenchable spirit makes the other prisoners idolize him.
Luke becomes notorious for his escapes from prison. During the longest such escape, Luke mails a magazine to the other prisoners with a photograph in it of him with two beautiful women, which the prisoners receive with awe and delight. However, Luke is again caught and beaten after being returned to the prison. He receives immediate care from his friends as they tell him how amazed they were at his picture. The delirious Luke, however, admits that the picture was a fake and it cost him a whole week's pay. Afterward, as he struggles to recover, Luke's will is broken in front of the other prisoners. As punishment for trying to escape, he has to dig a large hole in the prison camp yard, then fill it in and repeat the process, as his comrades look on with shame. At night, an exhausted Luke collapses in his hole and begs the bosses for mercy and not to be hit again. His friends hear this and lose the last of the idealized image they had of him. One prisoner pulls out the magazine with Luke's picture in it and tears it up. Luke is hauled back into the bunk house, where he struggles to his bed alone.
Broken in spirit, Luke nonetheless takes one last stab at freedom when he gets the chance to steal the guards' truck. Dragline, his closest associate in the prison gang, jumps in the truck with Luke and they drive off. The two travel together until at night near a church Luke tells Dragline that they should split up. Saddened and regretful, Dragline thanks Luke as the two part, and Luke enters the church. Moments later, police cars arrive outside the church. Dragline suddenly enters and tells Luke it's over and he made a deal with the bosses that they won't hurt him if he surrenders peacefully. Luke, knowing better, appears in an open window and remarks, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate," echoing the Captain's own words to Luke earlier in the film. Luke is immediately shot in the neck. A distraught Dragline hauls him outside, where he is placed in a car with orders to take him to the prison hospital, even though someone protests that it is more than an hour away and he needs immediate medical attention.
Later, Dragline and the other prisoners reminisce about Luke in the fields. Dragline describes Luke's unique smile as scenes of the protagonist flash across the screen. The final image is the now-restored picture of Luke and the two women, with the rips forming the shape of a cross, before the screen fades to black.
The Christ Parallel
Many symbolic references to Jesus Christ
are made throughout the film:
- Luke is looked upon as a leader and inspiration for the underdogs of society.
- After the egg eating contest, Luke is shown lying in a crucified position on the table.
- After Boss Godfried shoots the head off a snake, Luke throws the dead snake at him and hands him his walking stick where in the Bible, the Devil's walking stick is a snake.
- Luke refers to God as "Old Man" when praying in the church.
- When Luke returns from his escape the other men are infatuated with his adventures outside their world. Luke tells them, "Stop feeding off me!" which is an allusion to communion, or the sacrament. Later, a worn out Luke is served a big helping of rice and is told by the trustee that he has to finish all of it or sleep in box. The other men then help themselves to Luke's serving alluding to the Last Supper.
- Dragline acts as an unwitting Judas when he brings the police to the church.
- The last shot showing the picture of Luke with the two women is taped backed together with the tears forming the shape of a cross, then superimposed over an aerial shot of rural crossroads.
The original music from Cool Hand Luke
was composed by Lalo Schifrin
. An edited version of the musical cue from the Tar Sequence
has been used for many years as the news music package on several television stations' news programs around the world, mostly those owned and operated by ABC
in the United States
. This cue was first used in 1968
in New York
for their Eyewitness News
newscast. Nine Network
's Nine News
& WIN Television
's WIN News
in Australia and NBN Television
's NBN News
in Northern NSW
still uses an edited version of the music. Although the music originated from this film, to this day many people associate the tune with television news as opposed to the film itself. Frank Gari, who created many News Music packages recorded an arragement of the Tar Sequence
in 1983 as News Series 2000
The famous quotation
- What we've got here, is ... failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week. Which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any more than you men. listen
The line is frequently read, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." Both are correct. This line is heard twice in the film, first in its entirety with no "a" by Warden Martin, and later on the first line with an "a" is said by Luke. The quotation also made it onto the American Film Institute's list of most memorable movie lines. This line is also used in the Guns N' Roses songs "Civil War" and "Madagascar".
The movie's anti-establishment message fit well with the mood of the 1960s. It became a critical
and financial success.
Cool Hand Luke
won an Academy Award
for Best Actor in a Supporting Role
(George Kennedy), and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role
(Paul Newman), Best Music, Original Music Score
and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
In 2003, AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains rated Luke Jackson as the number 30 greatest hero in American Cinema.
In 2005, the United States Library of Congress deemed this film "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
In 2006, AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers: America's Most Inspiring Movies rated Cool Hand Luke number 71.
References in popular culture
- In Ed, Edd, n Eddy, in one episode, Eddy hatches a plot to escape from a day of school, with Ed, Edd, Jonny, and Plank. The title of the episode was, hence the plot, Cool Hand Ed.
- In the comedy series South Park, the episode The Chicken Lover in year 2 has Cartman channeling the 'Man with no eyes' when he becomes a temporary deputy. The closeup of Cartman's face and the immortal phrase 'Respect my Authoritah' are clearly a homage to Cool Hand Luke.
- On the MTV series Jackass, Johnny Knoxville holds an egg-eating contest in a homage to Cool Hand Luke's infamous scene. His contest, however, ends with all the contestants vomiting.
- In the song 'Rain on the Scarecrow' John Mellancamp sings "Hey calling it your job ol hoss sure dont make it right", paraphrasing what Luke says to the guard who puts him in the box.
- In the pilot episode of Cheers, the movie is named the "Sweatiest Movie Ever" by general consensus of the denizens of the bar.
- In the movie Serendipity, chief character Jonathan (John Cusack) names Cool Hand Luke his favorite movie.
- In the movie The Sandlot characters mimic some of the dialogue: "She don't know what she's doing." "Yeah she does, she knows exactly what she's doing," referring to a pretty girl showing off her sex appeal. This is very similar to the scene in Cool Hand Luke in which prisoners on the chain gang watch a woman wash a car in a very provocative manner.
- In the Venture Bros. episode "Fallen Arches", the scene in which Dr. Venture washes his Walking Eye robot to entice Guild hopefuls is a direct reference to the scene in which a busty blonde washes her car to tantalize the members of the chain gang. The final shot of this sequence parallels the final shot of the car wash scene, in which the girl's large breasts are rubbing against the window of the car.
- Rocky Votolato recorded a cover of "Plastic Jesus" on his album "A Brief History".
- The Flaming Lips do a cover of "Plastic Jesus" on their 1993 album Transmissions from the Satellite Heart.
- Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon do a cover of "Plastic Jesus" on their 1994 album Prairie Home Invasion.
- The Reverend Horton Heat has a song/album entitled "Spend a Night in the Box" referencing punishments for various infractions in the prison camp.
- In Gilmore Girls, Lorelai watches the movie with her then-boyfriend Luke, and refers to her boyfriend as Cool Hand Luke.
- In Reality Bites, Michael (Ben Stiller) compliments Troy (Ethan Hawke) for a line he says in Lelaina's movie ("No one can eat fifty eggs") as if it were by him, and Troy explains that it was a mere quotation from Cool Hand Luke.
- In the movie 25th Hour starring Edward Norton, the movie poster is on the wall in back of his couch.
- The Simpsons
- In the episode "The PTA Disbands" the "that's a night in the box" line is spoofed by Jasper.
- In "Black Widower", Sideshow Bob is seen picking up garbage on the side of the road while a Boss-like figure watches (in a parody of the shot of the reflective sunglasses) and the movie's music is heard.
- A live version of the theme song "Down Here on the Ground" is performed on George Benson's Weekend in L.A. (1977).
- Guns N' Roses uses the line "What we've got here is failure to communicate," in their songs "Civil War" from the album Use Your Illusion II, and "Madagascar", which is expected to appear on their upcoming album, Chinese Democracy.
- In O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Sheriff Cooley wears reflective glasses very similar to those worn by Boss Godfrey, and similarly rarely speaks.
- The music video for Beck's "Where It's At" features an homage to Cool Hand Luke. The video begins with a sweaty prison crew on an empty country road, being watched over by a Boss-like figure wearing reflective sunglasses.
- Mad Magazine's parody of the film is entitled Blue Eyed Kook ("Kook" is incarcerated for smashing gumball machines, not beheading parking meters).
- Jack Johnson has been known to cover "Plastic Jesus", including performances at Bonnaroo.
- In the Malcolm in the Middle episode "Traffic Jam", (Season 2, episode 1), Francis is challenged to eat 100 "Quacks", (which are a reference to the marshmallow candy known as Peeps.), spoofing the bet that Luke can not eat 50 eggs.
- In Lost, Sawyer refers to Jack as "Cool Hand".
- The Family Guy episode "Holy Crap" parodies the chain gang from the movie.
- Australian band You Am I have a song called "Cool Hand Luke" on their 1993 Coprolalia EP.
- In The BBC comedy Give My Head Peace the character Red Hand Luke is a play on "Cool Hand Luke".
- "La prison de Robertsonville", the sixth volume of the Belgian comic book series Les Tuniques Blues borrows some plot lines from the film.
- The 1993 Rugrats episode "Cool Hand Angelica" is a parody of the film.
- In the Farscape series, John Crichton says, "hole big enough boss?" referring to the scene in which Luke digs a ditch for the bosses.
- The second album by hip-hop artist Tone Lōc was named Cool Hand Lōc, referencing the film.
- In the NCIS episode Frame Up, Agent Tony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) uses the line "What we've got here is failure to communicate" after being cleared of murder charges.
- In the television show Moonlighting, there is a two part episode in season four titled "Cool Hand Dave". The Bruce Willis character David Addison is imprisoned in a case of mistaken identity.
- The climactic scene where Luke escapes the chain gang by hijacking a dump truck and then raising the truck bed to deflect bullets shot at him by the guards is almost identical to the escape scene in the movie "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" (1932)
- The Duckman episode "You've Come a Wrong Way, Baby" includes a scene where the Tobacco CEO threatens that anyone who crosses him will spend a week in The Box. Duckman does, and is crammed in a tiny box about half the size of his body.
- In the novel IT by Stephen King, Mike's father is forced to dig and refill a hole over and over again as punishment, very similar to Luke's punishment in the film.
- Jackie Gleason quotes the "failure to communicate" line when addressing three young men in Smokey And The Bandit.