Starring: PN, George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon, Lou Antonio, Robert Drivas, Strother Martin
Directed by: Stuart Rosenberg
Summary: One of PN's greatest creations is the irrepressible Luke. Lucas Jackson is "just passin' time" when he winds up on a southern chain gang for cutting the heads off parking meters. Luke is a man who accepts the consequences but not even the deprivations of these subhuman conditions will break his spirit. Luke is a Christ figure- it's interesting to watch for the images - his disciples, his Judas, his crucifixion. I can't compare to this wonderfully written review by Tim Dirks on filmsite.org.
Trivia: Telly Savalas was originally cast as Luke, but because he was afraid of flying, he couldn't make it back from Europe in time for the start of production. The rest, is history....
In 1968, Al Primo owned and operated station WABC-TV in New York City and secured the rights from Warner Brothers to use the title music from Cool Hand Luke as the opening theme for it's new Eyewitness News program. The Cool Hand Luke theme became so popular that other ABC-TV owned and affiliated stations also started using the music for their Eyewitness News programs and it eventually became the standard at ABC-TV. By the mid 1970's almost 90% of the ABC-TV stations with an Eyewitness News program were using the Cool Hand Luke music.
After Paul passed away, Entertainment Weekly tracked down George Kennedy and he came through with this story about PLN's performance in CHL:
"In the movie, Dragline calls Luke a "natural born world-shaker.” After tracking down Kennedy, who now lives a quieter existence (read: no reps, and no listed phone number) on the outskirts of Boise, Idaho, the 83-year-old says the same could have been said of Newman-the-actor, despite Newman's pretty-boy blue eyes. When Kennedy first met Newman on the set of Cool Hand Luke, the former had already worked with just about every A-list actor in the business and was “always deferential to them,” but “very seldom ran into one who was so much a master of what he did than Paul. He was everything you could ask for and more.”
Kennedy recalled shooting a scene with Newman in which Luke has just received word that his mother has died. In the scene, it’s raining outside; Newman hops on his bunk to play the banjo, and starts singing, "I don’t care if it rains or freezes / as long as I’ve got my plastic Jesus...." “Paul knew as much about playing a banjo as I know about making cakes, which means very, very little,” Kennedy explained in his throaty, southern drawl. “But he wanted to play his own accompaniment, and director Stuart Rosenberg and everybody else said, ‘You don’t learn to play banjo that easily.’ And he said, ‘No, I’m going to try.’ And [in] the scene you see, Paul makes an error. He wasn’t doing it the way he wanted and became madder and madder...although you can only [tell] by the increase of the pace of his picking the banjo. When it was over, it was magnificent. Rosenberg said, ‘Print.’ Paul said, ‘I could do it better.’ Rosenberg said, ‘Nobody can do it better.’ And that’s the way that came off. True story.”
The film was only nominated for 4 Academy Awards: PLN for Best Actor, George Kennedy
for Supporting Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Score. It won only 1 (for
George Kennedy). The biggest slight was the fact that the film was not nominated
for Best Picture, while the abysmal Doctor Doolittle was.
The Newman Factor: My all time favorite- THE 10. Newman was nominated for Best Actor (his 4th), against Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night, Dustin Hoffman for The Graduate, Warren Beatty for Bonnie and Clyde, and Spencer Tracy for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?. Any one of those performances (though Tracy's nomination seems like a formality) would stand up as hands down winners in any other year, voters forced with making a decision this year must have had a difficult choice.
Rating: 10. The film lasts, and watching it 30 years after it's creation, it never loses it's audience. George Kennedy won the Oscar for Supporting Actor for his role. 1967 is often considered the turning point of modern American cinema, mainly for the films nominated for Oscars that year. 3 of them are listed on the AFI's 100 Greatest Movies list: The Graduate #7, Bonnie and Clyde #27, and Guess Who's... #99.
"Callin' it your job don't make it right, Boss."
"Sometimes Nothing can be a pretty cool hand."