A Movie A Day: Quint watches COOL HAND LUKE (1967)! What we have here is a failure to communicate!
Published at: June 13, 2008, midnight CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge and plowing through the hundreds of DVDs I own for movies I haven’t seen. Each day I’ll talk about a film I haven’t previously seen and each film will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today is COOL HAND LUKE, directed by Stuart Rosenberg, written by Frank Pierson and Donn Pearce (from his novel) and starring Paul Newman, George Kennedy and Strother Martin, Harry Dean Stanton, with nearly background appearances by Joe Don Baker and Dennis Hopper.
Yes, the movie lives up to the hype, it deserves its reputation. If you’re one of the few people left on earth who hasn’t seen it, we follow a likable guy… a soldier, returned from service and bored. He cuts the heads off of parking meters while drunk and gets a two year sentence working the chain gang, laboring his offense off.
What a period for Newman. COOL HAND LUKE came a year after previews AMAD title HARPER and two years before BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. The same fire I saw and loved in HARPER is here… but it’s somehow more internal. Luke isn’t as outgoing as Harper was. He keeps his head down for the first half of the movie until he’s done wrong by the Bosses and then it’s like a switch is flipped. He gives them hell from here on out.
I feel this movie is kin to one of my all time favorites, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST. It’s not just the likable guy trapped by circumstance, either. There’s a tone and flow that I feel both movies share.
The difference in COOL HAND LUKE is that the freedom they lack is flaunted in these guys’ faces every single day on the road. They’re in society, as it were, cutting grass, digging ditches, shoveling dirt… there’s a fantastic scene where the men are slaving away by a farm and the housewife decides to wash her car… knowing damn well what she’s doing to the men.
They can see it, almost live their freedom, but then there’s Blind Dick (called so because he never takes his chrome sunglasses off) there with his rifle, always silently watching.
The film is loaded with iconography, something that’s really important to me in these kinds of films. Newman’s egg-eating contest, the card game that gives the movie its title and our lead his nickname (“Sometimes nothin’s can be a real cool hand.”), Blind Dick with his glaring sunglasses and rifle bolt tucked into his belt and so on.
It’s also loaded with awesome character actors… I’ve loved Strother Martin since I saw UP IN SMOKE as a kid. Of course later there was THE WILD BUNCH and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. He gets a great role with great lines, including the most famous line of the flick.
Like most kids my age I was introduced to George Kennedy via the NAKED GUN movies… and I still haven’t seen most of his filmography, but I love him as a personality. He’s a grumpy bastard here, but like the neighborhood dog… he’s all growls until you figure out how to get on his good side (usually involves a McDonalds cheeseburger in my experience) and then is your loyal friend.
The DVD’s fine, but from a dirty print. I hear there’s a Blu-Ray on the way come September. Needless to say I will definitely be picking that up.
The flick’s outstanding and much like RIO BRAVO it’s a joy to watch, not a chore. It never felt like a homework assignment getting through it. I highly recommend it to anyone who might have missed it and recommend revisiting it to those who haven’t seen it for a while.
Coming in the next seven days:
Friday, June 13th: THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)
Saturday, June 14th: CLASH BY NIGHT (1952)
Sunday, June 15th: SCARLET STREET (1945)
Monday, June 16th: KILLER BAIT (aka TOO LATE FOR TEARS) (1949)
Tuesday, June 17th: ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964)
Wednesday, June 18th: CITY FOR CONQUEST (1940)
Thursday, June 19th: SAN QUENTIN (1937)
Tomorrow we change gears over to famous noir THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. This is a bit of a stretch, but Strother Martin makes an uncredited appearance (read extra) in the flick, so that’s our bridge. It’s also one of Marilyn Monroe’s first films. See you folks tomorrow for that!