Cool Hand Luke (1967)

(On Cable TV, November 2017) A cliché isn’t necessarily a cliché if it’s in the film that came up with it in the first place. So it is that pointing at Cool Hand Luke as a big bunch of familiar prison-movie moments is useless, given that it made up half of them and competently executed the others. It’s not subtle, though: first-time director Stuart Rosenberg doesn’t miss an opportunity to go for Christ symbolism whenever possible, and the mirror-glasses thing also gets a lot of play. Otherwise a paean to resisting authority, Cool Hand Luke is notable mostly for Paul Newman’s performance (echoed at the end of the film) as a rebellious inmate unable to quietly do his time. It evolves in a fairly standard prison picture, although the chain-gang aspect gives it a slightly different flavour. It’s not a cheery film, although individual moments may appear more encouraging. George Kennedy appears in a dramatic performance that got him an Oscar but may surprise viewers familiar with his more light-hearted roles. One of the film’s standout sequence has to do with a woman lasciviously washing her car in full view of a convict gang—it’s so over-the-top that it gets a laugh or two. Otherwise, Cool Hand Luke is memorable for the bluntness of its execution, and for depending on Newman as its narrative anchor. It doesn’t quite feel as fresh as it must have been at the time, but keep in mind that 1967 was at the cusp of two very different eras…

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