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Cool Hand Luke kicks off our Prison Breaks triple.  Cory and John don’t have a failure to communicate. Join them as the discuss this Paul Newman classic filled with memorable lines and classic scenes.

Cool Hand Luke:

Luke was in the war and won commendations but left as a private.  He makes no plans and hate rules and regulations.  He gets caught after taking the heads off of parking meters while drunk.  He gets sentenced to hard time on a prison road crew camp. The camp is ruled by the Captain (Strother Martin) and a group of guards all called Boss.  Boss Godfrey (Morgan Woodward) is the almost silent road boss.  He is a sharp shot with sunglasses that give him dead eyes.  Boss Paul, Luke Askew, is there to break the men.  Carr (Clifton James) is the walking boss in the bunk house.  He lays down the rules for his bunk house.

Luke (Paul Newman), Tramp (Harry Dean Stanton, and Alibi (Ralph Waite) are then new folks in camp.  Not only do they have to learn the rules of the bosses, they have to learn the rules of the prisoners.  Dragline (George Kennedy) is in charge.  He gives each inmate a nickname, runs the money & betting pool and much more.  Koko (Lou Antonio), Society Red (J.D. Cannon), Loudmouth Steve (Robert Drivas), and Babalugats (Dennis Hopper) are his crew.  They quickly make the rules clear to the new comers.  But Luke pushes all authority and later wins a poker game and earns the name Cool Hand Luke.

Luke’s mom Arletta (Jo Van Fleet) is brought to the prison by Luke’s brother, John, and nephew.  She is not long for the world.  Luke was her favorite but has disappointed her and she has to let him go.  John will get the home-place and Luke is no longer welcome.

Dragline has found a hero to look up to in Luke.  Luke’s antics, escapes and fighting authority make him a hero to the guys.  But after he is dragged back the first time he begs them to stop feeding on him.  Luke’s second run sees him brought back and now double chained.  Captain utters his iconic line “What we have here is … failure to communicate.” Boss Paul and Captain get Luke’s mind right but having him dig a pit and fill it back in over and over until he is broken. It looks like Luke has become the Bosses new yes man.

Luke outsmarts the guards and steals a truck, after he took the keys to the other two, he and Dragline escape. Drag wants Luke to go with him, but Luke refuses.  Luke finds his way to a church.  He calls on God, who he doesn’t believe exists or who is set on punishing him, for help.  Drag comes in sent by the Captain and the Bosses to ask Luke to come quietly.  Luke goes to the window and repeats back the Captain’s line.  Boss Godfrey shoots him.  Drag carries Luke out and he is taken away but dies.  Drag is telling the story to the guys later making Luke the Hero.


This movie is a classic. I saw it first in my South In American Film class in college. Luke is an anti-hero that you want to win.  He is chained up and locked up by an oppressive society.  All he wants to do is escape it’s expectations and rules on him.  We can all put ourselves in that spot and that is part of why we cheer for him.  This, in my mind, is a must watch movie.

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The score was done by Lalo Schifri and here is the title song by Stuart Rosenberg.

Buy the score here.

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