I’d like to take a moment and reminisce about a legendary actor, late Paul Newman. Known in particular for The Hustler, Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid, The Sting or The Color of Money, my beloved performance of his has got to be that in Cool Hand Luke. The piercing gaze, hearty smile and the unquestionable talent are features that made Paul Newman an awesome movie star in my eyes. Yet the more you get exposed to facts about this man’s life, the more you become fascinated, the more you admire him.
In Cool Hand Luke the titular character is a war veteran who gets a 2-year prison sentence for damaging parking meters while drunk. He is supposed to serve time in a chain gang penitentiary in Florida. From the very beginning the warden and guards recite a list of regulations to new inmates, including Luke. He is seemingly displeased with the way things work in jail. What surprises and annoys him even more is that the convicts abide by their own set of rules. This leads to a conflict with a leader of the prisoners Dragline (George Kennedy in an Oscar-winning role), which ends up in a brawl. Luke gets completely beat-up but he refuses to surrender and his opponent decides to withdraw. His attitude gains him respect among cons… I won’t go on much further into story, as there are multiple places where it’s possible to read a synopsis, but best to watch it personally.
Cool Hand Luke is a curious movie. I believe it’s the only film I watched where the prisoners are presented in such humane and positive light. In last 20 years or so anything that has got to do with jail always involves bulky gangstas ready to cut your stomach open with a smuggled blade or ‘don’t pick up the soap’ notion going on. The picture is set in the 1950s so it either was a different time back then or rather there was no need for a shocking value of that kind.
Ain’t no grave gonna keep my body down.
Moments of joy and laughter mix with heavy drama and existential issues and eventually bring us to a powerful conclusion. Newman’s character is against the system – prison life doesn’t suit him at all. He’s a free spirit so he constantly comes up with ideas to make his ‘stay’ bearable. His bet to eat 50 hard-boiled eggs is a kind of #challenge I’d like to see people doing around all these Twitters and Facebooks.
Rebelliousness is not the most desirable quality the warden wants to see in convicts, so the story gets darker at some point. One of the reasons I decided to watch this movie few years ago was the fact that the oft-quoted words spoken by the warden: ‘What we’ve got here is failure to communicate (…)’ are included in Civil War, a marvelous song by Guns N’ Roses.
The guy is a weasel, and I love how they constructed the whole movie in such way, that it’s the side of the law appears to be in the wrong. Great film.
My newest encounter with Paul Newman took place several days ago. I just opened Youtube in my browser and a Late Show tape popped up in recommended, and it was Paul Newman just goofing around to get people to applause him much to Dave’s faked dismay. I tell ya folks, They may call Don Rickles ‘Mr. Warmth’, but there was so much kindness and tenderness emanating from Mr. Newman that I just couldn’t stop smiling throughout the video. Then I learned that he had been married for fifty years to Joanne Woodward (‘Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?’), a rare occurrence in show-biz, and that he has been a successful road racer.
If it wasn’t enough he founded a food company which donated its profits to charity (over 400 million dollars by 2014!).
Not many people of that caliber are still around.