Plot summary (with possible spoilers): The film opens with a drunken Luke (played by Paul Newman) cutting the heads off parking meters. He’s arrested, and then sent to a minimum security prison, where he has to learn to play by the rules — not an easy task for a “free spirit” like him.
As the new guy in the prison, Luke soon gets into various scuffles and differences of opinion. The most significant of these is when he crosses a man named Dragline (George Kennedy), who seems to be the leader of the other inmates. There’s a strict policy against fighting. The inmates can’t take it upon themselves to beat the crap out of each other, except on Saturdays when the guards put out boxing gloves for their use.
Dragline and Luke get into it, despite the fact that Dragline outweighs Luke by at least 40 pounds. Luke is easily beaten, but he refuses to give up or stay down. He keeps getting back up until Dragline gets tired of hitting him. The two become fast friends after that.
From there, we get numerous scenes of prison life, including the inmates’ work detail and the way they pass their free time by gambling and dancing. In one gambling incident, Luke says that he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour — and does it… just barely.
Despite being sent away for only two years, Luke decides to try to escape the prison. The first attempt occurs soon after his mother dies, and he manages to stay away for a couple of months before being recaptured. Luke doesn’t fare so well the second time. Even though he’s unarmed and wiling to give himself up, he’s gunned down by one of the guards.
My Reaction: For me, Cool Hand Luke was one of those movies that I’d heard a lot about but had never seen. I mean, I never even saw a single scene as far as I can remember, never caught an airing on television or anything like that. I’d heard great things about it, and knew that it was one of Newman’s defining roles, so I decided to try it out recently.
I have to say that I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Perhaps the film was innovative for its time or something, and there were admittedly some interesting scenes (the hard-boiled egg bet immediately comes to mind), but taken as a whole, I thought it was pretty boring. How many scenes did we need to have of the men clearing the highway? Yeah, it was hard, dirty work. I got that the first time around, thank you very much.
And I seriously don’t get that Luke was supposed to be such a “cool” character. Why? Because he mostly rolled with the punches, said “Yes, Boss” when he had to and ate 50 eggs? Meh. This is supposed to be one of the all-time greatest characters in cinema? I guess I must have missed something (though I did notice all the Christ references. Are you kidding me??).
Perhaps I’m just too much of a modern viewer with unrefined tastes and a lack of appreciation for nuances in film. Because I thought Cool Hand Luke was boring and, well, pointless, I give it 2 stars out of 5.