Warner Bros.-Seven Arts' Cool Hand Luke escaped into movie theaters in 1967. Paul Newman (1925-2008) has the title role, playing a rebellious convict hell-bent on escaping from a southern chain gang. Here are 21 Cool Hand Luke classic movie trivia items and interesting facts...
1. Cool Hand Luke is based on the 1965 novel of the same name by Donn Pearce. A former safecracker and burglar, Pearce served two years on a Florida chain gang while in his early 20s. Pearce makes a cameo appearance in the film as Sailor.
2. The screen rights to Cool Hand Luke were purchased by JalemProductions, Jack Lemon's production company.
3. Cool Hand Luke was director Stuart Rosenberg's (1927-2007) third feature film, preceded by Murder, Inc. (1960) and Question 7 (1961). But Rosenberg was hardly a novice, having directed a number of television episodes before this.
4. Cool Hand Luke features a number of actors in small supporting roles who later went on to greater fame in movies or television. They include Wayne Rogers (Gambler), Ralph Waite (Alibi), Harry Dean Stanton (Tramp), J.D. Cannon (Society Red), Dennis Hopper (Babalugats), Anthony Zerbe (Dog Boy) and Joe Don Baker (Fixer).
5. Cool Hand Luke features two of the best non-speaking performances in Hollywood history: Morgan Woodward as the sinister, sharpshooting Boss "No Eyes" Godfrey and Joy Harmon as the scantily-clad young blonde who sensually washes her car for the benefit of the sex-starved cons. Joy Harmon had been discovered while appearing as a contestant on Groucho Marx's classic TV game show You Bet Your Life (1950-1961).
6. Cool Hand Luke begins in a small southern town where a drunken Luke Jackson (Newman) is caught red-handed beheading parking meters. Luke is arrested for "maliciously destroying municipal property while under the influence," a crime which later earns him two years on a Florida chain gang.
7. Luke is housed in an old wooden, barracks-type structure along with 49 other convicts. Their days are generally spent out on a chain gang where they clear brush and oil roads, always under the watchful eyes of armed guards.
8. "The Box" – a kind of wooden outhouse with no windows – serves as the principal deterrent for cons who break the rules. The offender is locked into said building and left to cook in the broiling Florida heat.
9. Luke Jackson garners his nickname of "Cool Hand" during a poker game. Luke wins a sizeable pot with a bluff. When his cards are turned over to reveal nothing, he wryly remarks to Dragline (George Kennedy): "Yeah, well, sometimes nuthin' could be a real cool hand."
10. Best "sports" scene: Cool Hand Luke takes on the big, hulking Dragline in a boxing match out in the prison yard. Dragline makes quick work of Luke, but the latter earns his grudging respect for refusing to lay down and quit.
11. Luke Jackson owns an impressive war record: the Silver Star, a Bronze Star and several Purple Hearts. But Luke was obviously a troublemaker in the Army, having at one time reached the rank of sergeant but later discharged as a buck private.
12. Jo Van Fleet plays Luke's mother Arletta, a coughing, chain-smoking wreck of a woman who visits Luke while ensconced in the back of an old pickup truck. A telegram later informs Luke that his mother had died.
13. Luke accepts the gastronomical challenge that he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in the span of an hour. His chief backer is Dragline, who after egg #44 urges his fellow con on: "All right now. Get mad at them damned eggs! Eat it there, boy. Chew on it! Gnaw on it!" With only seconds to spare, Luke downs his 50th egg.
14. Strother Martin (1919-1980) as The Captaincops one of the most famous lines in movie history. When a recaptured Luke is returned to camp he levels a sarcastic remark at The Captain, the commandant of the prison. The Captain savagely retaliates with a blackjack, knocking Luke into a ditch. "What we've got here is, failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach..." The Captain intones, barely holding his temper.
15. On one of his escape attempts from the camp, Luke makes it to a small town where he obtains a small axe from two black boys and cuts off his leg irons. He then acquires some curry and chili powder, laying it down at an intersection which sends the tracking dogs into sneezing fits.
16. Luke's prayer to "The Old Man" (God) while taking refuge in a small country church: "I know I'm a pretty evil fella. Killed people in the war, and, I got drunk, and, chewed up municipal property and the like. I know I got no call to ask for much but even so you got to admit you ain't dealt me no cards in a long time..."
17. Cool Hand Luke was principally filmed in the San Joaquin River Delta area near Stockton, California, and at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California. Jacksonville and Tavares, Florida, were also used.
18. Note the religious symbolism in Cool Hand Luke: Luke's prison number refers to scripture, Luke 1:37 (for nothing shall be impossible with God). And then there are Luke's monologues with the God he doesn't believe in plus various scenes in which Luke is configured in crucified positions. But the real spiritual kicker comes when Luke sings the irreverent "I don't care if it rains or freezes long as I got my plastic Jesus/Sittin' on the dashboard of my car."
19. Cool Hand Luke debuted on November 1, 1967, where it became both a critical and financial success. Reported 'Murf' for Variety (5/31/67): "Newman gives an excellent performance, assisted by a terrific supporting cast, including George Kennedy, outstanding as the unofficial leader of the cons. Strother Martin's camp chief is chilling, a firstrate characterization. His goon squad likewise delivers strong performances..."
20. Cool Hand Luke earned four Academy Award nominations: Best Actor (Newman), Best Supporting Actor (Kennedy, won), Best Screenplay (Donn Pearce, Frank R. Pierson), Best Original Music Score (Lalo Schifrin).
21. The 1967 Academy Awards Ceremony took place on April 10, 1968, having been postponed from April 8 because of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. George Kennedy collected his Oscar at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium that night. Bob Hope, along with his teenaged daughter Susan, emceed the event.
"Old Luke. He was some boy. Cool Hand Luke, hell. He's a natural-born world shaker." - George Kennedy as Dragline
- *Cool Hand Luke (Warner Bros.-Seven Arts, 1967)
- *The Internet Movie Database
- *The New York Times
Copyright © 2013 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.