The rebel character in Hollywood after the death of James Dean went through a period of transition and did not gain definite new characteristics until the late sixties...
The three established rebel/anti-heroes in movies were Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, and Steve McQueen...
In 1967, screen audiences were exposed to two new rebel hero characters, Clyde Barrow, a rebel without a cause with enough guts to strike out against any bank, and Luke Jackson, an anti-hero 'born to lose,' but a man full of pride and dignity...
"Cool Hand Luke" resumes Newman's career as another rebel, a non-conformist, a perfect hero who beats the system wherever...
Superbly directed by Stuart Rosenberg, Newman exhibits a complete arrangement of emotions invading every nuance and implication... Resources of his true command of his technical acting are breathtaking in their impact... The motion picture (nominated for 4 Academy Awards) won him his 4th Academy Award nomination...
Newman is again a cynical loner, but he's also charming, and everything is calculated to involve us with him; like "Hombre," the film begins and ends with closeups of his face, but here, appropriately, he has an engaging smile
The opening, where he drinks beer, unscrews tops from parking meters and mumbles to the arriving cop, recalls Dean's drunken incoherence at the start of "Rebel Without a Cause"an apt title for Luke
He breaks rules for no apparent reason, wherever he is, including the chain gang to which he's sentenced
Unlike Paul Muni in "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang," who steals only to eat and is turned by society into a hardened criminal, Luke is a criminal from the start, and his crime isn't motivated by hunger
It's a meaningless anti-authority gesturethe existentialist "gratuitous act," committed purely for the sake of committing it
Luke engages our sympathy not because he is economically deprived or the product of an unhappy home, but because for him the act of rebellion is its own justification: he's the perfect sixties hero
Initially, Luke alienates the prisoners by his indifference and sarcasm, and the top dog, Dragline (George Kennedy) picks a fight with him
Luke is severely beaten but keeps fighting, and thisplus his continual defiance of the guardswins him the men's respect
Their admiration grows when he proves he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs, one after the other, in only one hour, another gratuitous act ("somethin' to do").
But Luke gradually becomes a victim of the excessive admiration, rebelling because they expect him to, which leads to a pattern of escapes and captures
As the warden says, "What we got here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach." Even though Luke becomes subservient after torture, he again escapes
Dragline admires the way he fooled the guards while planning all along to escape
But Luke says he really did break down, and asserts: "l never planned anything in my life." Even his last act is motivated not by heroism but by impulse
The physical punishment Newman's characters often undergo reaches an extreme here, as Luke constantly invites pain (in his fight with Dragline, he says, "You're gonna have to kill me."). Underlying his sometimes vigorous rebelliousness is despair at a cruelly indifferent world
But the men need a hero, and Dragline perpetuates the myth, telling them that he had "that Luke smile" to the very end
We last see a montage of shots of Luke smilingthe men's vision of him as unbeaten and almost immortal
Newman's performance is among his best, and Luke is one of his definitive studies of non conformism
As in "Hombre," he underplays, but in a loose, relaxed, "cool" manner
He's affecting in a wide range of moods: quiet detachment, wry contempt, raw courage, exhaustion, exuberance, gentleness, anger, resignation
There's a superb1y understated scene in which Luke's dying mother (Jo Van Fleet) visits him
Like Rocky Graziano, he says he tried to live cleanly, but could never find a way
But the mood is quite different here: instead of intense emotion, there are on1y ingenious expressions of uneasiness, regret, sadness, acceptance
Newman conveys his unspoken affection entirely through his glances and reactions, as she wistfully remarks that she once had high hopes for him
The actor even survives the film's pretentious attempts to make him a mock-Christ figure
Besides the obvious sacrifice-resurrection parallel, he's even shown in the exact crucifixion position following his fifty-egg (Last Supper?) ordeal
There are two badly conceived dialogs with a God he doesn't believe inafter which he realizes, "l gotta find my own way," a rather unconcealed statement of existential despairbut Newman performs them with quiet conviction
His mock religion is better suggested by the bottle opener he wears in lieu of a religious medal
And the despair is effectively dramatized in his reaction to his mother's death
The men leave him by himself, and he sits on his bed, playing the banjo
With a sad, breaking voice, he sings a religious parody: "l don't care if it rains or freezes, long as 1 got my plastic Jesus
" He looks down and begins crying, but sings faster, obsessively, withdrawing into himself and expressing his utter loneliness in a world that has no God
It's one of the most moving scenes in all of Newman's work
Paralleled to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Cool Hand Luke" is a character study, which works beautifully, very well-made with sense of graphic imagery and cinema view, a good-looking film with superb photography in Color, extremely good as an entertainment...