WRITER’S NOTE: The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit correspondent, Tony Farinella.
When I think of a movie star, I think of someone who possesses the “it factor” and stands above the rest of the pack. Paul Newman was a movie star, and I would argue it was never more prevalent than in the film “Cool Hand Luke.” Of course, many can talk about his mesmerizing performances in films such as “The Verdict,” “The Hustler,” “Slap Shot” or “The Sting.” However, in “Cool Hand Luke,” he burns up the screen and you can’t take your eyes off of him. It’s such a minimalistic performance, but it is captivating, spellbinding and intense. There is no wasted moment or line of dialogue from this legendary actor here. When I think of Newman, I think of this film.
After World War II, Luke (Paul Newman) finds himself knocking over parking meters while under the influence of alcohol, which lands him a two-year stay in prison. Upon entering the chain gain of prison, Luke keeps to himself, but he has this unique and magnetic presence about him without even trying to do anything out of the ordinary. There is an aura about him which keeps people interested in him and talking about him. There is a story behind the man, but the film allows those layers to unfold throughout. Many of those working on the chain gang in this prison camp seem to fall in line and follow orders. Luke, on the other hand, is not a fan of authority. He likes to ruffle their feathers, especially when it comes to Boss Godfrey (Morgan Woodward) and the Captain (Strother Martin).
He endears himself to his fellow prison mates by playing cards, trying to escape, and even having a contest where he says he can eat fifty eggs in an hour. They start to see hope and light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to Luke. As the title says, he is cool. Every little thing about him is cool and laid-back. Even when his attempts to escape don’t go as planned, he flashes that famous Paul Newman smile with those baby blue eyes and rolls with the punches. He refuses to be defeated or get angry about his situation. Instead, he is looking for solutions. One of his closest friends there is Dragline, played by George Kennedy, in an Academy-Award winning performance.
Throughout the prison, we also see legendary actors such as Dennis Hopper and Harry Dean Stanton, which I really appreciated as I’m a huge fan of their careers. Director Stuart Rosenberg knows how to show the mundane of prison life without ever making it feel boring or uninteresting. Much like Newman, he doesn’t waste a single scene or shot here. Everything here has a rhyme and a reason to it. The film has a lot of outdoor scenes, and they look absolutely stunning in 4K. This is truly one of the best-looking 4K films I’ve watched in a while. The sunshine and the light symbolize what Luke brings to the prisoners. He lets them know there is more to life than digging ditches.
I don’t think the anti-hero has ever been portrayed as well on screen as it is here by Newman. The fact he’s not trying to be liked is what makes us, as an audience, like him even more. It’s all natural. This is a man who is in prison along with a host of prisoners that have done various crimes. They admit that. The film is able to make us like all of them, Dragline especially, and really root for them to get out from under the thumb of this rigid prison and its rules. In many ways, I feel like “Cool Hand Luke” was a film in 1967 that was ahead of its time.
There are so many great quotes from the film that I could spend a good portion of my review reciting them. I’ll stick to the famous one, which is, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” This quote was also used in the opening of the Guns N’ Roses song “Civil War”. This film is a powerful masterpiece. As someone who is a big believer in anti-establishment and someone who doesn’t always like to play by the rules, “Cool Hand Luke” is a film which resonated with me. You might knock Luke down and you might have him on the ropes, but he is not going to go down without a fight. He is also going to smile in your face, no matter what happens to him or how much you push him. He’s never going to lose that smile.
* * * * out of * * * *
4K Info: “Cool Hand Luke” is released on a two-disc 4K/Blu-ray combo pack from Warner Brothers Home Entertainment. The film has a running-time of 126 minutes and is rated PG. Keep in mind, the ratings system was run much differently during this time. It’s not an overly violent film, and I don’t recall a ton of curse words in it. It also comes with a digital copy of the film.
Video Info: “Cool Hand Luke” never looked bad on Ultra HD, High Dynamic Range. The film looks stunning and crystal clear. As I mentioned, a good portion of the scenes take place outside, and it’s a colorful and bright looking film without being too bright where it’s going to hurt your eyes. They did a tremendous job of cleaning this picture up, as I loved every second of this beautiful transfer. I tip my cap to the fine folks over at Warner Brothers on this one.
Audio Info: The same can be said for the audio which comes on DTS-HD MA: English 2.0 Mono and Dolby Digital: Spanish and French. Subtitles are also included in English, Spanish, and French. The audio is crystal clear throughout, and all of the tremendous dialogue can be heard without any issues whatsoever.
Commentary by Historian/Paul Newman Biographer Eric Lax
A Natural-Born World-Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke
Should You Buy It?
You are buying this for the movie itself as well as the audio and visual aspects that Warner Brothers have put together for this tremendous release. You are not buying it for the special features, which I’ve talked about in previous reviews. I’m a big believer in preserving film history, and I love that it is the 100th anniversary of Warner Brothers because they are digging deep into their archives with releases of some of the greatest films ever made. They are also taking the time to make sure they are seen and heard in the highest video and audio quality possible. They are not just upgrading these films to re-release them. They are making sure, as a viewer, you are not only going to enjoy a classic film, but that you are going to enjoy it in 4K with a transfer worthy of the film itself. Because of this, it is up to us, as film collectors and lovers, to support and purchase films like “Cool Hand Luke” on 4K. It ensures us that we will get more great physical media releases in the future. I can’t recommend this film and this visual presentation any further. Buy it right now!
**Disclaimer** I received a copy of this film from Warner Brothers to review for free. The opinions and statements in the review are mine and mine alone.