"Cool Hand Luke" Movie Facts

by Christopher John

"What we've got here is...failure to communicate." This often-quoted line from cinematic history was first uttered by a powerful prison leader that just struck the title character in 1967's "Cool Hand Luke." This crime drama, which reflects the experiences of its writer, features well-known American actors and memorable scenes. "Cool Hand Luke" received four Academy Award nominations in 1968. As of June 2011, it is rated number 137 among the Internet Movie Database's Top 250 films, which are voted on by the website's users.

The Story

Rebellious loner Luke Jackson ends up in a Florida chain gang after he drunkenly destroys town parking meters. He finds himself in close quarters with other criminals in a bunkhouse that is governed by strict rules. Power is held by the Captain, and order is enforced by guards that are addressed as "boss." Luke does back-breaking work such as digging ditches and chopping weeds with his fellow inmates, and his defiant spirit ultimately wins the admiration of other convicts, who watch in awe as he refuses to submit to prison authority. Time and time again, he attempts to escape after finding out that his mother has died, regardless of the consequences when he is caught.

Memorable Scenes

Luke's boxing match with the hulking prisoner Dragline, in which a physically overmatched and knocked-down Luke defiantly summons his indomitable willpower to lift him back onto his feet, and a scene where Luke's cool poker face wins a bunkhouse card game for him (even though Luke actually had "a handful of nothin'"), wins the allegiance of Luke's fellow inmates. Even Luke's former boxing foe, Dragline, becomes Luke's buddy. Other memorable scenes include a bunkhouse bet on whether or not Luke can eat 50 boiled eggs in a row, and a lustful scene of a blonde beauty erotically washing a car with a garden hose as the helpless, sweaty chain-gang crew watches.

The Players

The Oscar-nominated role of "hard case" Luke was played by legendary actor Paul Newman, the star of such movies as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting." George Kennedy, in the role of Dragline, won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of the inmate who was Luke's enemy, pal and eventual betrayer. Strother Martin plays the Captain. Dennis Hopper and Harry Dean Stanton also appear as Luke's fellow inmates in the chain gang.

Written and Directed By

"Cool Hand Luke" was the first novel by Donn Pearce. Pearce adapted the book for the movie's screenplay, and he even appears in the film as "Sailor." Pearce shared the movie's writing credit with Frank Pierson. Luke's prison sentence into a Florida chain gang, in both the novel and the movie, mirrored Pearce's own Florida chain-gang experience; he was convicted of burglary in 1949. The film's director, Stuart Rosenberg, also directed episodes of the television series "The Untouchables" and movies such as 1979's "The Amityville Horror" and 1980's "Brubaker."

About the Author

Totally immersed in the pursuit of writing, I am currently writing a screenplay. My unyielding curiosity keeps me reading about a varied landscape of topics to grow more informed.