September 4, 2008

Cool Hand Luke: Deluxe, Remastered


Reviewer: Dylan de Thomas
Ratings (out of 5): ****

Who doesn't love Cool Hand Luke? Paul Newman, at what is arguably the peak of his stardom, playing one of the most likable anti-establishment characters ever put on celluloid against one of the most risible, drawling villains ever. Toss in some great dark camerawork from Conrad Hall, one of the more quotable screenplays in film history, and George Kennedy in an Oscar-winning role - his name is Dragline, fer chrissakes - that is the veritable definition of lovable lug. The greatest Saturday afternoon movie ever.

The movie follows war hero/ne'er-do-well Luke, who is arrested for cutting the heads off parking meters and sent for a two-year stretch to a minimum security prison overseen by the Captain (sublimely played by character actor Strother Martin) and his banally evil guards - the most evil of which has mirrored sunglasses. What follows is a template for all Southern prison/chain gang flicks that have followed, though none of those have the justifiably-famed car wash scene that takes a standard prisoner-tease to over-the-top comical heights.

The many endearing qualities of the film make any minor quibbles with it - the irritating, though Academy Award-nominated score by Lalo Schifrin, heavy-handed Christ imagery galore, and that it is, frankly, too long - seem like sour grapes. The movie skirts the borders of satire for most of its running time and finds a nice balance between the chuckles and the pathos of Luke and the beaten-down prisoners - who are a cavalcade of Who's That Guy Again? character actors such as Wayne Rogers (from TV's M*A*S*H*) and Ralph Waite (from The Waltons) and future stars such as an impossibly young Dennis Hopper and Harry Dean Stanton (as Dean Stanton) who sings some great southern spirituals for our pleasure.

Those behind this new reissue from Warner Home Video did a bang-up job on the remastering of the film, cleaning up the audio terrifically, but, more importantly, did one of the best jobs of cleaning up a print that I've ever seen. Scenes that had been previously murky and well-nigh-impossible to see have become shadowy and dark, yes, but clear. A new making-of documentary included on this edition for the first time is similarly exemplary, with great anecdotes from most involved, making the filming of Cool Hand sound like a Method party extraordinaire. Paul Newman biographer Eric Lax provides a knowledgeable and professional commentary track for the film, as well.


"Failure to communicate" clip from Warner Bros.

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Posted by cphillips at September 4, 2008 11:20 AM

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Posted by: Gregory Salter at September 5, 2008 5:33 AM

I love the movie, score, Christbombs and all and I'll be first in line for this new disc ("Payin' it out here, boss!"). Try my unabashedly revisionist take on this American classic.

Posted by: Arbogast at September 8, 2008 1:19 PM
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