"Cool Hand Luke" proves that even the most tiresome, cliché material can often spawn greatness in us all.
Cool Hand Luke (1967, Blu-ray)
Directors: Stuart Rosenberg
Producers: Gordon Carroll
Writers: Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson
Features: * Commentary * Documentary * Trailer (HD)
Paul Newman ... Luke
George Kennedy ... Dragline
J.D. Cannon ... Society Red
Lou Antonio ... Koko
Robert Drivas ... Loudmouth Steve
Strother Martin ... Captain
Cool Hand Luke Blu-ray Review
It seems like every classic film that came out of the 60s was anti-establishment, from the Dennis Hooper masterpiece "Easy Rider" to sci-fi fare like "Planet of the Apes." Paul Newman’s classic existential epic, "Cool Hand Luke" is no different.
The film follows a down-and-out petty criminal named Luke, who’s captured after cutting the heads off of parking meters and sentenced to a chain gang. It’s here where Luke undergoes a Christ-like upheaval, striking passion and hope into the hearts of the lowly, beaten-down criminals whose lives have become nothing short of repetitive. Luke is a rebel, combating establishment at every corner until he meets his own tragic fate (and God), face to face.
Paul Newman brings his usual charisma to this offbeat, episodic adventure, striking heart into this disobedient character. He’s aided by a fantastic supporting cast, including Oscar winner George Henry. Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson’s taut script drive rich emotionality and spirit into the subtle subtext of the feature. This film never backs down from its hard hitting symbolism and sneaky Christian allegory. Stuart Rosenberg’s thoughtful direction is both edgy and warm leaving much playing room for the film’s many allusions, subtext, style and plot.
The films biggest snag is its slack jaw pacing, which drags at a snails pace and only really starts moving after the first, lumbering hour--right around the time Newman downs over 50 eggs in order to win a bet. Of course, such slow pacing is usually the case with mid-to-late 60s features, particularly those of an existential nature. The film also suggests some unintentionally errant homoerotic layers than have surfaced as the film has aged. It’s not really a flaw per se, but distracting nonetheless. There’s rarely a scene where someone isn’t shirtless, disrobing or bathing themselves in cool water.
It’s hard to quantify a film like "Cool Hand Luke." By today’s standards, the anti-establishment themes contained within are almost cliché and humorous. But one could question, was "Cool Hand Luke" always a little cliché though, or is it the passing existential themes of today’s mainstream anti-establishment films that have driven "Cool Hand Luke" into more mundane territory?
Perhaps the film is not meant to be anything other than a not-so legendary story about a man who stood his ground, defended his ideology and became a martyr among his friends until he became a legend in his own way. The film has certainly echoed in Paul Newman’s own life. Newman himself has gone off to become a bit of rebel, launching his own food line and becoming a major player in the organic food market, bucking the trends of major food corporations. His products will continue to flourish long after the great actor has gone. Maybe Luke had a similar purpose. If nothing else, "Cool Hand Luke" proves that even the most tiresome, cliché material can often spawn greatness in us all.
Film Report Card:
Entertainment Value: B+
Film Value: A
Warner brings "Cool Hand Luke" to Blu-ray with a soft 2.40:1 widescreen transfer at 1080p/VC-1 video on a BD25 disc. This is certainly not Warner’s finest catalog release to date, but it’s a good effort overall. This film has never really garnered much attention from the studio. In fact, this is the first major re-release of this title since its bare bones DVD release almost ten years ago. The result of this deluxe edition restoration is quite good considering how much this film has obviously aged.
The print itself isn’t particularly detailed, showing sure signs age and a soft palette, but the print is mostly clean, free of any intrusive dust and grain. I was surprised by the lack of vividness given the stark film stock this era usually employs. Perhaps the master hasn’t held up very well over the years. That’s what happens when a studio ignores a film for over ten years, though. Alas, I imagine this is about as good as "Cool Hand Luke" will ever look on home video, unless a cleaner master can be found.
Warner delivers a fine Dolby Mono track that perfectly replicates the original theatrical presentation. I was surprised that Warner didn’t remaster the track to Dolby TrueHD, but perhaps the source elements are too badly damaged for a full high-res restoration. A featurette on the disc about the film’s restoration would have been nice.
This deluxe edition only gets a handful of special features for fans to peruse. I wish more attention was paid to this great title, but what we do get is solid.
• Commentary -- Paul Newman historian Eric Lax headlines this solo track and while his comments occasionally run a little dry, his sheer amount of trivia and behind the scenes info about Newman’s involvement in the picture make up for it. It’s a shame he wasn’t paired with someone close to this production though.
• Documentary: ‘A Natural-Born World-Shaker’ -- Barely running a half hour, this documentary details the making of the film, but there’s little by way of behind the scenes footage. Instead, we’re treated to batch of talking heads, but at least the heads include several members of the cast and crew. Alas, Paul Newman is nowhere to be seen.
This would have been an awesome opportunity for a BD-Live enabled feature that would allow fans and "Cool Hand Luke" historians to upload their own commentaries. Alas, nothing is here.
Warner packs the set in a usual ‘Elite’ Blu-ray case. Design is classy and in keeping with Warner’s other titles.
In some ways, "Cool Hand Luke" is a boring exercise is in the usual anti-establishment pictures of the 60s. In another way, it’s a wholly fascinating, engrossing triumph of the human spirit that attempts to grasp the heavens and understand the nature of God. Compelling? Absolutely. The Blu-ray disc is easily the best way to see this important film.
Blu-ray Report Card:
HD Content: N/A
Recommendation: Worth owning.
On Blu-ray disc: September 9, 2008.
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----R. L. Shaffer