Cool Hand Luke (1967): Paul Newman Shines

Thematically, this popular chain gang film drew heavily on the gloomy Depression era drama, “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang,” starring Paul Muni. Its protagonist is James Allen (Paul Newman, at his best), a war hero down on his luck who’s sentenced to a chain gang, presided over by Strother Martin (George Kennedy). The governing law is represented by the prison guard who stands above the gang.

“Cool Hand Luke” had less to do with the conditions of American prisons than with the state of American society at large, the culture that defines norms and values and the failure to provide employment and economic security.

Reflecting the zeitgeist, “Cool Hand Luke” was made at the height of the Vietnam War, alongside such seminal films as “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Graduate,” all, regardless of genre, works highly critical of the status quo that prevailed in the public and domestic arenas.

Stuart Rosenberg, better known as a writer, assembled a great cast that included, other than Paul Newman and George Kennedy (who won the Supporting Oscar, see below), Jo Van Fleet, Dennis Hopper, and Harry Dean Stanton.

Quote to Remember:

The line, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” entered into movie lore and became forever associated with George Kennedy.

Actor Alert:

Paul Newman auditioned for the part that James Dean got in Kazan’s “East of Eden,” in which the other (good) brother was played by Richard Davalos, who here is cast as Blind Dick.

Oscar Nominations: 4

Screenplay (Adapted): Don Pearce and Frank R. Pierson

Actor: Paul Newman
Supporting Actor: George Kennedy
Music Score (original): Lalo Schifrin

Oscar Awards: 1

Supporting Actor

Oscar Context:

In 1967, Paul Newman lost the Best Actor (his fourth nomination) to Rod Steiger, in for “In the Heat of the Night,” which also won Best Picture and Screenplay for Stirling Silliphant. Elmer Bernstein won the Scoring Oscar for the musical “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”



Paul Newman

George Kennedy

J.D. Cannon Lou Antonioi Robert Drivas Strother Martin Jo Van Fleet Clifton James Morgan Woodward Luke Askew Marc Cavell Richard Davalos Robert Donner Warren Finnerty Dennis Hopper John McLiam Wayne Rogers Dean Stanton Charles Tyner Ralph Waite Anthony Zerbe Buck Kartalian Joy Harmon Jim Gammon Joe Don Baker Donn Pearce Norman Goodwins Charles Hicks John Pearce Eddie Rossen Rush Williams James Jeter Robert Luster Rance Howard James Bradley, Jr. Cyril “Chips” Robinson


A Jalem Production.

Produced by Gordon Carroll.

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg.

Screenplay by Donn Pearce and Frank R. Pierson. Based on the novel by Donn Pearce.

Photographed by Conrad Hall.

Music by Lalo Shiffrin.

Film Editor, Sam O’Steen. Art Director, Cary O’Dell. Set Decorations, Fred Price. Sond, Larry Jost. Costumes, Howard Shoup. Makeup, Gordon Bau. Hairstyles, Jean Burt Reilly. Associate Producer, Carter DeHaven, Jr. Production Manager, Arthur Newman. Assistant Director, Hank Moonjean.

Shot on location in the San Joaquin area near Stockton, California. Technicolor. Panavision.

Running time: 129 minutes.


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