Although an old film (41 years), Cool Hand Luke remains one of Paul Newman’s most beloved roles, which is probably why Warner Bros. decided to raid its archives to bring the movie to the Blu-ray Disc stage. The 1967 classic tells the story of a former war hero, Luke Jackson (Paul Newman), who is sentenced to two years in prison for beheading parking meters while drunk. Luke isn’t initially liked, especially by the leader of the chain gang, Dragline (George Kennedy). After a boxing match between the two men, Luke starts to earn the respect of his fellow prisoners. However, the guards and warden (Strother Martin) see Luke’s manner beginning to affect the other prisoners, which leads them to try — repeatedly — to break Luke’s rebellious spirit.
Newman has made a long and impressive career playing the anti-hero in classics such as Hud, The Hustler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Nobody’s Fool. In Cool Hand Luke, however, he delivers one of his all-time great performances. The actor’s trademark laid-back demeanor, cocky grin and fighting spirit are all in full effect, with just the right amount of vulnerability to allow viewers to both empathize with him and cheer him on. His performance is backed by an excellent ensemble cast, including a standout performance by Kennedy that nabbed him an Oscar.
If there is a slight downside to the film, it’s the overtly obvious parallels to Christianity. By and large, the allegories work, but every so often they tend to become a bit heavy-handed, one scene in particular being Luke lay out on the table, crucifix-style, after the infamous egg-eating contest. That aside, Cool Hand Luke holds up remarkably well after four decades, presenting a well-told, involving story that’s brought to life by fine directing and a superb cast.
The Blu-ray edition of Cool Hand Luke uses, according to the back of the disc cover, “a new digital transfer from Restored Picture and Audio Elements.” Whatever Warner Bros. did, it worked. Presented in a 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.4:1 aspect ratio), the print is largely free of dirt, nicks and scratches, and the colors and black levels are strong. There is an overall softness to the picture, but it’s no doubt the simple result of the anamorphic lenses used to shoot the movie. Warner also made the bold decision to skip the faux 5.1 audio track, instead using a restored version of the film’s original 1.0 mono track. Believe me, it sounds just fine. Dialogue is always clear, never drowned out by the film’s sound effects or music.
The supplemental section is unfortunately a bit on the lean side, with only three bonus features to speak of. The first — and best — is a Feature-Length Audio Commentary by historian and Newman biographer Eric Lax. Lax is engaging and provides good background not only about Newman, but about the film’s plot, production history and its cast and crew. Despite the occasional silent spots, this commentary track is well worth listening to.
Next up is a 30-minute documentary, A Natural-Born World Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke. Some segments were filmed nearly two years ago, but the short documentary is still able to take a look back at the film’s production and remain relevant. Unfortunately, Newman himself is not part of the documentary, possibly due to health issues. His presence and input are greatly missed here.
The third and final supplement on the disc is the Theatrical Trailer, which runs approximately two minutes and is in decent shape.
If you’re a fan of Paul Newman, of Cool Hand Luke or are just looking for a well-crafted and well-acted drama, then this Blu-ray Disc is for you. With a nice transfer and a couple of solid supplements to back it up, there is no “failure to communicate” here: Cool Hand Luke on Blu-ray is a recommended watch.
Buy Cool Hand Luke on Blu-ray to commemorate the career of the renowned actor.
- Score: 7.9
- The restoration job is great, as are the film’s performances, but the movie would have benefited significantly from an interview with the late Paul Newman.
— Shawn Fitzgerald