Welcome to the JOE-DOWN, a back-and-forth movie review blog by two snarky newspapermen named Joe from Minnesota, Joe Froemming and Joe Brown. We will take turns selecting a movie — any movie we want — and review it here. For this installment, Brown picked “Cool Hand Luke.”
The Movie: “Cool Hand Luke”
Starring: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Plot Summary: (From IMDB) A laid-back Southern man is sentenced to two years in a rural prison, but refuses to conform.
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 100 percent
Brown: In times of crisis, go with what you know.
The JOE-DOWN did that in a negative way last week with “Old Dogs,” which featured our own beaten-down dog in John Travolta and his wig he stole from the set of “The Punisher.”
My last pick was another JOE-DOWN staple with a bad action movie in “Wild Wild West.” So what other trope of ours could I go with.
The answer: The JOE-DOWN (REDACTED) on the classics!
This time around, it’s “Cool Hand Luke,” a movie with a 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a 95 percent audience score.
But, it’s a movie I’ve wanted to see for years but never got around to. And if nothing else, the JOE-DOWN has made me watch some good-ass flicks.
Prior to this weekend, my two main exposures to “Cool Hand Luke” came courtesy of Guns N’ Roses and the TV show “Jackass.”
GnR, they had the “failure to communicate” speech in “Civil War” (a good song on “Use Your Illusion II) and in “Madagascar” (a meh song on the terrible “Chinese Democracy”). As I said in an album review Froemming and I did in college, Axl Rose is the only man who has the audacity to sample himself.
As for “Jackass,” they did the 50-egg challenge from this movie. It goes about how you would expect.
While I start taking apart parking meters, give me your first thoughts, Froemming.
Froemming: What on Earth led you to believe I had two hours to waste inside doing nothing but watch a movie?
I saw this in high school, when I weaseled my way into a film studies class. We watched this and “Shawshank Redemption,” leading me to believe my teacher must have been an ex-convict with all these prison movies she made us watch.
So, about 20-plus years have passed since I saw this. So it was nice to revisit a movie that teaches one of the most valuable life lessons: Never be an individual. Because if you do that, you will get shot up in a church while George Kennedy watches in horror.
Brown, while I boil up 50 eggs to eat in an hour, why don’t you kick this off.
Brown: We open in small town, U.S.A. to Paul Newman cutting up a bunch of parking meters.
Why is he doing this? I dunno. The movie mentions later on that he was just bored. Or, he could want the same thing Donkey Kong wants.
Our vandal is Luke Jackson, who is hauled away from the police for his actions.
My head canon for all this is as follows: Going to another Newman character, former Charlestown hockey player/coach Reggie Dunlop flames out in his coaching tenure in Minnesota. After a night of binge-drinking and probably sleeping with another man’s wife, Reggie cuts up the parking meters so he can get the Hanson Brothers a soda.
Anywho, Luke/Reggie gets two years in a rural Florida prison for cutting said parking meters, which seems like a really harsh penalty for something so seemingly mundane.
Froemming: You really need to get the (REDACTED) out of your apartment for a while.
Anyway, Luke is sent to a work farm prison run by Sen. Lindsey Graham. And as soon as I heard that Southern, effeminate voice of the Captain, I got vivid flashbacks of the time you and I drank a bottle of Jack Daniels and listened to “Chinese Democracy” for that review. My stomach was churning.
Brown: Yeah, my gut still hurts after watching “Cool Hand Luke” this morning. I don’t know if I’ve had Jack Daniels straight since then.
Thanks for making a (REDACTED) record, Axl.
Froemming: We also meet some of the other prisoners, and I was surprised to see both Harry Dean Stanton and Dennis Hopper in this. Had no memory either where in this, but this gives me a fascinating origin story to Frank Booth in “Blue Velvet.“
We start getting a sense for what prison is like for these men. If you screw up, you go in the box. If you don’t wash your sheets right, you go in the box. Don’t finish your food, you go into the box. I am thinking old Jasper from “The Simpsons” spent time in this chain gang.
So this movie is like “Full Metal Jacket” and “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” in some senses. Minus all the Vietnam War stuff and Jack Nicholson and whatnot.
Brown: Well, I don’t think those movies had the overt Jesus symbolism this movie did.
This prison looks like my personal version of Hell. Working alongside the road in the heat all day, sleeping in what looks like a shed, no air conditioning. I’m of the belief that I don’t care how many polar bears it kills, central air is man’s greatest creation. I will never willingly break the law if this is what awaits me.
Along with the Captain and the floorwalker who wants to give everyone a paddlin’, there’s Godfrey, the walking boss during the chain gang’s road work who owns the shiniest pair of aviator sunglasses this side of Robert DeNiro in “Casino.”
Although, one thing I wish I had that this prison has is a kennel full of bloodhounds. I got real, real excited seeing dogs. I wanted to pet them all and get love and affection from something that can’t give me COVID-19.
Wow, you are right, Froemming. I need to get outside. The walls around my studio apartment are starting to close in.
Froemming: As the resident introvert, this hasn’t changed my life up all that much.
Well, the men wake up at the crack of dawn, which is when I am usually going to bed, so I would be in a personal Hell as well with this prison scenario. Along with all the rape going on too.
The work is hard, the sun is sweltering…
Brown: I haven’t seen a sun this aggressive since the desert levels in “Super Mario Bros. 3.”
Froemming: I have not seen a sun this aggressive since I got heat exhaustion in Florida more than a decade ago.
While toiling away, a woman walks out of her house and begins tormenting these guys by washing her car with soapy bubbles. I was hoping for one of the guys to be like Jordan Peele here:
Brown: I was waiting for one of the chain gang to say “Whippin’ it out, Boss.” It would have been Dragline, who is virtually masturbating to this busty woman. He’s like Carl Spackler in “Caddyshack” watching the female golfers.
Dragline’s constant chatter about this woman gets on Luke’s nerves, to the point that Dragline challenges Luke to a boxing match to teach him some respect.
We should also mention that Dragline (Kennedy) is substantially bigger than Luke and beats the ever-loving dog (REDACTED) out of our protagonist.
Froemming: This was me during that whole boxing match:
But this shows that Luke doesn’t give up easily, even when the odds are against him and he is obviously losing. Like the U.S. government with the Vietnam War. It’s truly inspiring.
But taking that beating earns some respect from the others, as we see as they look horrified when Dragline is beating the bejesus out of him. Again, the moral of this movie is toe-the-line so George Kennedy doesn’t beat you stupid with his fists.
Also, Dragline throws more haymakers here than in “Rocky IV.”
Brown: After getting CTE from his boxing beating, Luke and the gang are playing poker and Luke manages to bluff his way to some major money, which in prison is like $15 and maybe some loose cigarettes. Luke utters the phrase that “sometimes, nothing can be a real cool hand,” earning him the nickname “Cool Hand Luke.”
It is pretty badass. Even if it does come from a man who played a little braindead after likely getting a concussion just hours earlier. Brain damage isn’t cool, kids.
Froemming: He gave himself that nickname.
We then get a visit from Luke’s mother, who is in the back of a car hacking away her lungs from a lifetime of chain smoking. She tracked her son down, and since this is in the 1940s, means the poor woman actually had to do some hard investigating to find her son, since there was not Google back then.
She drove there to tell him that while she has always hated his brother, and loved him the most, she better throw the son-of-a-bitch a bone and leaves the house to him, leaving Luke with nothing but fond memories of being loved unconditionally by his mother.
Brown: Does the mom just live in the back of this pickup truck? Is there even a house for Luke’s brother to inherit?
Froemming: That would be the best final (REDACTED) you to Luke’s brother, wouldn’t it?
Brown: It would be. I just don’t quite understand the trouble of turning a truck bed into a mobile bed for your black-lung Ma unless she’s living in it due to poverty. Have her ride in the cabin instead of the truck bed like she’s some hunting dog.
Froemming: The best part of all this is Luke’s brother is within earshot of all of this, adding even more insult to injury. And in front of his son, too! That woman really despised Luke’s brother.
Brown: Imagine the Hell the brother endured growing up. His other brother went to the Army and made Sergeant before being discharged as a Private, likely for being a malcontent. Then, while you look successful, with a son to boot, your brother is in jail for getting drunk and breaking parking meters. AND, your older brother is surely an alcoholic because there is no bigger sign of a drunk than having a bottle opener around your neck at ALL TIMES.
Forget your mother’s love, dude. You’re better off without these yokels in your life.
Froemming: *quietly tucks bottle opener in shirt*
As a parting gift, Luke’s brother hands him his banjo and tells him he now has no reason to return. Unless his loving mother might still be alive, Luke’s Brother, when he gets out.
So, we next see the prisoners back at work, but now they have to tar a road. Which the bosses seem to joke is a hellish experience. But Luke and Dragline make it a fun competition for the guys, something the joyless guards did not anticipate in their torture of their fellow man.
Brown: You know what sounds great after tarring a road all day? Fifty eggs! Because that’s what Luke woofs down the next day because he blurted out that he could and it sounded like something to do.
I do like that throughout the start of the movie, Newman plays this character without a care in the world. He’s pretty much The Dude from “The Big Lebowski” without the weed and Credence.
So now the entire prison is betting on if Luke can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour. He breezes through the first 20-to-30 then hits the wall HARD, to the point that Dragline is CLEARLY moving Luke’s jaw to help him chew. That should disqualify this whole thing. And yet, Luke is able to consume all these eggs. He’s full, the entire prison hall is set to smell like a sulfuric hell when Luke digests those eggs. But there he is, smiling, sprawled out on the table in a Christ pose.
I’ve never been an avid reader of the Bible, but I’m guessing the King of Kings didn’t suck down 50 eggs on a whim.
Froemming: Did someone say Jesus Christ Pose?
Jesus died on the cross, dying for all our Earthly sins. Luke sucks down 50 eggs because he is a braggart. Same thing I guess.
So, now full of that Christ-like hubris I guess, one day Luke mocks the man in the sunglasses as he shoots a snake. He quips and mocks and is playing with fire, as this is a man who can make his life a living hell. Even Dragline, a man known to be loud and obnoxious himself, warns old Luke to maybe tone it down a bit. He just ate a lot of eggs, he isn’t the Second Coming of God.
Brown: I just had a plate of scrambled eggs and I don’t feel omniscient. Happy and full, but not omniscient.
Froemming: Well, if was 50 of them, give your butt some time.
And then, one rainy night, a letter comes to Luke. His mother, who loved him more than anything (including his brother, which was mentioned, she hated that guy’s guts), had passed on. In his grief, he grabs the old banjo and starts playing and singing. Which I imagine annoyed the other prisoners, but the guy’s mother had just left this mortal coil, so I guess they are just letting him grieve.
Brown: Look, I want the man to grieve the way he wants to. But going back to when he got the banjo from his neglected mother, that doesn’t strike me as the kind of instrument that’d make you popular with the other inmates. I’m shocked that thing made it this far without someone (probably Dennis Hopper, hopped up on nitrous) pulling a Bluto on the thing.
With Luke’s mom dying, the Captain decides that the humane thing to do for the poor guy is to… put him in the box?
Are you (REDACTED) kidding me?!
His reasoning is a prisoner is more likely to try to escape so they can go to the funeral, therefore, torture said prisoner?
This is why we need prison reform, people. So uppity assholes like the Captain don’t have jobs that put them in a position to make inhumane decisions like this. Grieving is hard enough without sitting in a poorly-ventilated chicken coop where you’re pooping in a dutch oven.
Froemming: Yeah, I mean I doubt Luke was looking to plot a…
But after being forced to sit in a shed, pooping in a bucket and being treated like scum, now it seems all he wants to do is get the hell out of dodge. I don’t blame him, that is a pretty awful thing to do to a person.
And so he plans his great escape. Though this prison feels less like Alcatraz and more like “Hogan’s Heroes” in that escape is pretty easy when one puts their mind to it.
Brown: I wish it was more of this “Hogan’s Heroes.”
Roddy Piper talking to and subsequently pile-driving a Nazi will always make me cackle.
Froemming: So, during the Fourth of July celebrations (you know, celebrating independence and all, symbolism and whatnot) Luke is cutting his way through the wooden floor as everyone is whooping it up. So hey, prisoners of America, Luke is the reason nobody gets to celebrate the holidays while in the can anymore.
And through the floor he goes and to freedom as another prisoner plays the distraction. A distraction that gets caught in barbed wire and has his crotch bitten by bloodhounds. Luke got the better end of this deal, I think.
Brown: In this first escape, this is where Luke goes from hero to monster to me.
Why, you ask? Because his escape led to the death of one of the bloodhounds. During a stay-at-home order where I’m longing for companionship, the LAST thing I need in my life is to see/think about a dead (REDACTED) dog.
I hope you choke on the next hard-boiled egg, Luke!
Froemming: You really need to get the (REDACTED) out of your apartment.
Brown: This whole thing is more proof that I need to claim I need an emotional support animal.
The next part helps when Luke gets put into leg irons and the Captain puts Luke’s dick in the dirt, giving the rest of the prisoners the “failure to communicate speech.”
Froemming: I suddenly taste Jack Daniels in my mouth…
Brown: So one hour, 23 minutes, into this movie, you can cue up “Civil War.”
I feel drunk after hearing the Captain.
Still, Luke hasn’t been broken and he’s ready to try and escape again. This time, thanks to some string, Luke uses a bathroom break to tie said string around a branch, shaking it periodically before he makes a break for freedom.
This time around, he doesn’t kill a bloodhound but Luke does guilt some black children to helping him. He tells one kid he doesn’t think he’s strong enough to carry an axe to cut him free. The other kid, he tells to get a bunch of chili and curry powder to scatter along the dirt so the bloodhounds will have sensory overload when they inevitably hunt him down.
Luke hates dogs. Therefore, I hate Luke.
Froemming: And Luke escapes. And he then gets cocky, which Han Solo warned us all against. He sends Dragline a photo of him with two women in a bar that would fit in perfectly in the opening credits of “Cheers.” The legend of Luke is now at an all-time high within those prison walls. He is their messiah. Which is wrong, because Jesus is their messiah and Luke is some punk who happened to eat a bunch of eggs that one time.
But the freedom does not last. One night, a severely beaten Luke is brought back to camp, unable to walk on his own, unable to talk really, because the guards beat the living bejesus out of him.
Brown: When I first saw that photo, it reminded me of the group photo from “The Shining” that Jack Nicholson eventually goes into after his death. Perhaps Luke made a stop at the Overlook Hotel?
So with escape attempt number two thwarted, Luke gets a second pair of leg irons and is warned that if he tries it again, he’ll be killed. And, they up Luke’s punishment by basically turning him into Sisyphus by having him dig and fill in grave-sized holes over and over again. He also is given piles of rice that he HAS to eat or else he gets the box, which he ends up getting anyways. Plus, the inmates are badgering Luke about the picture with the women he sent, only to admit it was a hoax so they’ll stop hero worshipping him.
Eventually, after taking a beating not far off from Joe Pesci’s demise in “Casino,” it seems like Luke finally breaks and becomes the subservient dog the prison was hoping for.
Froemming: That is my favorite scene in “Casino” by the way.
So Luke is now almost doing an imitation of a slave from slavery times like this:
Only he uses this to get the guards to trust him. And when they do, he straight up steals their truck and the keys to the other trucks so they can’t chase him. And he drags Dragline into this mess. Again, individualism will get not only you killed, but your best buddy’s in trouble too.
And these two make their run for it. And while on the run, Dragline is dreaming of what he will do with his newfound freedom, because he is a dim son-of-a-bitch. He also says he only had a little time left on his sentence, so this might have been…
Brown: Dragline’s first bit he wants to do with his new-found freedom: Bump uglies with farm girls. I think one of two things happens: He goes after and, eventually, after being turned down, kills the busty farm girl from earlier. OR, Dragline ends up like Bender and gets chased by Moon hillbillies for hookin’ up with the Crushinator.
Meanwhile, Luke says the two should split up and he ends up in a church because, again…
I have to imagine that when this movie came out in 1967 that it was pretty controversial for having a protagonist that was so dismissive of religion.
Eventually, with nothing else to do, Luke starts prayin’. Then that leads to him being dismissive of God because of all the crappy hands Luke has been dealt in life.
Individualism is one thing, Luke, but you seem downright insubordinate. That probably explains your demotion in the Army. And you talk back to prison guards like your Pvt. Joker in “Full Metal Jacket.” Sometimes, you just got to put your head down and plow through your problems. Then when you’re out of jail, go do your individualism thing.
… Instead, the cops catch up to Luke in the church. Dragline tells Luke that he convinced everyone to let Luke live if he just submits. A smartass to the end, Luke mocks the Captain with the opening line of the “Failure to communicate speech” and gets a bullet to the throat from Godfrey for his troubles.
Froemming: It was basically his version of this:
And so, shot and bleeding like a stuffed pig, the Captain says he and his crew will take Luke to a hospital an hour away, ensuring Luke dies from his wounds. The man dies, but the legend lives on as we see Dragline recounting the heroic, almost biblical stories of Luke, even though Luke did not die for anyone’s sins, he just ate a bunch of eggs that one time and that somehow put him up their with God Almighty in the eyes of Dragline.
Again, the moral of the story: Conform or Die.
Brown, let’s steal these chain gang trucks and head on down to recommendations.
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND?
Brown: My issues with Luke aside due to my isolation, this was a fantastic movie. I can’t recommend it enough.
Froemming: Yes, it is a great movie about one keeping their individuality in the face of opposition. A must see.