Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Newman Thrills in Prison Drama

Cleveland Press November 15, 1967

Cool indeed is the word for Luke and the man who plays him, Paul Newman. Seldom has the tormented loner, the anti-hero been dramatized more colorfully, more compassionately than in "Cool Hand Luke," a superior and unusual motion picture.

Best of all there is no attempt to excuse or intellectualize his problem. Here he is -- a guy who gets in trouble (we first meet him cutting the heads off of parking meters), who finds himself in a southern prison camp, shrugging at his fate, not blaming anyone, but determined not to be dehumanized by the brutal treatment that is meted out to him.

Most important of all he remains an individual in a system that would make him a number, quietly mocking not only his brutal keepers but his rebellious companions.

CHAIN GANG DRAMAS are not new to motion pictures. Where "Cool Hand Luke" succeeds so notably is in allowing pictures to tell the story, in photographing close in through shimmering heat the chained, sweating prisoners working on the road, by picturing them in the reflections of their overseer's silvered sun glasses.

Dialog is at a minimum. It is terse, tough and revealing.

Action is at a maximum with a constantly moving camera.

The plot is uncomplicated. Luke does not go into the stereotyped rebellion against his guards. His first brush with the system is a fight with another prisoner, the toughest in the camp, a dogged, hopeless fight that earns everyone's respect.

There are the inevitable break-outs, the recaptures, the cruel punishment, the attempts to break him, the apparent success and the end that is inevitable.

Shot through "Cool Hand Luke" is the sort of "Stalag 17" brand of humor, episodes such as an egg-eating contest in which Luke triumphs.

There is brutality in "Luke," not for its.own sake, not dwelled upon, but a dramatization of the senselessness and cruelty of a degrading system.

Newman has seldom been better than he is as the mocking rebel. George Kennedy is excellent as the tough prisoner and Jo Van Fleet moving in a brief scene as Luke's mother.