Lately, I've noticed, that my film watching has sort of dropped through the floor, mostly out of a combination of cash flow--there's not much--and because what's currently being released doesn't grab me overly. However, it's not the first time that I have been in either position, and in a way, it's not so bad, because it allows me to catch up on things that I haven't seen. Perhaps strangely, I'd never seen Cool Hand Luke in its entirety, though I was aware of it in scenes and lines, such as the one spoken by the warden, in which he says, to the convicts, that what they have here is "a failure to communicate." It's a fairly quoted line.
As a film, Cool Hand Luke concerns itself with Luke, a man who, after his time in the war, has found himself drifting, without point, and without direction. You learn, at one stage in the film, that he's been married, and that during this period, he tried to do the middle class thing, to hold down a job, be clean cut, and the like, but it resulted in cutting off his own life, and his wife leaving him for another man, while his mother called him boring. When we find Luke, in the film, he past this period, and is drunk and taking the heads off parking metres. The images in this opening section are, oddly, a misleading suggestion that the film will have a dark beauty to it, which is a shame, really, but then the film does spend most of its time in a rural prison, where Luke has been sent for two years for his crime, so it was never going to follow those opening images. I thought a point might have been made out of his sentence, also, but nothing was, and instead, the film settles into the rhythm of exploring Luke's behaviour within the prison, which serves as an enclosed world to do this. Here, Luke's stubbornness, his problems with authority, his charm, and ultimately, his lack of thought, are given play, and Newman does a good job with this.
Unfortunately, some of the drama has been lost in Cool Hand Luke over the years, and no matter how much you want to give it props, you can't help but laugh at the buddy jail content that exists, wherein the inmates all seem to be friends, and attempt to look out for each other. When Luke is being beaten, they sing. When Luke makes an escape for it, one man allows himself to be the decoy. When Luke claims he can eat fifty eggs within an hour, even the jail boss sits there and gambles on it, his stern, take no shit attitude that is first presented, softened by the comradeship and just darn innocent fun that the hardened criminals are having. It's a very light and clean prison that Luke finds himself in, and this is at odds with how the film wants to portray it to us, as a hard, regulated pen in which hard work and hard time is served. By the time Luke makes his first escape, shortly after being thrown in the box (solitary) so that he could not run to his mother's funeral, you have to wonder why the warden just didn't take Luke to the funeral, and take the easier, but ultimately more in keeping with his portrayal, choice. Well, obviously, there would be no reason for Luke to run if he had done that, but I guess what I'm saying is that in depiction of the film's incarcerated lifestyle, there's an inconsistency, and it shows.
Still, the film has a lot going for it, and what it has is mainly due to Newman, who in his final scenes in the Church, where he asks God to give him a sign, a purpose, does a fine job of portraying a man who has found himself in that nowhere spot in life that you can reach, caught between rebelling against the rules people have got because they're so damn fucking stupid, but in knowing nothing but the thing he's kicking against, so that while he rebels, he doesn't know himself how to change his habits and his life.