Cool Hand Luke (1967)
In Cool Hand Luke, maybe Paul Newman’s single finest film role, Luke is literally irrepressible; it’s impossible not to love him. Or at least, it’s impossible for the audience and his peers. Various authority figures seem to pull it off quite neatly. Even in the famously anti-establishment Hollywood environment of the time, Cool Hand Luke stands out as deeply ambivalent about authority of any kind. Yes, Luke is a Christ-like figure, of course. Ogled by his fellow prisoners after winning the famous 50-egg bet, he’s stretched out on a table like Jesus on the cross. Unlike most Jesus allegories, though, Cool Hand Luke addresses mostly sacrifice, not salvation (compare The Shawshank Redemption, also on the schedule this year) and unbowed but bloodied, he bears the torture of his jailers, the terrifying mirror-shades guard and the warden with his famous opinion on communication. Defeat — constant, ignominious, brutalizing defeat — follows Luke through his whole life, but his stubborn refusal to accept defeat inspires the love of his fellow prisoners (like Dragline, played by George Kennedy as Luke’s enemy turned ersatz disciple) and provides the vehicle by which they can move from their mean, low circumstances to something like hope.
And even with all that thematic weight, it’s watchable; Roger Ebert called it a “great” movie, praising the cinematography and stating that “the physical presence of Paul Newman is the reason this movie works: The smile, the innocent blue eyes, the lack of strutting.” Don’t miss your chance to see this universally acclaimed, tragic character study on our big screen.
Immediately after the screening, retired Tampa Bay Times film critic Steve Persall will lead a short discussion and audience Q&A. The session is included with film admission.
The Summer Classics Movie Series is presented by Bank of America. Additional support is provided by J.J. Taylor Distributing, Florida, Inc., New Belgium Brewing, and WEDU-PBS.