“What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate.” One of the great movie lines from one of Paul Newman’s most iconic roles. Set in the backwoods of Florida after the war hero (It’s not clear if it’s World War II or Korea, keeping the film undated), Cool Hand Luke begins with Lucas Jackson (Newman) drunkenly cutting the heads of municipal parking meters. Sentenced to hard time for this act of vandalism, he arrives at a prison came with five other “new meat.” Luke quickly catches the eye of Captain (Strother Martin), the soft-spoken but sadistic warden because of the ridiculous nature of his crime.

Luke’s stubborn personality attracts the attention of Dragline (George Kennedy), a huge bear of a man and de facto leader of the cons. Everything changes when Luke challenges Dragline to a warden sanctioned boxing match. While Luke gets beaten to a pulp, he refuses to admit defeat. He keeps struggling to get back up and take ineffective swings at his opponent only to be knocked to the ground again. Finally, Luke emerges the victor as Dragline walks away in disgust. Luke wins the respect of the other prisoners.

Adopted by Dragline as his new best buddy, the newly christened “Cool Hand” Luke—a name given to him by Dragline after he watches him bluff his way through a poker game—becomes a hero to the rest of the cons. With his charismatic personality and rebellious nature, Luke is a symbol of individuality and freedom. He goads the guards by getting the cons to work harder at tarring a road in the hot sun, which results in extra leisure time for them.  Luke shows superhuman strength by eating fifty hardboiled eggs in under an hour. Yet when Luke learns of his mother’s death he sits quietly, strumming a hymn on his banjo as tears stream down his face, what a contradiction.

Watching Luke win over the other convicts is fascinating, offset by scenes of Captain and the guards who are hellbent on making Luke conform to the rules. They understand the danger he poses to the systematic nature of the prison. He must be beaten into submission before the other inmates no longer fear the system.

Given his good looks cocky charm and big grin, Paul Newman is perfect for the role.  He probably should have won an Oscar for the role, but 1967 was a year full of great performances. His fellow Best Actor Oscar nominees were Spencer Tracy in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde and Rod Steiger for In the Heat of the Night, who took home the award. What a year for movies!

Rightfully, George Kennedy took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work. Tough but almost childlike at times, Kennedy’s portrayal of Dragline remains spot on, more than fifty years after the films original release. The remaining supporting cast is stellar across the board. This was the film debut for Ralph Waite who would soon land his signature role as the beloved patriarch on TV’s The Waltons; Joe Don Baker (Buford Pusser from Walking Tall); James Gammon (later the crusty manager in 1989’s Major League); and Anthony Zerbe, iconic character actor of the 70’s and 80’s. in brief appearances are Wayne Rogers of M*A*S*H fame, the great Jo Van Fleet as Luke’s mother Arletta. Look for Dennis Hopper and Harry Dean Stanton as prisoners.

Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Warner Brothers 4K disc delivers a fantastic image. Sharpness is on point. Wide shots occasionally reveal minimal softness, a large majority of the film seemed concise. Print flaws aren’t in evidence. Grain levels are light and natural. Colors are vivid throughout. The brownish palette comes across nicely. Black levels are deep and inky. Shadow detail looks appropriate. HDR adds some extra life to contrast.

The DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack is fine, but nothing special. Music is full throughout. Dialogue is a bit thin at times but sounds intelligible throughout. All and all, the soundtrack is typical of its era. Hisses, pops and other audio issues aren’t apparent.

English SDH, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian and Swedish subtitles are available.

The extras listed below were original to the 2008 Blu-ray, also included here.

4K Disc:

  • Audio Commentary by Paul Newman biographer Eric Lax

Blu-ray Disc:

  • Audio Commentary by Paul Newman biographer Eric Lax
  • A Natural-Born World-Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke (HD, 28:46)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:48)