Cool Hand Luke: Deluxe Edition
Directed By: Stuart Rosenberg
Starring: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon, Lou Antonio, Robert Drivas, Strother Martin, Jo Van Fleet, Clifton James, Morgan Woodward
|Studio: Warner Brothers|
Film Length: 126 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.4:1
Subtitles: English SDH, French
Release Date: September 9, 2008
Paul Newman plays the title character in Cool Hand Luke, a former highly decorated soldier who is sentenced to two years on a chain gang in the American South for tearing the tops off of parking meters. Upon arrival, Luke is inundated with rules and regulations both by the staff and by his fellow prisoners. Luke makes no effort to hide his disgust with these arbitrary standards, and quickly runs afoul of Dragline (Kennedy), the de facto leader of the inmates. While Luke's innate charisma and stubborn refusal to be broken in either body or mind eventually earns him the respect of Dragline and the other prisoners, these same qualities draw increasingly stricter attention from the prison "bosses". Things come to a head when a combination a death in Luke's family and increasingly harsh treatment from the bosses drive him to "go rabbit".
As antiheroes go, Newman's Luke is more of a classic existentialist protagonist than many of his successors such as Randall McMurphy from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest". His stubbornness seems to extend to an acceptance of mortality, as illustrated in an early scene when he refuses to stay down during a boxing match, telling his opponent flat out that "You'll have to kill me". He even goes so far as to rail against an unanswering and unknowable God at one point during a thunderstorm. The line that gives the film its title and Luke his prison appellation lays out the existentialist theme bluntly: "Sometimes nothing is a pretty cool hand". Newman's natural charisma and good looks are used successfully here as they were in Hud, to create a character whose is fundamentally selfish at his core, but appealing enough on the surface that audiences will be willing to forgive him and believe that people would let him get away with his on-screen behavior.
On a technical level, the film features an intriguing score from Lalo Schifrin which mixes orchestral music with traditional American folk music instrumentation and themes. The cinematography of "Cool Hand Luke" is one of the definitive early examples of Conrad Hall's naturalistic color style despite a quote attributed to the lensman later that it was "Too good looking". Hall was nominated for an Oscar that year, not for "…Luke", but for his black and white work on In Cold Blood.
As technically accomplished as the film is, its real strength is in its casting. Rosenberg carefully assembled a large ensemble of highly skilled supporting actors who not only could create memorable characters with minimal dialog or screen time, but could work effectively as an ensemble, often filling Rosenberg's carefully composed Panavison frames with a group of believable and complimentary reaction shots that come across as completely natural even though their positions relative to each other would frequently seem anything but natural if the viewer ever thought about it.
The 16:9 enhanced transfer is letterboxed to the film's original 2.4:1 Panavision dimensions. It is an exceptionally clean, film-like transfer. I noticed thin ringing along high contrast edges in a few places, including the scene where Strother Martin deliver's the film's famous "…failure to communicate" line, but the transfer is normally free of such artifacts. As a whole, this is an exceptional video rendering of Conrad Hall's outstanding cinematography that significantly improves on the previous edition from the relatively early days of DVD.
The English Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is extremely quiet with very good fidelity, a wide frequency response, and a decent amount of dynamic range with little to no obvious hiss. I did not notice any distracting digital noise reduction artifacts, so it sounds like the DVD producers had a high quality early generation magnetic source from which to start their audio transfer. A dubbed French Dolby Digital 1.0 track is also included.
Distinguishing this "special edition" from its bare bones predecessor are a couple of informative retrospective special features. First up is a Commentary by Historian/Newman Biographer Eric Lax. Lax offers a very well researched commentary with lots of interesting behind the scenes information and anecdotes on the cast and key creative crew. He does occasionally slip into narrative for some extended segments, such as nearly the entire egg eating contest, but he more than makes up for it with the balance of his comments. Some of the more intriguing bits are his relating of extended backstories on the characters of Luke and Strother Martin's "Captain" that were conceived by the film's writers.
Next up is A Natural Born World Shaker: The Making of Cool Hand Luke, a 29 minute featurette which is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. There is substantial overlap with Lax's commentary, but it is nice to hear some of the anecdotes related by Lax first hand from the folks who originated them, such as comments from Schifrin about his Aaron Copland meets acoustic folk music approach to the score. Although Newman is not among those interviewed, the assembled participants do offer a fairly comprehensive cross-section of views on the film's production. On-screen interview participants include Director Stuart Rosenberg, Eric Lax, Screenwriter Frank Pierson, actor Ralph Waite, Novelist Donn Pearce, actor George Kennedy, actor Clifton James, actor Lou Antonio, actor Anthony Zerbe, Assistant Director Hank Moonjean, actress Joy Harmon, and Composer Lalo Schifrin.
Finally, the film's two minute and 53 second Theatrical Trailer is presented in 16:9 enhanced video with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. It employs no narration, but features lots of riffing on the "What we have here is failure to communicate" line.
The disc comes packaged in a standard Amaray case with the signature image of a reclining Luke surrounded by some simple but graphically interesting text to distinguish from the previous DVD edition
This special edition of Cool Hand Luke improves noticeably on the video quality of the previous DVD release and earns its "special" designation via an informative commentary from author Eric Lax and an efficient and informative retrospective documentary with contributions from several of the film's key participants.