Cool Hand Luke cheat sheet

September 12, 2007

Ever wonder why “Jackass” staged an egg-eating contest? What Guns ‘N Roses meant by a “failure to communicate?” Or what on earth John Cusack was talking about in Serendipity? Cool Hand Luke – a smooth prisoner movie before there was a George Clooney – has all the answers.



Cool Hand Luke


Paul Newman’s conformity-averse convict Luke Jackson. Named Cool Hand Luke by prisoner Dragline (George Kennedy), a compulsive nicknamer, in reference to a game of cards they played (a “cool hand” of cards).

Technical details that will help verify you’ve actually seen it

1967 film, distributed by Warner Bros. Over 2 hours, in color. Directed by the late Stuart Rosenberg (many TV episodes, the 1979 Amityville Horror). Written by Donn Pearce, who wrote the novel on which the film is based. To learn more about this very interesting writer (who, believe it or not, seems to have based the novel partly on his own life), go here.

People you should know

Paul Newman, star and all-around leading man. The George Clooney-Brad Pitt of his day.

Is that…?

Yep, that’s Dennis Hopper (pre-Apocalypse Now and definitely pre-Speed) as a fellow inmate.


Nominated for 4 Academy Awards (including Best Actor and Screenplay), George Kennedy was the only one from the film to come out triumphant, winning for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.

(Imaginary) modern day pitch

Think George Clooney’s Jack Foley from Out of Sight, with the edge of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, at the O Brother, Where Art Thou? prison.


The movie starts off with Lucas Jackson (“Luke”) drunkenly cutting the heads off parking meters. Sent to a Florida prison, Luke, an army veteran with honors to his name, quickly becomes a favorite among the inmates for his rebellion of authority, spirited comments and all-around bravado. While in prison, Luke works in a prison chain gang, cleaning out ditches and paving roads for the “Boss” (the prison guards, headed up by the Captain of the prison).

He attempts to escape three times – seemingly driven to do so by the fact that he was placed in the isolation box after his mother died in order to (ironically) prevent him from trying to escape and presumably go to her funeral. The first time, he escapes briefly after sawing a hole in the prison’s wooden floor. The second time, he escapes after pretending he has to go the bathroom in the bushes. He’s gone for longer this time (and sends a – unfortunately fake – photo of himself living it up in the outside world to the prisoners), but is captured again and then tormented by the Bosses for many days.

His final escape attempt, driving off in one of the Bosses’ trucks with fellow prisoner Dragline, leads to his eventual capture and shooting death at a church.

Famous scene

And you thought competitive eating only meant scarfing down hot dogs. Watch and learn as Newman’s Luke downs 50 hard-boiled eggs in a row to win a bet between the prisoners. (No, not with the shells still on, and, yes, he does win.)

Crucial quote

“What we have here is (a) failure to communicate.”

Said by the Captain to Luke and his fellow prisoners (after an escape attempt by Luke) and then by Luke to the Captain at the end of the movie (after Luke has escaped and been caught again).


Non-conformity, anti-establishment, rebellion, religion (Luke as a “Christ figure” – martyred in his cause).

Classy conversation starter

Did you know that I can eat fifty-one hard-boiled eggs in a row? Funny story…


August 12, 2007

Cool Hand Luke

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”