Bites Like a Gator

Quiet, unassuming, but oozing golden era Hollywood machismo, Cool Hand Luke’s sensitive rebellion made Paul Newman into a generation’s anti-authority figure. That is, at least, until Easy Rider pushed the genre even further two years after.

That doesn’t diminish Newman’s performance, screen presence, or ability to evoke empathy. As the title character, Newman can express soft emotions or playful spirit, playing a lost, hurt war veteran on the verge of giving up.

Cool Hand Luke stood at the height of the prison movie genre

Cool Hand Luke speaks to many cultural elements, notably the untreated, misunderstood mental health crisis facing post-Vietnam/Korea veterans, certainly less known in 1967 than now. Sentenced to hard labor for destructive vandalism, the justice system’s cruelty is on display, creating an easy dynamic in which this hero can speak back to. There’s no rehabilitation, just control and order, eerily reminiscent of Luke’s wartime service.

This is also a Christian story, much as it concerns lust, temptation, and killing, all Biblical pieces building Luke into a Christ-like savior. He rallies his apostles before Cool Hand Luke chooses more direct allegories, including an obvious spot with Luke resting on a wooden table in a crucified position. He’s beaten, tormented, and called a false prophet for faking a photo, then sentenced without a fair trial in the end.

It’s a beautiful morality play, ugly as the story is. Set on obscure central American roads, the tall dead weeds create almost meaningless work, with which Luke turns into an act of raw defiance when paving a road. He inspires as much as he challenges, and despite his screen-perfect blue eyes, plays an utterly unassuming man. That too fits to the Christian arc, furthering the Jesus comparisons, but with a late ‘60s zip.

The last act follows a last supper-like march toward the inevitable end. Men in the prison lose their faith in Luke; others ingrain their own further. Luke is ordered, marched, and persecuted, digging his own grave as Jesus carried his cross. Cool Hand Luke, obvious as this treatment is in coordinating religious allegories, doesn’t lessen the end result. It’s organic and implied, enough that some might miss it when casually watching.

Until Shawshank Redemption, Cool Hand Luke stood at the height of the prison movie genre, which following in the ‘70s, primarily turned into hollow exploitation for grindhouses. There was no reason to try matching Cool Hand Luke because no one could top Newman beat-for-beat.


Warner issues Cool Hand Luke for the studio’s 100th birthday and it’s an appropriate celebration in this case. Gorgeous, high-resolution scanning draws out detail galore. Texture astounds in close, the sweaty faces made to show off this format. Wide shots display brilliant definition of roadsides, trees, and the prison camp itself.

Generous HDR adds appropriate pop. Sunlight falls on the men from an intensely bright skyline, that same light reflecting off the skin. This feels proper to the imagery, aggressive without being overdone. Black levels drop to the deepest levels, pure and dense. Encoding handles the grain without fault.

Technicolor saturation brings life to the blue uniforms, but preserves the earth tones that dominate Cool Hand Luke. Sunsets, dry grass, and rotting wood don’t present a lavish palette to work with, but it’s spectacle in its own uniquely flavored way.


DTS-HD mono suffices for Cool Hand Luke’s purposes. There’s nothing spectacular to note, dialog easily resolved with a few rough patches. Lalo Schiffrin’s score nicely handles treble and a smooth, minimal bass line. The video side earned the obvious attention as this mix doesn’t change from the Blu-ray.


On the UHD, Warner includes historian Eric Lax’s commentary. The Blu-ray is fitted with a lengthy documentary titled Natural-Born World-Shaker, exploring Cool Hand Luke’s production.

Cool Hand Luke
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  • Extras


Cool Hand Luke is a masterpiece of quiet rebellion against an unjust system that released at exactly the right cultural moment.

User Review
4.5 (2 votes)

The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 44 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD:

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