Cool Hand Luke is an American film directed by television journeyman Stuart Rosenberg. Released in November 1967, it was the first major studio production that Rosenberg ever directed. The film gestated during development with the guiding hand of superstar Jack Lemmon who was originally slated to play the part of the rebellious and non-conformist title character. As the script continued to be revised, however, Lemmon realized he was all wrong for the role and that Paul Newman would be perfect. Newman would go on to receive an Oscar nomination for that performance. The film’s screenplay and score was also nominated and George Kennedy actually took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Cool Hand Luke was part of the Great Antihero Trilogy of 1967 in which its released was preceded by Bonnie and Clyde and followed by The Graduate. Perhaps it is the chain gang story or perhaps the fact that Paul Newman was already over 40 when he played a character targeted to the 1960’s countercultural revolutionary cry to “never trust anyone over 30” or maybe something else, but while The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde have managed to retain their appeal to younger viewers, time has not been quite as kind to Cool Hand Luke.
Perhaps the fault lies not in the stars, but the Christian iconography and more deeply simmering iconoclasm of its title character. Or, maybe the disconnect between a movie eagerly attended by the youth of the 1960's and all but unknown by their grandchildren is best described by the movie’s most famous line of dialogue, falling just out of the top ten of the American Film Institute’s 100 most memorable quotes in American film history: “What we've got here is failure to communicate.”