Paul Newman is Cool Hand Luke, a loner role in a film that depicts the social structure of a Dixie chain gang. Versatile and competent cast maintains interest throughout rambling exposition to a downbeat climax.
Luke, obviously supposed to be set in the South, was shot near Stockton, California, where the desired flat land, occasionally broken by gentle rolls, makes for an effective physical backdrop. In this case, it is a chain-gang compound, ruled by some patronizing, sadistic guards, to which Newman will not conform.
Newman gives an excellent performance, assisted by a terrif supporting cast, including George Kennedy, outstanding as the unofficial leader of the cons who yields first place to Newman.
Strother Martin’s camp chief is chilling, a firstrate characterization. His goon squad likewise delivers strong performances: Morgan Woodward, Luke Askew, Robert Donner, John McLiam, Charles Tyner. Clifton James, the burly building overseer, is appropriately warmer.
1967: Best Supp. Actor (George Kennedy).
Nominations: Best Actor (Paul Newman), Adapted Screenplay, Original Music Score