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Warner Bros.’ 4K remastering of Paul Newman’s iconic ‘Cool Hand Luke’ isn’t so hot

Updated: Apr 18, 2023


Paul Newman, one of filmdom’s great non-conformists plays Luke Jackson, who was arrested and sentenced to two years of labor on a chain gang for cutting off the heads of parking meters.

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4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and digital copy, 1967, rated GP, chain-gang violence, very brief nudity; Digital Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple/iTunes (4K), Movies Anywhere (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K) Best extra: The archival feature, “Natural-Born World-Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke” (4K, Blu-ray & Digital)

WARNER BROS. was smart to include its run-of-the-mill, 2008 Blu-ray release of “Cool Hand Luke” in this set. Otherwise, you might not realize that the 4K Ultra HD makeover is an upgrade. That’s not to say it’s unwatchable, not by a stretch. It’s just that we expect more from the studio. As part of its 100th anniversary, WB went deep with “Training Day” in February and, earlier this month, “The Maltese Falcon.” “Luke,” though, is a disappointment. While the HDR color scheme is solid, it sometimes borders on over-saturation. Detail is inconsistent, too. The tight shots are outstanding – the reflections in the bosses’ sunglasses pop and you can feel the sweat as the prisoners labor in the brutal Florida sun. But when the camera pulls away, detail is just about lost. Shadows are pretty much two-dimensional and in some instances, like when a prisoner is locked in “The Box,” the scene gets murky when it should be inky.

The HDR10 peak brightness hits 997 nits and averages 233 nits, while the video bitrate fluctuates around 60 Megabits per second encoded onto a 100-gigabit disc. Warner produced a new 16-bit 4K scan of the original camera negative, with plenty of natural film grain, but at times it seems overmanaged.

(1) “Cool Hand Luke” was based on the novel of the same name by Donald Pearce. It opened in New York City on November 1, 1967. (2) Strother Martin plays the Captain, who admonishes Luke with the classic line, “What we have here is failure to communicate.” (3) Guard Boss Paul (Luke Askew), keeps the new prisoners in line. (4) Prisoners No. 37 and No. 55 find their bed bunks.

Fortunately, none of that detracts from the always-inventive camerawork of the great Conrad L. Hall, a three-time Oscar winner for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” (1970), “American Beauty” (2000) and “Road to Perdition” (2003). His use of anamorphic lens and natural lighting throughout, and particularly when the trucks depart Road Prison 36 at dawn and return at dusk, is a marvel. Nor does it take away from “Cool Hand Luke’s (2.35: 1 aspect ratio) place in film history. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg (the classic TV series “The Untouchables” and “Naked City”), it places easily with “The Wild Bunch,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Easy Rider,” “Bonnie and Clyde” and other iconic flicks from the late-60s that didn’t bend to the Hollywood playbook. And what can you say about Paul Newman, one of filmdom’s great non-conformists on and off the screen? Following “The Hustler” (1961), “Hud” (1963), “Harper” (1966) and “Hombre” (1967), “Cool Hand Luke” was made to order. There’s also an argument to be made that Luke, a decorated war veteran who’s arrested for cutting the tops off of parking meters, was his most defining role. Sentenced to two years hard labor on a road gang, Luke bucks authority from the outset, escapes again and again, and eventually earns the respect of the other prisoners, including the hulking Dragline. George Kennedy (“The Dirty Dozen”) won the supporting actor Oscar for his performance. The supporting cast also includes Strother Martin (“The Wild Bunch”) as Captain, whose admonishment “What we have here is failure to communicate” is a classic by any definition, Jo Van Fleet (“East of Eden”), Dennis Hopper (“Easy Rider”), Harry Dean Staunton (“Alien”) and Wayne Rogers (TV’s “M*A*S*H”).

(1-3) Road Prison 36 was modeled after the Tavares Road Prison in Tavares, Florida. The production was actually filmed in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta region near Stockton, California. (4) The prisoners take a lunch break. (5) The watchful eye of guard Boss Godfrey (Morgan Woodard).

AUDIO Warner Bros. nails it here: The DTS-HD 2.0 lossless mix is excellent, with surprising depth and clarity. No problem following the dialogue, the sounds of the prisoners clearing the grass with their scythes and tarring a road speak volumes, and the iconic, Oscar-nominated score by Lalo Schifrin (“Mission: Impossible,” “Bullitt”) is superb – whether he’s employing a gentle guitar or a full orchestra. EXTRAS There are only two, and both are recycled. Newman biographer Eric Lax spends too much of his commentary gushing about Newman and too little offering real insight. The feature “Natural Born World-Shaker: Making Cool Hand Luke” is much better. It not only clocks in at under 30 minutes, it offers perspectives from Rosenberg, screenwriter Frank Pierson (an Oscar-winner for “Dog Day Afternoon”), author Donn Pearce, Schifrin, Kennedy and others. And you read that right: Two extras. “Cool Hand Luke” deserves better. – Craig Shapiro

(1) An early morning start for Road Prison 36. (2&3) In the seductive car wash scene Dragline (George Kennedy), the leader of the chain gang names the young woman - Lucille (Joy Harmon). (4) Luke doesn’t give up during his boxing match against Dragline. (5) Card games dominate the prison house before the lights go out. (6) Luke receives a farewell visit from his dying mother Arletta (Jo Van Fleet).


(1&2) Instead of cutting brush, the chain gang spreads sand on top of fresh road tar, which becomes a race between the left-side and right-side crews. (3) A friendly arm-wrestling match between inmates. (4&5) Luke becomes an eating machine in a bet that he can down 50 boiled eggs in 60 minutes. He ends up in a crucifix pose, which is no accident. (6) Luke snatches a rattlesnake. (7) The Captain sends Luke to the “Box” to insure he doesn’t run off. (8&9) Luke is captured after his first escape and chains are placed onto his feet. (10) During his second escape Luke uses an axe to break the chains. (11) He retrieves a snapping turtle after it had been shot by Boss Godfrey.


1 comentário

17 de abr. de 2023

I have tried to read between the lines on other reviews….you guys don’t mess around. It’s NOT the upgrade we deserve. Currently watching again on MAX, think that will do just fine for now. I was looking for a “pop“ like Shawshank was given on its 4K upgrade. Still better than ever on home video, but that no longer cuts it for those of us on our 5th (read final) physical media format.

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