Summer of Paul: Impressions of Cool Hand Luke and Torn Curtain

Last week I continued The Summer of Paul (Newman movies that is) by watching Cool Hand Luke and Torn Curtain. The Summer of Paul is what I am calling my summer challenge to watch as many Paul Newman movies as possible.

I started this project late, so it wasn’t really an entire summer of Paul movies. If you want to get technical about it.

So far this summer I have watched:

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

Paris Blue

The Long Hot Summer

The Hustler

Sweet Bird of Youth

The Rack

A New Kind of Love

Cool Hand Luke

Torn Curtain

In the past, I have also watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Twilight, The Towering Inferno (good grief…what a silly, crisis movie. Ha!), and Exodus.

I have about two weeks left of summer to finish a few more Paul movies, but I may stretch this movie marathon into the Fall of Paul, because, well, it rhymes, and because I have a few more movies I’d like to watch, as well as the documentary series about Paul and his wife Joan, directed by Ethan Hawke and called The Last Movie Stars.

Movies on tap for this week

The Prize

The Sting

From the Terrace

Movies I hope to fit in next week or this fall:

The Color of Money


Rachel Rachel

Rally Around the Flag Boys!

Mr. and Mrs. Bridge


Somebody Up There Likes Me

Now for my impressions of Cool Hand Luke and Torn Curtain.

Cool Hand Luke

Cool Hand Luke is based on a book of the same title by Donn Pearce. Pearce and writer Frank Pierson wrote the screenplay and the movie was directed by Stuart Rosenberg. The story is about a former veteran, Luke Jackson, (Newman) who is sentenced to two years to a prison camp in the hot South for the petty crime of removing the heads off parking meters.

Kino. Der Unbeugsame, (COOL HAND LUKE) USA, 1966, Regie: Stuart Rosenberg, PAUL NEWMAN, Key: Sträflinge, Zwangsarbeit. (Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)

The sentence he receives is ridiculous, honestly.

Luke becomes a figure of strength to the other men in the prison when he stands up to a bully in the camp, refusing to be knocked down during a boxing match. He also stands up to the captain, played by Strother Martin who utters one of the movie’s most famous lines, “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” This is a line, I might add, that my mom likes to quote a lot, but I’m not sure why. Hmmmm.

Anyhow, Luke becomes a hero to the men until he attempts to escape and that’s when things go a bit haywire. Before that attempt, Luke tries to keep the men’s spirits up by doing weird challenges, such as eating 50 hardboiled eggs in an hour, a famous scene that the movie is known for.

Luke becomes like a Christ figure to the men but eventually, he can’t live up to all the pressure and he doesn’t want the pressure. He wasn’t a hardened criminal before he came to the prison. What he was was a misguided man with no direction in life. He came from an abusive home with a mother who was in and out of relationships and didn’t do a great job at raising him.

His petty crime spree wasn’t something that should have left him in a strict prison where the captain of the prison worked hard to break his spirit and bring him into line.

Much of the movie is heartbreaking, but there are some funny moments in between.

The theme of the movie, besides Luke’s need for guidance and something to work toward, seems to be about staying in line and not rocking the boat to keep your life smooth and easy.

Luke rocks the boat and the other prisoners sort of want to rock the boat but they are too stuck in their criminal ways to know how to move beyond crime and become actual, upstanding citizens.

According to the entertainment site, Looper:

“. . . it’s an acting showcase for its star, Paul Newman, maybe the best he ever got. It’s a timeless narrative of the individual’s struggle against heartless authority, and it’s a very timely tale about how that struggle played out in the ’60s. It’s a mythic, universal story, and it’s one filled with gritty specificity. It’s a story about a Christ figure, or maybe it’s about a mortal man wrestling with God.”

Pearce had a very exciting life, much more exciting than what he wrote about in Cool Hand Luke, the article further states..

At the age of 18, Pearce “joined the US Merchant Marines in the aftermath of World War II, before he fell in love with a pregnant Italian reporter and went AWOL.” He eventually traveled all over Europe cracking safes, passing off counterfeit money, and escaping prison. Eventually, though, his misdeeds caught up to him and he spent time on a chain gang in Florida. He began writing after that but only wrote two books, Cool Hand Luke and Nobody Comes Back in 2005.

Writing for Hollywood didn’t work out for him because of his volatile nature so he eventually became a bounty hunter.  Luke Jackson may have been based on someone named Donald Graham Garrison who Pearce may have heard about in prison, but Pearce denied this and said a lot of what Luke did was based on his own life, including eating 50 eggs in an hour on a bet.

Some other cool facts about the movie that you can read more about in the Looper article, or other places online:

The set was a recreation of a real Florida jail;

Jack Lemmon almost played Luke;

Paul, a method actor, toured the South while researching the role;

Some of the sweatiest scenes were filmed in very cold weather;

Paul actually didn’t eat any of the eggs during the actual filming. He put between eight and 12 in his mouth and the rest of the cast ate about 200 during the filming of the scene to get rid of them;

Paul actually learned to play the banjo for the scene where he plays and sings in memory of his mother.

Read More:

Torn Curtain

I didn’t like Torn Curtain. There is the bottom line of my impression of the movie.

The plot and the script were honestly all over the place which fits with stories that Alfred Hitchcock hated the final script.

I loved looking at Paul and admiring his blue eyes, but I could not get into the movie and much of it seemed pointless. Not only that but I could not see Julie Andrews in the role opposite Paul, but maybe that’s because I’ve seen The Sound of Music too many times.

To me, Julie was not meant for a serious suspense film and this movie proved it.

Plus, she and Paul had horrible chemistry in the film. They seemed like two buddies instead of lovers. It was odd.

Before I go too much further in this post, here is the plot:

American physicist Michael Armstrong (Paul Newman) shocks his friends and family by defecting to East Germany to work with the Soviets during the height of the Cold War. Even his fiancée (Julie Andrews) is surprised by the move, but when she follows him behind the Iron Curtain, she discovers that her husband-to-be isn’t a spy, but a double agent working to discover Soviet nuclear secrets. As they plot a way to escape back to America, his cover is blown, putting both of their lives in jeopardy.

This is one of the few movies of Paul’s I’ve seen where his personality was horrible. He had no range and watching him act was void of emotion and like watching paint dry. He was like a cardboard cutout of himself. He seemed bored the entire time, which bored me.

I honestly kept wishing the movie would just end so I wouldn’t have to remember Paul this way. Sigh.

Hitchcock apparently hated the film so much he declined to do a trailer with him in it, which was a tradition for other films of his.

According to Imbd, the idea for the movie came from the real-life defections of British diplomats Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean who defected to the Soviet Union in 1951. Hitchcock was especially interested in Maclean who later had his wife and three children move with him.

Paul and Hitchcock didn’t get along because Paul was a method actor who wanted to know what the motivation of his character was. Hitchcock reportedly told Paul his motivation was his salary for the movie and left it at that. That probably explains the lackluster performance.

I mean, look how bored the poor guy looks here! He’s rethinking his whole career up to this point.

Even though Hitchcock didn’t like the movie or the performances of the actors in the lead roles, audiences did. It was the highest-grossing film, at least for Universal Studios, in 1966.

I am hoping the next couple of movies I watch will remove the memory of Torn Curtain.

6 thoughts on “Summer of Paul: Impressions of Cool Hand Luke and Torn Curtain

  1. Lisa, thanks for sharing your thoughts of these two Paul Newman films, filled with much contrast between them. I’ve seen “Cool Hand Luke” more than once. Newman comes across as the real deal in this role. I must admit that I tried watching “Torn Curtain” without ever finishing it. The story feels flat and wandering, and I expected more from a Hitchcock film.

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