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Trivia / Cool Hand Luke

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  • AFI's 100 Years... Series:
  • Acting in the Dark: Joy Harmon had no idea how sexy the car wash scene would be.
    "I just figured it was washing the car...I was acting and not trying to be sexy. Maybe that's why the scene played so well. After seeing it at the premiere, I was a bit embarrassed."
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  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: Narrowly averted via Meaningful Echo. The famous line, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate!" is used towards the end of the film. The first instance of the line is "What we've got here is... failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach" (notably, the version without the indefinite article was sampled by Guns N' Roses for "Civil War"). Though it's also typically quoted with a thick southern accent, meaning the warden's version should be used.
  • Deleted Scene: Scenes cut from the film featured dialogue setting up Dragline's sunglasses and the men ogling a woman driving by in a convertible. More details here
  • Disowned Adaptation: In a 1989 interview with the Miami Herald, Donn Pearce said, "I seem to be the only guy in the United States who doesn't like the movie. Everyone had a whack at it. They screwed it up 99 different ways." For one thing, Pearce thought Paul Newman was "too scrawny" and completely wrong for the part.
  • Enforced Method Acting:
    • Subverted. Filmmakers suggested that Joy Harmon get high before doing the car wash scene - in order to seem more relaxed. She made it clear she wouldn't, and did the scene 'unstoned'.
    • Morgan Woodward, who played 'The Man With No Eyes', remained in character between takes - wearing his mirrored sunglasses and not speaking to anyone.
    • Wives were banned from the set in order to make sure the cast internalised life on a chain gang.
  • Executive Meddling: Conrad Hall claims the studio made him re-shoot one scene about four times to properly showcase Paul Newman's Innocent Blue Eyes.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Columbia passed on making the film, having just lost a lot of money on the prison picture King Rat that no one went to see. They were also not keen on the fact that the lead character dies at the end.
  • Method Acting:
    • Paul Newman learned how to play the banjo for this film. In order to develop his character, he travelled to West Virginia, where he recorded local accents and surveyed people's behavior.
    • The actors were legitimately tarring the road when their characters were. They black-topped a mile long stretch of road for the county.
  • Playing Against Type: George Kennedy was usually stuck as villains. He credits this film with helping him get more varied parts.
  • Playing Gertrude: Jo Van Fleet plays Luke's mother, but was only eleven years older than Paul Newman.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot:
    • The film was originally set in Florida (and would be filmed entirely on location). Budget reasons led to it being relocated to (and filmed in) California.
    • The director loved Morgan Woodward as Boss Godfrey. But he found that his voice didn't match how intimidating the character needed to be. So all his dialogue was removed.
  • Those Two Actors:
  • Unintentional Period Piece: Despite being technically set in the 50s, this film is heavily associated with the 60s. The film was clearly shot during the Vietnam War, hence the anti-establishment themes. It's even been suggested that the famous line is a metaphor for The Vietnam War. Roger Ebert felt the film was a product of its time.
    "The year 1967 was at the center of the Vietnam era, and Luke was against the establishment."
  • What Could Have Been:
    • Jack Lemmon (whose production company made the film) was originally offered the role of Luke, but after reading the script, he felt that Paul Newman would be perfect. He acted as a producer instead.
    • Bette Davis turned down the bit part of Luke's mother.
    • Telly Savalas was offered the role of either Luke or Dragline.
    • Joy Harmon was planned to film the car wash scene on set with the other actors. However her scenes ended up being filmed separately, while the reactions of the men were filmed later - with a cheerleader wearing an overcoat standing in for 'Lucille'.
  • Write What You Know: Donn Pearce drew on his experiences in a chain gang.


Example of: