Little Known Facts About The Iconic Film “Cool Hand Luke”

About 50 years ago, actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman, introduced the world to one of the most legendary characters ever played in American Cinema. Lucas, "Luke" Jackson, or Cool Hand Luke. The story of Cool Hand Luke is as follows. After a drunken rampage, Luke is sentenced to two years doing hard labor within a Florida chain gang. During this time, he undergoes difficult physical and mental anguish, but manages to find the courage to pull through the good and bad until he eventually finds his place amongst the gang. Here are some behind-the-scene facts about the movie, Cool Hand Luke that will surprise you.

1. It's Based On an Ex-Con's Novel

The film, is based on the novel with the same title, Cool Hand Luke, written by author Donn Pearce. The novel is based on experiences that Pearce went through during his own time at a Florida Department of Corrections. The novel is based on chain gang stories that he had heard about a man named Luke Jackson. Pearce was arrested at 20 years old for burglary. Before he made a living out of burglary, he was in the forgery business. He was so good at forging documents, that he managed to travel around Europe, and eventually to Canada while he was on the run from the U.S Army.

2. Hunt For a Lead Actor

Jack Lemmon had originally been asked to play the role of "Cool Hand Luke", but he didn't think that he was right for the role. Afterwards, Telly Savalas was originally approached and cast as Luke, but he was in Europe at the time filming The Dirty Dozen. Savalas did not want to fly, and the production company did not want to wait for him to return via boat, so they looked into other options. Eventually, Paul Newman was cast as the lead.

3. Newman On The Eggs


The character of Luke became famous for the scene in where he wins a bet that he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in an hour. During the filming of the scene, Newman claimed that he "never swallowed an egg." When he was filming the scene, producers kept a trash can right beside the actor so he could spit them out whenever he got a chance. Apparently, the actor wasn't a fan of eggs!

4. Heavy Christian Imagery

The film itself had heavy Christian imagery throughout the film. In fact, the main character was meant to be a Jesus-like figure who becomes a saint like icon, he eventually wins over crowds and masses, but is eventually sacrificed. You can notice in the film that after Cool Hand Luke lies down on the table after eating so many eggs, he is laying in the same position as Jesus during his crucifixion. Luke also speaks to God many times throughout the film, and even sings his praises, like when he sings "Plastic Jesus."

5. The Banjo Delayed It All

When Luke learns of his mother's death, he takes out the banjo and sings the song, "Plastic Jesus". To make it more realistic, Paul Newman wanted to learn how to play the banjo. Because of this, it delayed filming for several weeks while Paul Newman learned how to play the song on the Banjo. Harry Dean Stanton, who had a small role in the film, taught Newman how to play.


6. Author's Cameo

The writer of the original novel, Donn Pearce, makes a cameo appearance in the film. He plays a convict named Sailor. Donn Pearce ended up punching someone on the last day of filming and so from then on, he wasn't allowed back on the set, nor the movie premiere.

7. Accent

In order to do research on his character, Paul Newman traveled to West Virginia, where his character was from. During his trip, Newman took notes on customs and accents. He even recorded some locals speaking for future reference. He also studied the locals' behavior and mannerisms, wanting his character to be as authentic as possible.

8. Florida Wasn't Really Florida

Although the film had been set in Florida, it was actually set in Hollywood. None of the scenes were really filmed in it's set location, crews were sent to Tavares Road Prison to take pictures and measurements. From this data, buildings were reconstructed to scale in Stockton, California, and made to look like the real prison. Everything you see in the film was a duplicate.


9. Most Memorable Movie Line

Other than being a hit film, the move also gave Hollywood one of the most memorable quotes of all time. The line, "What we've got here is failure to communicate," is ranked number 11 on the American Film Institute's list of most memorable lines. The line was said by the warden, known in the film as "the Captain," who apparently picked it up during his time spent studying criminology and penology. The line is sampled in iconic songs such as Guns N' Roses, "Madagascar" and "Civil War".

10. More Religious Undertones


If you weren't paying close enough attention, you could miss this religious message. Luke's prison number is 37. If you were to put it together with his name, it makes Luke 1:37, a piece of scripture from the Gospel of Luke. The meaning of the story actually ties together with the underlying message of the film. The scripture itself says "For with God nothing shall be impossible." Throughout the film, Cool Hand Luke reflects the message through his Christ-like sacrifices.


11. It Was a Box Office Success

The production of the film costed $3.2 million, which was a lot of money for a film for that time. The film ended up bringing in over $16.2 million at the box office. Film critic, Roger Ebert gave the film four stars out of four in his 2010 book. Many critics also described Paul Newman's performance as "unforgettable."

12. Signs You Probably Missed

Traffic signs were used throughout the film in order to emphasize the actions of the characters. When Luke is vandalizing the parking meters, the word "violation" appears. There also many stop signs seen in the distance. Stop lights were used in the same way. You will notice the lights turned from green to red when Luke is arrested for vandalism, then again when Luke is fatally wounded.

13. The Non-Fan

Although Paul Newman was a household name due to his role as Luke, there was one person who didn't recognize him at all. During his time in West Virginia with businessman Andy Hourvouras, everyone instantly recognized him. However, while picking Andy's sister. up from school at St. Joe High School, he was introduced to a nun who asked him what he did for a living.


14. A Unique Criminal Offense

Luke ends up in the chain gang after getting drunk and cutting the heads off of parking meters. Luke says that this was done for the purpose of "settling an old score." The chain gang mates are impressed with Luke's odd crime. They said that they had never had anyone who did something so out of the ordinary. The audience was able to bond with Luke's crime since no one likes parking meters to begin with. This crime also set the anti-establishment theme that we see throughout the film.

15. Donn Pearce Wasn't a Fan Of Newman

Although it's tough now to imagine the film without Paul Newman, the writer Donn Pearce, was not a fan of the actor himself. Pearce claimed that the actor was too, "cute-looking" for a movie based on a prisoner doing hard time in a Florida chain gang. The author thought the role should have gone to a tougher-looking rough guy, saying that Newman "wouldn't have lasted five minutes on the road."