Ah, Paul Newman. Those eyes, that smile…here he plays one of his best roles, as Luke, a man sent to prison for two years, who simply doesn’t accept the unfair authority of the guards, or indeed of the other prisoners. After refusing to back down in a boxcing match with fellow prisoner ‘Dragline’, desite being badly beaten, Luke earns the respect of his fellow inmates. But he also catches the eye of the guards, who are as determined to keep Luke down, as he is to prevail and escape.
Yes, I admit it – it’s taken me far too long to get around to watching this incredible film. Luke is the classic anti-hero (I felt there were similarities between this film and the later ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ with Jack Nicholson.) Luke isn’t really a bad guy, but he isn’t afraid of anyone, and he won’t back down. His attitude in turns inspires other prisoners, and marks him out as a potential trouble maker to the prison guards.
Newman’s performance is stunning; his emotions range from anger, ambivalence, sadness, desperation and determination, and he is entirely believeable throughout. It’s impossible not to root for him and hope that he beats the system. The scene which I have posted here, was one of my favourites. Luke is boxing with another inmate, and although he knows he wont’ win, he simply refuses to back down.
The supporting cast includes Dennis Hopper and Ralph Waite in minor roles, and George Kennedy as Luke’s foe, who becomes his friend. I actually think that Kennedy tends to over-act in almost every role he’s in, and this one is no exception, although it in no way spoils the enjoyment or the impact of the film.
This film is regarded as a classic, and rightfully so. It has humour, sadness and poignancy – if you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend it.
Year of release: 1967
Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Producers: Gordon Carroll, Carter De Haven Jr.
Writers: Donn Pearce (book), Frank Pierson
Main cast: Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin