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Cool Hand Luke is a 1967 American prison drama film directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring Paul Newman. The screenplay was adapted by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson from Pearce's 1965 novel of the same name. The film features George Kennedy (in an Oscar-winning performance), Strother Martin, J.D. Cannon and Morgan Woodward.
Newman stars in the title role as Luke, a prisoner in a Florida prison camp who refuses to submit to the system. In 2005, the United States Library of Congress deemed Cool Hand Luke to be "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.
"What we've got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last week. Which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. And I don't like it any more than you men."
The line is frequently taken as "What we've got here is a failure to communicate." Both are correct. This line is heard twice in the film, first in its entirety, with no "a", by the Captain (Strother Martin), and later on the first line with an "a", said by Luke. In the "making of" feature on the Blu-ray disc, Frank Pierson, the screenplay's co-writer, says that the line "just appeared" on the page as he was typing (that is, it was the result of his subconscious thought). After some debate over whether it was "too intellectual" a remark for the Captain, it was retained.
Strother Martin himself recalled that he felt the line was one which his character, would very likely have heard or read, from some "pointy-headed intellectuals" that had begun to infiltrate his character's world in the 1960s, under the general rubric of a new, enlightened, approach to incarceration.
Luke's prison number (37) is a reference to the Bible - Luke 1:37. ("For with God nothing shall be impossible.")
Donn Pearce who wrote the novel on which the movie is based, spent 2 years on a chain gang for safe-breaking. Pearce makes a cameo appearance in the movie as a convict named Sailor.
Luke: Yeah well... sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand.