Category: Forgotten Classics

COOL HAND LUKE

Published April 6, 2008

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: This is Part 2 in a series of reviews I call The Best Damn Movies EVER … and boy is this one fitting of that description. My intent is to showcase great films that may have slipped the notice of younger filmgoers. If this is you, keep on reading.

Were I to make a list of the 50 greatest films of all time, and another list of my 50 favorite films, the lists would not necessarily match up. There would be a few crossovers, one of which would be … Cool Hand Luke.

PAUL NEWMAN as …
Cool Hand Luke
Released in 1967, Cool Hand Luke spins the tale of a drifter who is sent to a Florida prison camp after drunkenly cutting the heads off of parking meters. Once there, Luke quickly becomes an inspiration to his fellow inmates, simply because he refuses to submit to the system.

PAUL NEWMAN & GEORGE KENNEDY
Paul Newman and George Kennedy
Long before the term sticking it to the man entered our vernacular, Luke embodied the statement, heart and soul. It could even be argued that no film character, before or since, has stuck it to the man with such natural born enthusiasm. Although, two others do come to mind. Like Randall P. McMurphy in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption (both of which deserve to be reviewed under this category), this is very much a tale of The Outsider who comes in and changes all those who come in contact with him.

THE MIRACLE OF THE EGGS
Paul Newman and the Eggs
Paul Newman - stuffed and happy
This film is also replete with Christian symbolism — while only human, Luke performs miracles (if eating 50 eggs is a miracle), is deserted by his disciples, and is killed for following his heart. Messianic imagery abounds, like the scene where Luke is sprawled in cruciform after the ‘miracle’ of the eggs.
Why we have eggs on Easter
Stephen King’s The Green Mile is another film that deftly balances a prison tale with the Christ analogy, but Cool Hand Luke was there first. Luke does not profess any faith, yet many times during the film, he cries out to God, screaming for any sort of sign that He is there and that He cares — even doing so in the middle of a thunder storm. When asked, “Ain’t ya scared of dyin’?” Luke replies: “Dyin’? Boy, He can have this little life any time he wants to. Do ya hear that? Are ya hearin’ it? Come on. You’re welcome to it, Ol’ Timer. Let me know you’re up there. Come on …

“Love me, hate me, kill me, anything. Just let me know it!”
Let me know You're up there!
Later in the film, after Luke receives news of his mother’s death, he sits on his bunk, gently plucking a banjo, and sings a heartbreaking song called, Plastic Jesus (video clip below).

“I don’t care if it rains or freezes …”

Luke’s nickname is coined when after winning a poker hand on a bluff, George Kennedy (Best Supporting Actor 1967) says:

Dragline: Nothin’. A handful of nothin’. You stupid mullet head. He beat you with nothin’. Just like today when he kept comin’ back at me – with nothin’.
Luke: Yeah, well, sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.

Loaded with quotable dialogue, this film has catch phrases used to this very day. The most popular of which is probably …

“What we got here is … failure to communicate.”


I don’t want to give any more of the plot away to those who have never seen this film … so I won’t. I will say this movie is in dire need of a DVD upgrade. The only release in this format came out in 1995, and had no bonus features other than a theatrical trailer. Warner Brothers should be all over this as … the film has an all-star cast, many of whom are still alive. Including, Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, Dennis Hopper, Wayne Rogers, Harry Dean Stanton, Ralph Waite, Anthony Zerbe, Joe Don Baker, and many others. I thought perhaps last year (2007) we would see a 40th Anniversay Edition, but, alas … we got nothing.

REPRISE – “What we got here is… a failure to communicate.”
The Final Shot
Not only one of the best prison films ever made, this is one of the best films, period. I know I don’t need to preach to the choir on this, but if you have never seen it, Cool Hand Luke is definitely one to seek out.



FORGOTTEN CLASSICS – BODY HEAT

Published April 4, 2008

WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: I’m going to start posting reviews of some of my favorite films, many of which – while not forgotten – have been out of the mainstream so long, they’ve been neglected. If I can introduce someone to a great film they’ve never seen before … my work will not be in vain.

1981 was pretty much a banner year for Lawrence Kasdan. Hot after the success of a little movie George Lucas hired him to write, called, The Empire Strikes Back, he also penned the script for the first Lucas/Spielberg collaboration, Raiders of the Lost Ark. While Indy was whipping audiences into a cinematic frenzy, Kasdan went off to write and direct his first film.

An homage to the film noir thrillers of the 30s and 40s – especially 1944’s Double Indemnity with Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyk – Body Heat starred William Hurt as a lawyer who’s too horny for his own good, and Kathleen Turner (in her star making film debut) as the neglected wife who captures his attention. In fact, Turner is so smoldering hot in this movie, there should be a photo of her in every dictionary next to the term femme fatale.

Does their torrid (to put it mildly) affair lead to murder? You have to ask?

I will not spoil anything here. Suffice it to say that there are many films I wish I could watch again for the very first time, and this is one of those films. Yet even after countless viewings, the ending never fails to give me chills.
Body Heat ~ Deluxe Edition
Body Heat finally received a proper DVD upgrade in 2006 (the Deluxe Edition, above). Besides a gorgeous, digital, director-approved transfer, there are deleted scenes, vintage interviews, theatrical trailer, and three new featurettes:

Body Heat: The Plan – Screenplay and Casting
The Production – Filming
The Post-production – Editing, Scoring, and Release

Kasdan, Hurt, and Turner all participate in these new documentaries, as does Ted Danson, who co-starred a year before his star-making role as Sam Malone on Cheers.

Kasdan, of course, went on to make The Big Chill, Silverado, The Accidental Tourist, Grand Canyon, Wyatt Earp, and Dreamcatcher … to name a few.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen this modern-day (LOL – it’s from 1981) film noir masterpiece, this DVD is definitely worth the upgrade.

If you’ve never seen it, I could not recommend it any higher.

BODY HEAT – A
BONUS CONTENT – B+

As the trailer for this movie leaves much to be desired, I will instead leave you with a taste of John Barry’s seductive score.

STEVEN SPIELBERG’S DUEL – the entire film

Published March 22, 2008

Elsewhere on this site, I have devoted many words to my admiration and respect for Steven Spielberg and Richard Matheson. I have also noted that the first television movie Spielberg directed was a brilliant adaptation of Matheson’s short story, DUEL.
Duel DVD
The story doesn’t get any more complicated than this: mysterious truck terrorizes man driving across desert. Dennis Weaver stars as David Mann, and does a remarkable job of emoting panic and paranoia with a taut-but-threadbare script (also by Matheson).

The year was 1971 and the film put Spielberg on the map. Deservedly so — this is the most auspicious debut I can think of. Shot in 13 days on a shoestring budget, 24-year-old Spielberg announced his presence with authority with this tense, exciting film.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen it, the entire movie is posted below.

If you’ve never seen it, you will never again look at an eighteen-wheel truck in your rearview mirror the same way again.

A TALE OF II SUPERMANS

Published January 2, 2008

Those of you who care about such things, may know that when director Richard Donner was filming his glorious Superman movie (1978), that he was actually filming two movies simultaneously. What eventually became Superman I and II, was originally one script, split into two parts. After filming over 70% of Superman II and going way over budget, the producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind, and Pierre Spengler, pulled the plug on the sequel and told Donner to finish the first one. He did, and the rest is comic book movie history.

CHRISTOPHER REEVE AS THE MAN OF STEEL
Christopher Reeve
REEVE AND KIDDER – COME FLY WITH ME
Superman and Lois flying high
Superman the Movie remains to many the tentpole by which all other superhero movies are measured. Yet by the end of production, relations between Donner and the producers were so vitriolic, they weren’t even speaking. Even after the global success of the first film, Donner was told by the Salkinds that “his services would not be needed on the sequel.” Instead, the Salkinds opted to bring in Richard Lester (A Hard Days Night) with whom they had previously worked on The Three Musketeers to finish Superman II. Not content to have a film with two directors listed, they had Lester re-film much of what Donner had shot, so that the film could be at least 51% Lester, and therefore Donner would recieve no credit.

DONNER AND REEVE
Donner and Reeve
While the theatrical version of Superman II was a massive success, it lacked the epic grandeur of the first. It was also – to those rabid fans like myself, with a discerning eye – a rather mixed bag of scenes shot three years apart. Clark and Lois’s hair changes from black to brown, Margot Kidder seems to have lost 20 pounds between shoots, a Gene Hackman impersonator dubbed many scenes since Hackman refused to come back without Donner, etc …

For years, especially after the advent of the Internet, fans have begged Warner Bros. to release Donner’s version of the film. Well … it only took 25 years, but in 2006, Warners relented and released Superman II ~ The Richard Donner Cut.
Superman II - the Richard Donner Cut
While not perfect, the much different film offered a fascinating look into the storytelling process. Gone was the slapstick humor that Lester inserted into the climactic battle in Metropolis (flying toupees, ice cream splatting in faces) which severely undermined the tension. Gone was the scene in Niagra Falls where Lois tries to prove Clark is Superman by jumping into a river. This is replaced by Donner’s version, where …

LOIS DRAWS A CONCLUSION
Margot Kidder
LOIS FIGURES IT OUT
The lovely Margot Kidder
LOIS MAKES HER ACCUSATION
Reeve and Kidder
AND PROCEEDS TO JUMP OUT OF THE …
… never mind. Check it out on the first video posted (way) below.
Lois on the sill
The most important change was the inclusion of Marlon Brando as Jor-El. Brando had filmed all of his scenes for both movies in 1977, but so they would not have to pay him twice, the Salkinds cut him out of the theatrical release of II. It is wonderful to have him back here.

BRANDO AND HACKMAN – JOR-EL FACES LUTHOR
Jor-El faces Luthor and Teschmacher
BRANDO, REEVE, AND KIDDER (notice Lois wearing Superman’s shirt)
Brando, Reeve, and Kidder
The Donner Cut was released as a stand alone disc, and also part of the massive 14-disc Superman Ultimate Collector’s Edition, highly recommended.
Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition
This is a true gift for Superman fans who have waited a quarter century to see what Donner would have done with the sequel to his masterpiece. That said, it is also flawed in that it is not a finished film. Screen tests for Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder were re-edited together for the BIG REVEAL scene …

LOIS PULLS A GUN TO PROVE CLARK IS SUPERMAN (screen test)
Stick 'em up, Clark.
And the ending … (heavy sigh), the ending is the same as Superman the Movie. Turning back time was originally the ending of Superman II, but since it was the biggest beat in both films, it was decided to cut and paste it in the first. Rather than end the Donner Cut with Lester’s “magic amnesiac kiss,” editor Michael Thau (who oversaw this project, compiling negatives that had sat in a London vault for almost 30 years) decided to cut the version of II as originally scripted, with Supe turning back time again. It feels not only like a cheat, but a huge missed opportunity. A fatal flaw in an otherwise fascinating film. I understand Thau’s intent to try and create the most pure Donner cut possible, but by excising so much of the Lester footage that DID work, he has seriously compromised his effort.

THE KISS WE ALWAYS WANTED TO SEE
Reeve and Kidder lip lock
The Donner Cut is perhaps best viewed as a “what if” scenario. What if Donner had been able to finish this film? We will never know. But it is severely cool to now have what is, in essence, a brand new Christopher Reeve performance as Kal-El, Last Son of Krypton.

Disappointed and creative fans (most of whom have You Tube accounts) have started to make Fan Cuts, utilizing the best of both versions. One in particular, created by a webmaster named Selutron, goes far beyond mere editing, filling in the blank spots with new scenes and effects; even going so far as to take the three Kryptonian villains OUT of Lester’s Idaho town and putting them IN Washington D.C. as originally scripted. I’m not sure how this was done, but it’s pretty amazing.
Zod, Ursa and Non in D.C. - Selutron Cut
Selutron is working on an Ultimate Cut, and is now petitioning Warner Bros. for another go round. An interview conducted by Superman Homepage is pretty fascinating.

UPDATE 8-16-08
Selutron has closed his You Tube account and is presumed to be working on this project — the buzz is growing. CapedWonder.com (by far the biggest treasure trove of Superman imagery anywhere on the web) is now exclusively posting his work. You can check out his high quality videos here.

UPDATE 2-09-09
I just got an e-mail from Selutron today (is that cool or what!) thanking me for championing his cause on this site. He gave me a brief update on what was happening with his efforts. You can read an interview he did two months ago (Dec ’08) with Supermancinema.com by clicking here. Definitely worth reading.
Put your head on my shoulder
So … for those of you who care (and if you didn’t, why are you still reading?), perhaps we haven’t seen the last of Superman II just yet. Considering the remarkable things I’ve seen so far … here’s hoping.