Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 1967. Jalem Productions. Screenplay by Donn Pearce, Frank Pierson, based on the novel by Donn Pearce. Cinematography by Conrad L. Hall. Produced by Gordon Carroll. Music by Lalo Schifrin. Production Design by Cary Odell. Costume Design by Howard Shoup. Film Editing by Sam O’Steen. Academy Awards 1967. Golden Globe Awards 1967.
Paul Newman plays the title character, a man so named because of his peaceful countenance among the prisoners on a California chain gang. A former war hero, Luke was picked up by police for getting drunk and destroying a row of parking meters, put into prison and forced into the degrading circumstances that inmates there find themselves in. His refusal to have his spirit beaten out of him makes him at first an enemy of the unofficial leader of the prisoners (George Kennedy), later his best friend. The marvelous dialogue and superb direction make this one of the best prison-themed movies ever made, and Kennedy’s Oscar-winning performance is probably the crowning achievement of his entire career. Jo Van Fleet has one scene as Newman’s mother that she manages to get the most mileage out of: it’s a heartbreakingly tender moment amid all the cruel savagery that the main character endures for the rest of the film. Gorgeous photography by Conrad L. Hall and a score by Lalo Schifrin (that later became the theme for the ABC evening news!)