Cool Hand Luke's 'Failure To Communicate:' Paul Newman, A Rebel's Rebel

By Jacob Shelton
Left: Paul Newman as Luke, attempting to eat fifty hard-boiled eggs in an hour in the film 'Cool Hand Luke', 1967. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images). Right: The Captain beating Luke in the 'failure to communicate' scene. Source: IMDB

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate," said to the titular Cool Hand Luke (Paul Newman) by the prison captain (Strother Martin), is one of the great lines of ‘60s movies. Luke, beaten and chained, lies in the Florida dirt under the hot sun. It's a scene of utter domination -- of the individual by society, perhaps, or of the young generation under the boot (literally) of The Man. At the same time, the line is soft -- Martin has just pummeled and humiliated Newman, is that a "failure to communicate" or an old-fashioned ass-whupping? The more you ponder the line, the more you might realize how completely out-of-place it is in this tough and straightforward film. So what does it really mean?

What we’ve got here is a look at the character of Luke, the symbolism in the line, as well as the story behind writing it. After reading this you might think about Cool Hand Luke in a completely new way.