Film & DVD Playlist - Paul Newman

Paul Newman

‘What we’ve got here is failure to communicate’ was the tagline of Cool Hand Luke, 1967’s chain-gang drama starring Paul Newman, who sadly died from cancer in October. The many obituaries covering his best-known performances in hits like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid or The Sting hardly communicate what really made Newman an icon; this month’s PlayList seeks to do just that.

You’ve almost certainly not seen 1971’s Sometimes A Great Notion, a tale of Oregon loggers adapted from a novel by Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In one shattering scene, Newman and his brother (played by Richard Jaeckel) fight for survival in the most surreal of situations. Even without any knowledge of the context, this sequence ( pretty much works as a short film on its own, dramatising the key theme of Newman’s career; the struggle of the underdog against impossible odds.

Unlike fellow heart-throb James Dean, seen here ( in a joint screen test, Newman’s persona was that of a rebel with a cause, a spirit which refused to be broken by life, whether as burnt out lawyer Frank Galvin in Sidney Lumet’s The Verdict (, or pool player Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler (

Although Newman wryly suggested he’d be remembered for his salad dressing rather than his films, he left behind a body of work, which consistently addressed the endurance of the human spirit. Another memorable scene from Cool Hand Luke is when Newman performs the song ‘Plastic Jesus’, a parody of advertising campaigns of the 1960s. In shock after the death of his mother, but still bullishly refusing to be broken by the system, the song becomes the film’s heart-rending lament ( and is one of cinema’s most transcendent moments. A fitting way to communicate the greatness of Paul Newman.

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