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Cool Hand Luke is the story of Lucas "Luke" Jackson (Paul Newman) during his stay at a Florida prison camp, and how he stands up to the system within the camp.
This film contains the following tropes:
- Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: Luke's in jail because he got drunk and decided to decapitate some parking meters.
- All Crimes Are Equal: Subverted. Luke's stay was supposed to be short (three to six months), but his antics increase that number.
- Balloon Belly: Fifty eggs, man!...
- Beam Me Up, Scotty: Narrowly averted via Meaningful Echo. The famous line, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate!" is used towards the end of the film. The first instance of the line is "What we've got here is... failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach" (notably, the version without the definite article was sampled by Guns N' Roses for "Civil War").
- Bittersweet Ending: Luke dies and the camp goes back to normal, but the camp director has been one-upped and his bodyguard is similarly broken. Luke's death also appears to have transformed him into a heroic martyr figure for Dragline and the rest of the inmates.
- Crucified Hero Shot: After the infamous Fifty Eggs contest... strangely enough. There's also the way Luke's photo of him with two ladies is torn, and is slammed in your face at the end.
- Juxstaposed over a shot of two roads intersecting like a cross, just to drive the point home.
- Darkest Hour: Luke comes back on his own after he runs away the second time after he grows tired of getting abused by people who threaten to call the police on him. The camp's punishment apparently breaks him, and no one thinks of Luke as a hero anymore... until he runs away the third time by pretending to be brainwashed and dutifully fetch some water from the truck.
- Fan Service: Paul Newman and a bunch of other men working, frequently shirtless? Also, Lucille, both in-universe and out-of-universe.
- "She don't know what she's doing!"
- Go Out with a Smile: Luke dies this way.
- The Hero Dies
- Hood Ornament Hottie: The road crew is forced to watch a sexy blond temptress wash her car.
- Meaningful Echo: "What we've got here is a failure to communicate!"
- Messianic Archetype: Luke
- My Girl Is Not a Slut: When Dragline goes on about "Lucille" and how ridiculously sexy she is without even meaning to do it, Luke points out how she was very obviously cockteasing the men.
Dragline: Oh, god...she doesn't know what she's doin'!
Luke: Oh, boy, she knows exactly what she's doin'. Drivin' us crazy and lovin' every minute of it.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Luke's "I got my mind right, boss" act could be seen as a variant of this.
- Punishment Box: The Trope Codifier.
- Rule of Symbolism: After the egg eating contest, Luke is in a pose that is suspiciously like Jesus on the cross and Luke has a brother named John.
- Rule of Three: Luke's punishment.
- And his three attempts of running.
- Sanctuary of Solitude: This at the end, with Luke sneaking into a church to talk to God.
- Scary Shiny Glasses: Donned by Boss Godfrey, also known as "The Man With No Eyes." Whom you do not talk to.
- Smite Me Oh Mighty Smiter: Asks for it in the rain. No response.
- Theme Tune: While not the primary theme, a piece of music used in a scene from the film called the "Tar Sequence" was licensed by ABC to become the news theme for local newscasts on many of their stations until the mid 90's (when the network commissioned a Suspiciously Similar Song so that they wouldn't have to pay large royalties for its use) and became a critical part of the Eyewitness News local news format, where it is ubiquitous for being the Signature Song associated with American local news. Still in use today by Australia's Nine Network for their theme.
- Working on the Chain Gang: What Luke did in-between several prison breaks