Wednesday, August 18, 2010

TV Bites: Cool Hand Luke

Huevos Diablo al Newman (Deviled Eggs, Paul Newman Style)

Since I'm not (yet) teaching classes every week, I'm going to toss up here the occasional featurette for film & food lovers. TCM is running Cool Hand Luke this week (8/21 - 10:15 EST, 9:15 CST, 7:15 PST) as part of a Paul Newman night. And if you don't catch it then -- and especially if you've never seen it -- run, don't walk to your nearest video rental store. If you have a Netflix account, you can stream the movie instantly here or rent on Amazon on Demand here.

And rather than commit to a 4-course meal, for TV Bites (though these may develop into classes down the road), I'm just offering up some relevant snack food to watch with. If you've seen the movie, you'll know why I'm serving up.... eggs. Don't make more than 50 (you'll see why), and do try to eat them early on in the movie.


"Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand...."

The character of Luke was inspired by the life of Donald Graham Garrison, a convicted safecracker who is said to have stolen close to $5 million in his time. Donn Pearce, the author of the novel, who was also an ex-convict, combined details from his own incarceration with Garrison's story. Pearce makes a cameo appearance in the movie as an ex-con named Sailor. However, he didn’t care for the final film, nor Newman (whom he felt was too scrawny). "I seem to be the only guy in the United States who doesn't like the movie," Pearce told the Miami Herald in 1989. "Everyone had a whack at it. They screwed it up 99 different ways."

According to an interview with Newman, he claimed he never swallowed an egg in the famous egg-eating scene. He did, however, learn to play the banjo enough to do so in the scene (see video clip above).

In another interview, Newman said: "Finding [the character of] Luke took awhile. I went to Appalachia and hung out for a couple of weeks with tomato farmers. I fashioned Luke after a teamster I met down there in West Virginia."

Telly Savalas was originally considered for the role, and Bette Davis was also considered for the part of Luke's mother.

Cool Hand Luke won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role (George Kennedy), and was nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Paul Newman), Best Music, Original Music Score and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium.

Keep your eye out for several other iconic actors on the chain gang, including Joe Don Baker, Anthony Zerbe, Dennis Hopper, and Harry Dean Stanton.

Speaking of Hopper, while the film was shooting in California (it filled in for Georgia), Hopper invited his friend and seminal avant-garde filmmaker, Bruce Conner, to drop by. Connor brought along his 8mm camera and shot clips of the "prisoners" working on the roadside. That footage evolved into his short film Luke.

And what can one say about Paul Newman? Actor, philanthropist, race car driver, and chef. Unquestionably one of the greatest movie actors of all time. He played heroes. Not superheroes, just regular guy heroes. He once said of himself: "I'd like to be remembered as a guy who tried -- tried to be part of his times, tried to help people communicate with one another, tried to find some decency in his own life, tried to extend himself as a human being. Someone who isn't complacent, who doesn't cop out."


Cool Hand Luke doesn't do a good job of hiding its Christ-like references -- images of crosses abound, amongst other imagery and metaphors to watch out for. It’s made very clear that this story is a parable which was typically mentioned in reviews and articles when it was in theaters. The film hit screens in 1967, about the same time as Bonnie & Clyde. And just as that film was deconstructing and reconstructing myths of the past, so too Newman depicts here a Jesus for the 60's - a non-comformist rebel who is "giving it to the man." Just a year after the movie was released, the country was rocked by the deaths of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. 1967 was also the year of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and the Rolling Stones were forced by Ed Sullivan to sing “Let’s Spend Some Time Together” not “Let’s Spend the Night Together.” The times were indeed a’changing. So while the film is ostensibly set in post-war 1940's, you could well say it was really about the 1960's.

Although the 1932 film I Was a Fugitive from a Chain Gang exposed the brutal treatment of prisoners in chain gangs and many reforms were forced into place, there were still chain gangs active in the American South in the early 1960's. And while the 1932 film never mentions the state of Georgia explicitly, it was obvious to viewers then as to its location. In fact, the film was banned from being allowed to screen in the state.

Chain gangs began in the early 1900's, shortly after the Civil War. It was, you might say, a work-around to ensure near slave labor for the racist Southern states; and most chain gangs were made up of almost solely African-Americans. Yet it took until around the mid-1950's for chain gangs to mostly become history. But nearly 30 years from when the last was shut down, in 1995, Alabama reinstated the practice until lawsuits reluctantly forced them to stop. Yet today, in Arizona, you can drive past prisoners, both men and women, working on chain gangs.


According to wiki: "In France [deviled eggs] are called œuf mimosa; in Hungary, töltött tojás; in Romania, ouă umplute ("stuffed eggs"); in Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany, where they are usually filled with caviar and served in rémoulade sauce, they are known as "Russian Eggs" (a title that comes from the presence of the caviar).... In some parts of the Southern and Midwestern United States, the terms 'salad eggs' or 'dressed eggs' are used particularly when the dish is served in connection with a church function presumably to avoid dignifying the word 'deviled.'"

Now so -- just to be clear -- the word "deviled" comes from the fact that they are somewhat spicy, not that they are the favored food of Satan's minions.

And apparently science has finally solved the great question: "Which came first the chicken or the egg?"

"It had long been suspected that the egg came first but now we have the scientific proof that shows that in fact the chicken came first," said Dr Colin Freeman, from Sheffield University, who worked with counterparts at Warwick University.

Since the purpose of this exercise is to try to make the food relevant to the movie -- you got the egg (see the movie), they're "deviled" (the movie is a Christ parable), you got Paul Newman (the salsa), and it's set in Georgia (the peach). Bam! I just hit that ball out of the park!

Huevos Diablo al Newman (Deviled Eggs, Paul Newman Style)
Yield: 12 servings
Click for Printer-Friendly Version

6 medium eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
3 tablespoons peach salsa (preferably Newman's Own)
1 teaspoon honey dijon mustard
1 teaspoon minced fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons fresh jalapeno or serano pepper, seeded & minced
chili powder

Place eggs in pot and add enough water to cover them 1-inch; add salt. Bring to boil. As soon as boiling begins, turn off heat, cover and let sit for 12-14 minutes. Immediately rinse eggs in ice water until room temperature. Peel carefully. Cut in half and carefully scoop out yolks into small mixing bowl. Place egg white in fridge until ready for stuffing.

Mash salsa (I tried hi & low to find Newman's Peach Salsa but couldn't, so I substituted Mrs. Renfro's) with yolks in bowl. (NOTE: Try to scoop more chunk than liquid from the salsa.) Add mayo, mustard, cilantro, jalapeno. Taste, it may need a pinch of salt.

Remove egg whites from fridge and using a spoon add a dollop of egg yolk mix to fill the whites. Top with a sprinkle of chili powder. Serve.

LA Times Obit, Paul Newman
Maureen Dowd Reminiscence of Newman, NY Times
Complete Screenplay of Cool Hand Luke
TCM's Cool Hand Luke Page
Bruce Connor discusses making his film "Luke"
Online Encyclopedia: Chain Gangs

Cool Hand Luke: A Novel by Donn Pearce
Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy
Paul & Me: 53 Years of Adventures and Misadventures by AE Hotchner
In Pursuit of the Common Good: 25 Years of Improving the World, One Bottle of Salad Dressing at a Time by Paul Newman & AE Hotchner
Newman's Own Food Products @ Amazon
Paul Newman DVDs @ Amazon

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