Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cool Sequels/The Return of Cool Hand Luke

What was the first movie sequel? Man I don't know and I'm not the guy who's going to research back to silent movies to see if Charlie Chaplin's character The Tramp and his classic comedies were the first sequels. As a kid I remember watching a couple of  different movies on The Saturday Matinee which featured THE THIN MAN with William Powell and Myrna Loy. To a kid, William Powell was an older guy (my mother's age) who was very composed, talked with a funny accent and always had a drink in his hand. His wife, Myrna Loy, was always fixing Powell a drink, spouting witticisms with her chin lifted in the air and seemed to be smarter than her husband.  But these weren't movies where an eight year old boy was going to say to his little brother, "Man I can't wait for them to come out with another THIN MAN movie that shows adults doing more talking and drinking." The movies my brother and I lived for were the ones we watched weekly at the theater in the Art Museum at Volunteer Park. Maybe the Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Tarzan serials weren't genuine sequels but we didn't care because it only cost a quarter to get in and there was a heck of lot more action in one serial than in ten THIN MAN movies.

When I saw the movie SHANE I was seven years old and I imagined myself standing next to Joey, played by Brandon DeWilde, yelling "Shane come back! Mommy wants you!" I knew Shane had been wounded and I wanted to help him but he couldn't come back. He knew his job was done, he knew Jimmy's mother (Jean Arthur) would never leave her husband (Van Heflin) for him and he knew, as a gunman, he could never live amongst the "civilized folk". At that young age it never dawned on me that a movie studio could make anyone come back as long as there was a market for that character's return.

There are cases to be made for filming a sequel that don't involve money but I think the more a character is brought back the more diluted he becomes. Because it's thought that everything that needs to be known about a character is revealed in the first movie then that means the sequel can just move the story along with dialogue and action. As the recent rejuvenation of the James Bond franchise proves, the "gritty, ruthless and real" Bond is the one that people remember and flock to. I suppose it's easier for a studio to just change the silly character names, interchangeable exotic locations, sappy villains and forgettable Bond women than it is for them to write cool dialogue, return the Bond character to a risky edge, introduce a female lead with a confident aura and develop a story that takes gambles without relying on hour long car chases and special effects. (That was a long sentence).

Another issue in regard to filming a sequel is that the second film tends to be a remake of the first one with nothing new to say or offer. In the case of the ROCKY movies, all of which I loved, (whoops there goes any credibility I may have had) they all followed the same sure-fire formula: Rocky gets smacked to the bottom of the food chain but with the love of a great woman and a lot of hard work he climbs back toward the top and prevails over a brutal villain in the championship fight. Nothing wrong with that formula, great for the box office but not very satisfying to critics who are looking for something new and original. I understand advancing the story and developing the characters like in the GODFATHER trilogy with all the families and Michael's rise up the ladder; but in a boxing movie? What's Rocky aspiring to be, the head of the Pennsylvania Boxing Commission?

If SHANE had been remade there would have been the automatic conflict with the threesome of dad Joe, mother Marian and Shane, with little Joe looking on thinking everything is terrific and not "getting" it. I don't see any way to resolve this dilemma except for dad to die somehow with Shane being indirectly responsible. Afterward there would be plenty of conflict with little Joey hating Shane for not being able to save his dad, mom feeling uncomfortable with her affection for Shane and her husband gone and Shane with his guilt for not being able to help Joe when he was killed, along with his feelings for Marian. Plus there are all the neighbors gossiping about when they should be tending their farms. Of course Shane would have given up being a gunfighter because Marian insisted on it but at the end he would have to come out of retirement when more bad guys showed up to hassle all the innocent, God-fearing farmers. Also after everything was peachy-keen for awhile Joey could develop into a cocky kid who wanted to be a gunslinger like his step-dad and would want to take revenge on the bad guys who were responsible for his father's death years ago. Then Shane would explain to this headstrong eighteen, nineteen, twenty year old that, "Violence is not the way to solve your problems." Joey would roll his eyes and attempt to act anyway as he finds Shane's gun and attempts to use it. At that point Shane would have to intervene against the wishes of Marian. "Who do you want to face these men, Joey or me?" he will say. What can she say? She is speechless.

Wow I guess I got carried away since I had an idea for a sequel to another of my favorite classic movies. The second feature would take some logical steps that develop and complete the original story along with featuring a current star who I think is close to being the equal of the original lead. You might think: Leave it alone. It's a classic with a star-turning performance that should have resulted in the star's being awarded an Academy Award. Sure, one of the characters was awarded the Oscar for the Best Supporting Actor but he was playing off of the star. If the star hadn't been there George Kennedy would have been just another con.

Yes, it's true I'm talking about a sequel to the Paul Newman gem: COOL HAND LUKE starring Matthew McConaughey. What you say? Blasphemy! How can you consider a sequel when Luke was killed at the end of the movie? I say: Are you sure Luke was killed? I remember Luke standing in a doorway of a church with that wonderful Paul Newman smile and saying, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Then at that moment the guard with the sunglasses, Boss Godfrey played with silent menace by Morgan Woodward, shoots Luke in cold blood with a rifle. Luke was hit in the neck then there was confusion as a Sheriff attempted to take Luke to the emergency clinic but the prison warden, Strother Martin, intervenes saying they will take him to the prison hospital. The sheriff points out that the prison is an hour away and that Luke won't last twenty minutes. The warden, known as The Captain blows the sheriff off and says "Get out of the way. He's ours!" The warden and his guards then hustle Luke off to a prison vehicle. Then as I recall the movie finishes with George Kennedy, J.D. Cannon, Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton and the rest of Luke's posse reminiscing about lovable Luke back at the prison.

OK it's assumed that Luke was killed or died on the one hour trip to the prison. But what if the sheriff, having seen Boss Godfrey shoot Luke without provocation, and smelling another agenda, has second thoughts. With a deputy he gets in his car and chases down the prison vehicle. With his lights flashing he overhauls it and, as a man sworn to uphold the law for everyone, takes custody of Luke by shear force of will. The Captain and his guards, attempt to intimidate the sheriff with pointed threats about his safety and his state job. The sheriff says: "If you take this man back to the prison Dr. Mason with the State will be arriving at your State facility tomorrow to inspect the condition of this prisoner. If Mr. Jackson (this statement is personalizing Luke) is not alive or we do not take him to the emergency clinic tonight then I will report your interference and neglect all the way to the Governor of Florida if I have to!"

The warden who is sick and tired of dealing with Luke (he escaped three times), realizes he can't make the man just go away but makes a deal with the sheriff: The prison vehicle will detour to a nearby retirement home and Luke will be treated there. The site has a small clinic with facilities for treating a gunshot wound. With Luke losing blood and nearing death the sheriff agrees. Luke, the sheriff, one of his deputies, The Captain, Boss Godfrey and another guard arrive at the hospital and commandeer the facilities in the name of the Governor of Florida ("Two can play this game," says the warden). Then he sends a guard back to the prison who announces to the population that "the prisoner in question (not using Luke's name) is no longer a resident of this State facility." Luke's pals interpret this an an obvious admission that Luke is dead.

Back at the hospital the clinic doctor considers his ability to save Luke's life. "I haven't treated a gunshot victim in thirty years! You need to find someone else to do this!" he says. "There," said the warden, "this doctor is not qualified to help this man and he admits it!" "Shut up!" says the sheriff who turns to the doctor. "There's nowhere else to go Doc," he says. "You're all he's got." The doctor begins to operate and finds that the bullet took a chunk out of the side of Luke's neck but didn't hit his larynx, throat or spinal cord. However because of the loss of blood, trauma to his body and inability to breath properly, Luke slips into a coma then dies.

The day before when Luke is hiding out in the church and about to be re-captured he asks God, "What you got in mind for me next?" God's answer seems to be that Luke is going back to prison as the police appear and demand his exit from the church. Then he is shot by Boss Godfrey. It turns out that God has something else in store for Lucas Jackson as he lays on the hospital operating table. Everything is black and there is no sound. Suddenly he senses movement with a soft murmur that may be the wind. The movement increases in speed and up ahead there is a bright light. The sound of the wind increases and is accompanied by a voice that says. "Luke I have something else in mind for you, your journey is not over and you have a lot of work to do." The wind increases to a roar as the movement gains momentum; it is heading for the bright light that is pulsing and growing in intensity. It was like being strapped to the front of a speeding train as it rocketed toward the end of a darkened tunnel, the daylight rushing forward in a relentless rush.

The doctor covered Luke's face with a white sheet then stripped the rubber gloves from his hands. With a resigned sigh he dropped them on a tray next to his operating instruments. The sheriff, who had been watching through the window in the trauma room doors, pushed inside the room. The Captain and Boss Godfrey followed him. The prisoner was dead and they wanted to get him back to the prison and bury him as soon as possible. However they still deferred to the doctor and the sheriff. The doctor looked at the men and shook his head. "He lost too much blood. He's yours." The warden said, "He's my a prisoner sheriff, he has to be buried at the prison. And doctor we need you to sign a death certificate." The sheriff stared back at The Captain and said, "You're not taking this man anywhere!" Then he turned his gaze slowly to Boss Godfrey. "Your man here is under arrest for murder and I'm a witness!"

The doctor had removed his white smock and glanced idly at the covered body but something wasn't right. He focused on the sheet covering the prisoner's face. It was moving. The other men hadn't noticed. The doctor moved to the table and pulled the sheet back. The patient's eyes were open and he blinked! The warden who had followed the doctor's movements staggered back in shock, "Jesus," he exclaimed and Boss Godfrey muttered, "What the hell is goin' on?" The doctor rested his hand on Luke Jackson's forehead. It was warm! The man blinked again and he opened his mouth and moaned softly but the men heard exactly what he said. "It hurts."

The doctor pushed the sheet aside. "Oh course it hurts son", he said, "you were shot." Boss Godfrey had removed his sun glasses in disbelief and the first thing he thought was, Thank God, it isn't murder! The doctor checked the dressing he had made moments before and saw that it was secure and not leaking blood. "I hear your name is Luke," said the doctor. Luke nodded. "St. Luke was the patron saint of surgeons, physicians and artists," the doctor added. Luke lifted his hand and touched the dressing as he started to remember what had happened. Suddenly the dream or was it a vision he had experienced probed him then blossomed. "Doc I think you must have been all three to bring me back from where I've been." Even though his neck hurt he smiled slightly and his blue eyes sparkled with life. Then he said, "I'm alive and the Man upstairs has plans for me."

What does the Man have in store for Lucas Jackson, itinerant worker, womanizer, drunk and non-believer? Is it to clean up the Florida penal system? Run for Governor? Heal the sick? Start his own church or religion?

Luke turns his head and sees the warden and Boss Godfrey who is holding his sun glasses in his hand. "Howdy Captain," he says. Seeing Luke alive and knowing he's ultimately responsible for the attempted murder of a prisoner, the warden takes his hat from his head and dips his head. "Hello Luke I see you made it back." He gestures toward the doctor. "We brought you here to get the best care. This man saved your life." Luke looked at the doctor, sensing the dis-ingenuousness of the warden's statement. He raised his hand and said, "Thank you Captain, come closer I want to thank you for bringing me here." The Captain hesitated then he and Boss Godfrey shuffled forward.

If Luke's story were ever to be continued Matthew McConaughey would be the man to play him. Besides looking a lot like Paul Newman, McConaughey shares his blue eyes,dazzling smile and confident demeanor. Plus he's a genuine actor with the ability to play comedy (which is hard without looking foolish), action and romantic characters. I think he is about Newman's height but he would have to lose some of the bulk he has gained over the years to attain the lean look of a chain gang prisoner. They work them hard on those hot Florida highways so he would have to look more like a long distance runner than a Gator linebacker.

The Captain and Boss Godfrey stood next to the bed trying to make sense of Luke's death with the man who was lying in front of them, alive. The Captain's hands shook as he held his hat and Boss Godfrey, in spite of himself, began to weep. Luke raised his hand and the Captain took it automatically saying, "What do I do now?" Luke smiled briefly and said, "You release the men." The Captain cocked his head slightly. "Why?"  "Because they have served their time," said Luke  "And they are ready to speak the truth." Luke didn't know why he was saying these words but he knew he was supposed to say them. Finally the Captain nodded and said "That's true they are ready." Luke nodded back and his gaze took in all the men in the room. "You all are ready," he said.

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