MPTV
Ken Tucker
September 05, 2008 AT 04:00 AM EDT

As a chain-gang convict defying authority, Paul Newman got to take off his shirt for many sweaty road-labor scenes, and he had the acting muscle to match his abs. The culmination of his existentialist period with Hud (1963) and Hombre (1967), Cool Hand Luke depicts a loner earning the respect of fellow prisoners (including George Kennedy, who copped a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as the salty Dragline). Surrounded by such great character actors as Dennis Hopper and Strother Martin — who turned the line ”What we’ve got here is…failure to communicate” into a catchphrase — Newman has never looked more godlike (literally, in a few heavy-handed crucifixion poses). But his grin is so sunny that the filmmakers freeze-frame it so that we can bask in the star’s eternal magnificence. B+

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