Add a dash of “Cool Hand Luke” to a Stephen King story and the result is “The Shawshank Redemption.”
That characterization isn’t meant strictly as a compliment. For while King’s immensely readable novels feature a fair share of chills, the movies they’ve inspired are far less interesting.
Many have been cheap ripoffs with cheesy special effects (“Firestarter,” “Christine,” “The Dark Half”). But the best - “Stand By Me,” “Carrie,” even “Dolores Claiborne” - are marked by an underlying sentimentality that, at most important junctures, causes them to shy away from harsh reality.
King’s novels are not about how life really is. They’re about how it should be.
There are several comparisons between “Cool Hand Luke,” the 1967 Paul Newman vehicle, and “Shawshank,” which was directed by Frank Darabont. Both have their share of comic moments: Newman’s eating 50 eggs, for example, and Tim Robbins’ playing of opera. Both attracted Academy attention: “Shawshank” was nominated for seven Oscars, and “Cool Hand” earned George Kennedy the award for Best Supporting Actor.
And both boast moments of cruel violence: Robbins is hounded by a gang of sodomizing psychopaths, and escape-happy Newman spends time “in the box” for constantly bucking the authorities.
In the end, however, “Shawshank” resorts to the realm of fantasy while “Luke” stays the course of harsh truth. Darabont sticks to the King formula to the very last, soft-focus frame, which features a most unlikely beach-front reunion. Director Stuart Rosenberg’s last shot of Luke, however, makes it clear that no happy ending is at hand for his nihilistic anti-hero.
Fantasy has its place, of course, especially in the 1990s. The feature “Don Juan De Marco,” now playing theatrically, is a perfect case in point.
But sometimes a story begs for raw reality.
Otherwise, to paraphrase the inimitable Strother Martin, you end up with just another “failure to communicate.”
The week’s releases
The Shawshank Redemption
Frank Darabont wrote and directed this adaptation of Stephen King’s novella about Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a man sentenced to life for a murder he may - or may not - have committed, and his grappling with and gradual acceptance of his fate. Robbins is fine as Andy, whose inherent nobility is influential in a low-key way on a prison population that, through Andy’s example, gradually accepts the notion that there is life beyond prison walls. But it is Morgan Freeman as the narrator Red who carries the film. His Oscar nomination was well deserved, even if the overall Best Picture nomination was a bit of a stretch. Rated R.
Red Sun Rising - B-grade martial arts star Don “The Dragon” Wilson stars as the sensible half of a mixed-gender cop team (with Terry Farrell).
xxxx WHAT’S NEW TO VIEW Available this weekend - “The Shawshank Redemption” (Columbia TriStar), “Imaginary Crimes” (Warner), “Red Sun Rising” (Imperial), “Don’t Talk to Strangers” (MCA/Universal), “Drop Squad” (MCA/Universal). Available on Tuesday - “Blue Sky” (Orion), “Quiz Show” (Hollywood), “Ed Wood” (Touchstone), “The Advocate” (Miramax), “Double Dragon” (MCA/Universal), “The Secretary” (Republic).