I might have seen Cool Hand Luke, as a kid for the first time on Italian TV, probably when I was 10-12 years old (so we're talking about 1984-86) when the movie was already a classic (although in the Italian version it was Nick, not Luke - still wondering why), and then many times afterwards on tv.

Only in 1994, watching Reality Bites in a cinema, I stumbled upon the bit where Ethan Hawke says "Nobody can eat 50 eggs" (clip). Intrigued by the quote, I Lycosed (Google was yet to come) it and found out that it was referred to Cool Hand Luke. After digging some more, I read the description of the scene, one of the most iconic of the movie, and found out that we Italian viewers have been robbed of circa 15/16 minutes of the film: the "50 eggs" (a very nice and funny montage/homage I've found on YouTube) and the "Tar sequence" scenes, as I came to realize only later. The running time of the italian dubbed version is in fact 110 minutes whereas the original version is 126 minutes long.

If on the one hand is an extremely pleasant surprise to find out that you can watch previously unseen scenes of a film you love (1), on the other hand it is equally disappointing to realize that the same movie has been butchered without understanding why.

In the Blu Ray version of Cool Hand Luke both of the abovementioned sequences are dubbed in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese (not in Italian) so my guess is that the Italian version is the only one that suffered these (any) cuts. In Italy there's always been a strong influence of the Catholic Church, also in Television and Cinema, so it's not at all surprising for me to imagine that maybe the censorship commission decided to cut the "egg scene" in order to prevent the extremely sensitive eyes of the Italian public to be offended by Newman's Christ-like pose at the end of the sequence.

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However, since the same effect would have been obtained by simply cutting the last 30 seconds or so of the scene, I think it's unlikely that this would be the reason behind the cut. First of all because the whole movie is filled with Christian imagery and secondly because, if this might be construed as a possible reason to cut the "egg scene", it doesn't make a bit sense for the "tar sequence" that follows.

For the reasons above I am inclined to think that the cuts were decided by the Italian Distributor, Warner Brothers Italia, maybe because the movie was considered too long, but I couldn't find any evidence of it anywhere. I've tried to find the answer in the Database of Cinematic Review of this Italian website but, although I've found evidence of the cuts, there is no explanation regarding the reason behind them, apart from the fact that in 1967 the movie was found "not suitable for minors of 14" because of the "several sequences of cruelty and violence" that might have disturbed the development of the abovementioned minors (sic). I've also sent an e-mail to the website administrators asking for information and to Warner Brothers's Italian division but I've yet received no answer at all (and somehow I doubt I ever will).

I'm assuming that if the film has been censored, there should be somewhere a public document asserting the reasons behind the cuts decided by these wise guys' (pun intended) Board. It would be of course more difficult to know the reasons it the cuts were decided by the Distributor. I understand that this is a really long shot, also because I've learned that different countries have different systems (link and link), but I thought it was worth to give it a try also here on SE.

My questions are:

  • Does anybody has any evidence as to who decided to cut those scenes from the Italian version (Censorship Board, Italian distributor, somebody else) and why they did it?
  • Was Cool Hand Luke censored only in Italy?

(1) - And I'm not talking about the 30 seconds of previously unreleased footage of Jabba the Hutt burping Bob Marley's reggae classic "Buffalo Soldier" that serves only to justify the umpteenth release of the latest Star Wars box set :P


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