The Celluloid Pantry: 50 Hard-Boiled Eggs on a Bet and Cool Hand Luke (1967)

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“If my boy says he can eat fifty eggs, he can eat fifty eggs!”

In the days surrounding Passover and Easter, more eggs are bought and consumed in this country than during any other season. In Cool Hand Luke (1967), Lucas “Luke” Jackson (Paul Newman) swallows down a year's worth in under an hour.

An enigmatic free-spirit, Luke is doing time in a rural southern prison after lopping off the tops of a row of municipal parking meters in a drunken prank.

Behind bars, the rules are strict and simple. No smoking in bed unless both feet are on the floor. Each man is issued a spoon, which he is to keep on him at all times.

Appetites are fierce after a day’s hard labor digging ditches and building roads. Food is nothing more than fuel: beans and cornbread or biscuits and gravy served on a tin plate. The men catch the occasional bird or turtle while working outdoors.

But leave it to Luke to shake things up. When, one night, his old sparring partner turned friend, Dragline (George Kennedy), boasts that Luke can eat anything, "busted bottles, rusty nails," Luke impulsively wagers he can eat fifty eggs in an hour, reasoning it's a good round number. The men all clamor to place their bets.

Dragline becomes Luke's "trainer," taking him out to the yard to work up an appetite (“What we gotta do is stretch that little ol’ belly of yours. Get all this stuff out of the way. Them eggs are coming down!”), running speed-eating drills, and, during the event, peeling off the shells and cheering his athlete on: “Just nine more between you and everlastin’ glory….Just little ol’ eggs. They pigeon eggs, that’s all.”

In the final seconds of the hour, Luke’s egg-eating has slowed to a dry-mouthed crawl. Dragline eases the last one between Luke’s lips and works his jaw for him with his hands. Time is up, but did Luke swallow? No spoilers here….

Hard-boiled eggs, of course, really shouldn’t be boiled at all (unless you prefer rubbery whites and grayish yolks). For tender whites with dazzling centers, follow the directions (and the lively discussion) in this earlier post.

- Nora

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Nora Maynard is a freelance writer based in New York City. Her recent work has appeared in Salon, Drunken Boat, and The Millions. She recently completed her ninth marathon and her first novel, Burnt Hill Road. Nora wrote for The Kitchn from 2006 to 2011.