This is the perfect '60s movie. It is anti-authoritarian without being strident, a serious drama with whimsy, gritty and violent with a sexy side (who can forget the car wash scene?). Newman plays the "christ" figure and his prisoners as his disciples and believers (after he wins them over). The guards and the warden are the high priests and the Romans. And of course, they kill him in the end.
But we have some great fun along the way. Luke strips the heads off of a street of parking meters and gets a sentence far out of proportion to such a silly crime. To say that Luke chooses not to fit in is an understatement. It isn't that he takes on the system. Rather, his mere presence and indifference to the system causes it to change or to try and eliminate him as if he were some invading virus.
There are some wonderful and indelible scenes such as the egg eating, the fight with Dragline (George Kennedy), the race to the end of the road, the failure to communicate scene and the severe punishment Luke receives. It seems like you can sit around talking about scenes from this movie longer than the movie itself.
Paul Newman made Luke immortal, but George Kennedy as Dragline and Strother Martin as Captain are also essential to this movie's character and permanence.
Today's viewers might fine the pacing of the movie a bit slow and see some seams that those of us who love it might ignore, but so what? It is a classic and enjoyable film that is a touchstone for many who were young when they first saw it in 1967.