SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION (aka: NEVER GIVE AN INCH) (director: Paul Newman; screenwriters: John Gay/based on the novel by Ken Kasey; cinematographer: Richard Moore; editor: Bob Wyman; music: Henry Mancini; cast: Paul Newman (Hank Stamper), Henry Fonda (Henry Stamper), Lee Remick (Viv Stamper), Michael Sarrazin (Leland Stamper), Richard Jaeckel (Joe Ben Stamper), Linda Lawson (Jan Stamper), Cliff Potts (Andy Stamper), Sam Gilman (John Stamper), Roy Poole (Draeger), Lee de Broux (Willard Eggleston), Joe Maross (Floyd Evenwrite), Jim Burk (Biggy Newton), Charles Tyner ( Les Gibbons); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: GP; producer: John Foreman; Universal; 1971)
“When the film cuts away from the family soap opera dramatics and shows the macho men at work wielding their chainsaws at the logging camp among the giant trees, it has a buzz.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Paul Newman (“Rachel, Rachel”/”The Glass Menagerie”/”Harry and Son”) stars, is executive producer and director of this action-packed logging film family drama set in a rural small town in Oregon. It’s based on Ken Kesey’s 600-page second novel, and is adapted by John Gay who deserves a ‘merit badge’ for whittling it down to the 115 minutes screenplay and still keeping it more or less coherent. The film was begun by Richard A Colla, but at the halfway point Newman took over after disagreements with the director. The hardhitting melodrama about conflict and passion is most alive when showing the men actually logging, but loses its freshness when it goes into the family’s Tennessee Williams-like indecent struggles.
As the opening credits roll by, Charley Pride sings “All His Children” with plenty of country feeling.
The logging town of Wakonda, Oregon, is in an economic crisis over a logger’s strike against the big logging company. But the small-time independent loggers, the proud close-knit Stampers’ clan, refuse to strike and continue logging to fulfill a contract and because they think the strikers have been influenced by their pinko union. This makes the family unpopular in town, where the neurotic local movie theater and laundry owner (Lee de Broux) claims his businesses and other in town are drying up because of them. Soon the clan are visited by the union boss (Roy Poole) and they still refuse to strike even when violence is hinted at.
Gruff family patriarch Henry Stamper (Henry Fonda), even though wearing a cast on his arm after falling off a tree, lives by the credo “Never Give An Inch.” In a cartoonish way he believes “all that matters is getting up for another day, and working, and eating, and sleeping.” His hardhat son Hank (Paul Newman) is a chip off the old block. Henry’s nephew Joe Ben (Richard Jaeckel) is a born again Christian who lives at Henry’s house with his wife Jan (Linda Lawson) and their daughters along with Hank and his wife Viv (Lee Remick). Surprisingly, after many years of absence, they are joined by Henry’s other son from his second wife (his first wife died) and Hank’s half-brother, Leeland (Michael Sarrazin). He’s not recognized at first because he’s grown his hair long in a hippie style, and soon becomes the butt of their lame hippie and NYC fairy jokes. Lee is not sure why he came back, but was on the verge of suicide and was feeling depressed and lonely, and is still troubled that his mom split from Henry some twelve years ago because she was unsuited for the harsh life of a logger’s wife and later committed suicide by jumping from a city building. That no one from the family showed at his mom’s funeral still bothers Lee, but he’s welcomed home and put to work as he hopes to become more mature, settle some old scores and see if this place can be called home again if things work out.
The gist of the film dishes out family dirt as easily as the women dish out waffles, like telling about Hank when he was fourteen sleeping with Lee’s 30-year-old mom in full view of the 10-year-old Lee. It then veers to the labor dispute growing increasingly more bitter, as the union locals torch one of Henry’s valuable logging trucks, fatally shoot one of the family dogs and cause a logging accident by cutting a cable and having a giant log roll down the hill where the men were working. With the truck gone and the work crew scared off by being isolated from the town, the scabs only way of delivering the logs is downstream by raft. While the clan is on this never say die mission to the end Joe Ben, the most likable family member, is pinned under logs as the tide comes in and though Hank tries his best to rescue him Joe Ben drowns. This very moving scene was the reason longtime character actor Jaeckel received his first Oscar nomination for supporting actor.
Because several scenes were cut, the film’s abrupt ending never is clear. The cut scene supposedly had Lee in a payback mode screwing Hank’s wife while he’s at dad’s hospital bedside before he succumbs to a logging accident. In the scene just before the climactic one, Viv leaves Hank and takes off alone. Unfortunately without the cut scene, it makes little sense why Viv should leave hubby at this point. The climax has the brothers bonding, as they defy the union to miraculously bring four raft loads of logs down river to the mill.
When the film cuts away from the family soap opera dramatics and shows the macho men at work wielding their chainsaws at the logging camp among the giant trees, it has a buzz. Otherwise it’s an ordinary film that sometimes has a great notion.
REVIEWED ON 1/18/2009 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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