Sometimes A Great Notion

1971, Movie, PG, 113 mins

Review

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Paul Newman's second directing job is quite a bit different from the intimacy of his first, RACHEL, RACHEL. The original director assigned to the film was Richard Colla, but when Newman broke his ankle while riding a motorcycle in June, 1970, the production had to shut down while the bones healed. When he came back, there were problems between Newman and Colla, and Newman ended up taking over. Fonda, playing an old man for the first time at the age of 65, is the stern but benevolent father of Newman and Jaeckel. They own their own logging company in Oregon (where the film was shot), and Fonda rules the roost with a firm hand. Newman's wife is Remick and Jaeckel's wife is Lawson. The other loggers in the town go on strike against the bosses, but Fonda, who has a contract, decides to honor it, thereby incurring the enmity of his neighbors. Fonda has a broken arm and leg from an accident, but that doesn't affect his iconoclastic determination. Sarrazin arrives. He's another Fonda son by a second marriage. Sarrazin's mother left Oregon a decade before when she could not take the harsh life. Later Sarrazin became involved with drugs while attending college, and his mother took her own life. Sarrazin comes back to the family home, not so much out of love for his crusty father as because he doesn't have a home anywhere else. Sarrazin shows his mettle and is soon accepted by the others as he demonstrates what must be genetic ability with lumber. Remick and Sarrazin become attracted to each other, and he sees in her a copy of his late mother in that she is also thinking that there must be a better way to spend one's life. The local people have gone from resentment of the Fonda family to outright violence in their anger about the family's refusal to adhere to the strike. Sarrazin is almost killed when an unseen hand cuts a cable and he narrowly avoids a log rolling downhill. Fonda's dog is shot by a sniper, and the annual touch football game between the lumber workers almost erupts into murder as a fight breaks out when one of the townspeople intimates that Newman and Fonda's second wife had a fling years before. When one of their trucks is destroyed, there seems to be only one way to get their logs to the mill; they must float them downstream. As the family begins to cut the logs to the proper length for shipping by water an accident happens. Fonda's arm is cut off, and Jaeckel is pinned under logs as the tide comes in. Newman makes a Herculean effort to save his brother, but Jaeckel drowns (in the best scene in the picture and surely the reason Jaeckel received an Oscar nomination). Newman is in the hospital with Fonda as the old man, whose credo is "never give an inch," dies. Newman goes home and learns that Remick has departed. He takes to the bottle, then gets up, determined to be what his father would have wanted him to be. Newman and Sarrazin double-handedly take the logs down the twisting river pulling them with a tug. There on the tug sits Fonda's severed hand, with all the fingers bent down save the middle one, in the universal symbol of "I ain't down yet." It's a tawdry joke to end what was, until then, a good enough movie in the 1930s Warner Bros. genre of working men's stories.

Kesey's 600-plus-page novel would have made a fine six-hour mini-series, and it's a tribute to scenarist Gay that he managed to condense that much material into under two hours. The picture barely returned what it cost to make, which was a shame since it was a good movie with excellent work on the part of most of the actors. The tune "All His Children" (Henry Mancini, Marilyn and Alan Bergman; sung by Charlie Pride) won a nomination from the movie academy. Joe Maross stands out in a small role, and if you look fast, you'll see stuntman Hal Needham, who went on to direct many of Burt Reynolds' movies, in a bit part. The cinematography is extraordinary. Several scenes were cut from the final print, including one sexual liaison between Sarrazin and Remick while Newman is at Fonda's deathbed. It is this that causes Remick to leave, and without that motivation her departure is oddly abrupt. leave a comment

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