Sometimes a Great Notion (1970)

Sometimes a Great Notion (1970), directed by Paul Newman.

Aka Never Give a Inch.

Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in the town
Sometimes I get a great notion
To jump into the river an' drown

-- Lead Belly, Goodnight Irene

During a logging strike in Oregon, an independent family continues working. The union and town are getting mad and it looks like there will be blood, because the Stampers are tougher than tough and will never give in.

I've seen criticism of the movie from fans of Ken Kesey's mammoth novel (it's the one you can't find in bookstores), but given the time constraints I think it is an admirable effort. Well photographed, and the house, river and woods are just as I had imagined them.

They don't develop one important plot element: young Leland's (Michael Sarrazin) desire for revenge against his older half brother, Hank (Paul Newman). Hank had an affair with Leland's mother and Leland decides to bed Hank's wife, Viv (Lee Remick) in return. Which he does the night of the day that Joe Ben (Richard Jaeckel) dies and old Henry (Henry Fonda) loses his arm. I read that a love scene between Remick and Sarrazin was shot but not included.

There are also brutal fist fights in the book. The film substitutes a motorcycle race, picnic, football game and then a fist fight.

I remembered two scenes from having seen it years ago. First, the great opening when the family sees off an unwelcome visitor by throwing dynamite at his boat. The second is the death of Joe Ben: trapped under a log in the river with the tide coming in. What do you do? It's heartbreaking.

Joe Ben is a wonderful character in the book. Always happy, the first to pitch in and help, in love with his wife and family, praising the Lord throughout the day.

Old Henry is crazier in the book. Originally set around 1960, it looks like they moved it to 10 years later. In a minor bit of circularity, Paul Newman is mentioned once in the text.

Costumes by Edith Head. Henry Mancini score. They use country music for the loggers, but both Hank and Leland are jazz men. That doesn't fit with our preconception of these men and that place, but it would have been interesting to try it.

My thumbnails are from a region 2 PAL disc which I bought when I couldn't find a region 1 DVD. Now I see that Amazon has a Universal Vault Series DVD-R. (Later: available on Blu-ray).