Sometimes a Great Nation B-
“Sometimes a Great Notion,” the fourth collaboration of the Newman-Foreman Company with Universal, became Newman’s second directorial effort, after “Rachel, Rachel,” the 1968 intimate drama starring wife-actress Joanne Woodward in an Oscar-caliber turn
John Gay’s screenplay, based on the novel by Ken Kesey, offered Newman a role that contain elements of his signature roles in “Hud,” “Cool Hand Luke,” and “The Long Hot Summer” (which, by the way, co- starred Joanne Woodward and Lee Remick).
As Hank Stamper, Newman plays the scion of a logging family, and vet Henry is Henry Stamper, Hank’s father and the clan’s indomitable patriarch. After ten years, Hank’s half-brother Lee (Michael Sarrazin) returns to the Oregon timberlands as a bitter and vengeful man, due to memories of Hank’s making love to Lee’s mother, Hank’s stepmother, who later committed suicide. Lee has difficulty adjusting to the Stampers, a close-knit family with long history. Aggravating manner is Henry’s scornful contempt for Lee’s hippie-style locks and college manners. However, Lee and Viv (Lee Remick), Hank’s pretty wife, takes an instant liking to each other, which gradually evolves into an affair.
Meanwhile, the Stampers get into a labor dispute, as independent, non-union operators at odds with the striking townsfolk of the logging community. Determined to fulfill his contract and deliver logs to the mill on time, Henry disregards union warnings about potentially violent reprisals, though a series of incidents confirm these warnings. Cables snap, logs crash unexpectedly, and Lee, who rallies with the family during the crisis, narrowly escapes injury.
At the annual Lumberman’s Field Day, the Stampers get into a fight after a football game on the beach degenerates into fisticuffs when one of the townsmen casts slurs on Lee’s mother’s intimacy with Hank. Later, the strikers attempt to dynamite a Stamper log boom and then tamper with the log truck, which plunges over a cliff and is demolished. Henry decides to float the logs down to the mill on the river.
With the river rising and other difficulties, Henry loses an arm when a log falls on him, and Joe Ben Stamper (Richard Jaeckel) is knocked into the river by a log and drowns, despite Hank’s efforts to save him. Henry dies in a hospital later. Then Hank finds out about Lee’s involvement with Viv, who leaves home after telling Lee that there is no future for them.
Hank rents a tugboat to tow the logs downstream, facing dangers as the river is high and rolling. Lee shows up to help Hank, which makes the later realize that his half-brother is a true Stamper. In the end, overcoming risks and dangers, the operation of the now-reunited brothers is successful.
The film was plagued with troubles from the start of the shooting in Newport, Oregon, in June 1970. In July, while rehearsing for a racing sequence, Newman hit a dirt slick on his motorcycle and broke his ankle. The production then closed down for a month. Five weeks of additional shooting were required to complete the film, but director Richard Colla, who had done only one film, “Zig-Zag,” left and Newman himself took over the direction.
A Newman-Foreman Production in association with Universal Pictures.
A Jennings Lang Presentation. Produced by John Foreman.
Directed by Paul Newman.
Associate Producer, Frank Caffey.
Screenplay by John Gay from the novel by Ken Kesey.
Photographed on location in Oregon.
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