Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sometimes a Great Notion (1970)

2 Nominations, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Richard Jaeckel
Nomination Best Music, Original Song - "All His Children" by Henry Mancini, Alan Bergman, and Marilyn Bergman

Sometimes a Great Notion (alternatively known as Never Give an Inch), has the makings of a classic John Steinbeck story: conflicts between half-brothers, a father and his sons, and between a labor union and mill owners. The film is based on a novel by Ken Kesey (of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest fame), a famously impenetrable book that was significantly simplified for the film. Sometimes... is a bit uneven and the film has tonal issues, but it is an occasionally brilliant film with a typically ferocious performance from Paul Newman.

The tonal issues of Sometimes... begin from the very opening of the film, as "All His Children," the Academy Award nominated song plays over the opening. The song is an upbeat, jangly tune out of sync with the rest of the film. The film then meanders awhile before finding its central conflicts, the battle between two brothers. The film is ostensibly about the Stamper family's conflict with the local striking labor union, but this conflict is a backdrop to the more localized drama of the Stamper brothers. Paul Newman and Richard Jaeckel, and to a lesser extent Michael Sarrazin, are each compelling in their parts, and no one plays a patriarch like Henry Fonda.

The film is best known for its emotional and haunting climactic scene, which Newman both directs and acts without relent. There are many outstanding actors who act as if they were in a vacuum, failing to elevate the performances of those around them; Newman, however, always rose the talents of those he worked with. Sometimes a Great Notion is no exception, and the whole cast ups their game in their scenes with Newman, especially in the climax.

Sometimes... could have been much more, and the screenplay (written by John Gay) could have benefitted by digging a bit deeper into the conflicts of the Stamper family, giving the characters greater depth. Though it doesn't live up to its potential, it is still a carefully crafted and worthwhile film, and is a minor classic in the Paul Newman canon.

Remaining: 3172 films, 868 Oscars, 5450 nominations

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