Sometimes a Great Notion is a good, if plot-sprawling, outdoor action film set in Northwest lumber country, about a family of individualists fighting a town and a union. Paul Newman directed, produced, and stars as the crown prince to family patriarch Henry Fonda.
John Gay’s adaptation of Ken Kesey’s novel tries to balance the intellectual angles – Fonda’s rigorous adherence to a principle, Newman’s unending follow-through after disaster, and Michael Sarrazin’s maturity from a self-indulgent drop-out. The result is rather good – a sort of contemporary ‘western’ in the timber territory.
Fonda’s performance is perhaps his first in a crotchety characterization; there is an artistic overrun, however, which makes the character seem semi-senile instead of rock-ribbed noble. Lee Remick is too chic and sophisticated for her nothing part as Newman’s concerned wife.
Sarrazin and Newman come off the best, the latter again in the kind of believable melodramatic role which first made him a star, the former in a demanding role which begins with drop-out petulance mixed with fraternal enmity.
1971: Nominations: Best Supp. Actor (Richard Jaekel), Song (‘All His Children’)