Customer Review

109 of 115 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes a Cinematic Notion, April 11, 2002
This review is from: Sometimes a Great Notion [VHS] (VHS Tape)
OK, in fairness; I came to this film on the strength of my long, enduring affection for the work of Ken Kesey. Sometimes a Great Notion, the novel, is as dense and intense a read as one can find out there by any (and I mean ANY -- Faulkner, Hemingway, the works) American author. I've read this superb novel many times, and savored every word with every reading.
...then I saw the film.
Again, in fairness; I had doubts that ANY film under 2 hours would begin to do justice to the novel. I was right. I had suspicions that perhaps Paul Newman and Henry Fonda weren't quite, well, BIG AND TOUGH ENOUGH to do due justice to the Henry and Hank Stamper father/son team. I was almost right -- physically, they weren't the looming figures that roared across Kesey's pages. But Newman and Fonda ain't bad either, not by a long shot. Their abilities almost obscure the fact that they don't fully seem like lifelong lumberjacks from the wild coast of Oregon in the middle 20th century. They seem like superb Hollywood actors who are acting like lumberjacks. But that's OK, too. Fonda and Newman break even in my book, in terms of how they portray the fictional characters. I can't fault actors for scenes that aren't there, and my biggest problem with the film was a lack of depth -- the novel has several parallel, ongoing story lines that all weave together with magic and drama. By nature, cinema is a more linear story-telling device in that regard. Kesey's magnificent command of language, and voice, and perspective, and verb tenses helps to define this sprawling masterpiece -- that's a tough sell on the big (or little) screen.
I wish the cutting room had eaten a little less footage. The romance between Lee and Viv is, essentially, missing in action. And with it, the dramatic narrative that powers much of the core of the novel.
On the positive side, Richard Jaekel was excellent as Joby -- to the extent that he was on-screen. I found myself looking for his Christian aphorisms and life's-only-gettin'-better outlook, and finding less than I'd hoped for. Sure, he seems jolly enough half the time -- but I found myself wondering if that was because I KNEW he was supposed to be happy and full of Biblical jibberish. Again, the novel vs. the cinema -- and again, cinema fails where 600+ pages of copy succeed. The drowning scene, in fairness, is unforgettable. Of course, it was that way in Kesey's novel, too.
I'm glad to know Ken worked with Paul, as the film evolved. That Ken found the final product more successful than One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest-The Movie is a mixed blessing. I agreed with Ken about Cuckoo's Nest and Jack Nicholson (although I love Jack's work, too). I wish Ken were alive today, and perhaps he could shed some light on what he felt worked best in this film.
The Union sub-plot was touched on, but not fully explored. Same with the 'suicide'/death of Willard the theater owner (we never even learn he has a laundromat or a wife or any of the rich details that make him unforgettable in the book). Same with the love triangle. Same with the Stamper family history. The film was good, unquestionably, but not nearly as profound nor as deep as the novel.
With that said; go out and read the novel, and THEN sit down and watch the film. My vote goes for a RESTORED DVD RELEASE with whatever worthy footage was sacrificed for the Faux God of Running Time! This is an admittedly complex and far-reaching tale, and one that's hard put to do justice to itself in 112 minutes, give or take.
As is often the case, a great movie doesn't do justice to a great novel. In this case, it was almost impossible to succeed along those lines (Hey, does anybody PREFER the cinematic Moby Dick to the Melville novel? Case closed!).
On balance, Paul Newman and Henry Fonda and Lee Remick and Richard Jaekel in a Ken Kesey story...!? Does it GET better than that? Only Ken Kesey could have authored a novel that surpassed this film, talent and all. And he did! Check them both out -- book and film.
You'll be glad you did.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 19, 2006 3:05:59 PM PDT
I was a logger during the early 70's. With respect to the comment that Henry Fonda and Paul Newman weren't the looming figures of the Stampers in the novel. The best loggers aren't physically big. The best loggers were average sized, wiry guys who could get around in the brush well. Big guys just aren't as agile and their weight is a hindrance. Don't get me wrong, most guys were very strong as a result of the work. Henry Fonda looked just like some Bosses I worked for. And Paul Newman fit a foreman role well. He reminds me of a foreman I worked for in Thorne Bay, Alaska. Roy Filla, one of the most successful Gypo loggers in the history of the NorthWest was about 5 ft 4. He could clean anybody's clock though.

Posted on Jun 8, 2011 4:43:34 AM PDT
Julie Vognar says:
Cannot afford both. Will buy the book for now. (Saw the film on TV tonight).

Posted on Jan 27, 2013 12:17:05 AM PST
Drive-In Kid says:
You must have seen a different version of the film. The union storyline in the movie was a huge part of it. It is brought up numerous times and the Stampers actually fight with the union members on more than one occasion. The meeting with the union boss in the beginning was classic.

Willard's laundry mat is mentioned as his affair and the child out of town. He threatens to kill himself and he does. I wouldn't have cared less about learning about his wife.

I liked the fact that Lee didn't follow through with having an affair with Hank's wife in the film. He comes in to the situation as a the rebellious outsider but as the film goes on he ends up buying in to the Stamper philosophy and earning the respect of his father which was great.
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