Pity the stubborn Stampers. Or admire them; it's easy to do both. The rise-at-4am Oregonian clan, including gruff patriarch Henry (Fonda) and his boys, half-bothers Hank Jr. (Newman) and Joe Ben (Oscar nominee Jaeckel), refuse to join their town's lumber strike. The Stampers' go-it-alone philosophy---dismissing neighborhood threats from "pinko" unions and insisting on fulfilling a logging contract with an outside vendor---will prove to be its downfall. But damn if they won't go down swinging.
This film version of Ken Kesey's acclaimed Northwest opus is a dazzling oddity: simultaneously melodramatic and stoic, goofy and majestic, rousing and devastating. More than anything, though, this blue-collar-lit melodrama is defiant, which is the most apt way to categorize a movie that doesn't even agree with its own name (the opening credits trumpet "Never Give an Inch"---the official Stamper family motto). Some hard objects need only a light tap before they shatter, and when this family starts to come apart, the spectacle is breathtaking. Movies are lucky to have one jaw-dropping moment; this one has a string of them, right up until the final go-screw-yourself shot. Actor-director Newman steers the tonally baroque story with the same low-key technique he brought to acting, and the way he captures the lumberjack ethos practically puts calluses on the celluloid. It's not a classic, in the sense of being perfectly formed. But the craft work is one of a kind.