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Filmfacts and the ^Var review mistakenly list the character of "Joe Ben" as "Henry Stamper's" son. In 1977, the film was released on television under the title Never Give an Inch. It was subsequently re-released theatrically under its original title, which was the title of the print viewed. Sometimes a Great Notion was based on the Ken Kesey novel of the same name, the first of his books to be adapted into a film. The Los Angeles Times review stated that Sam Peckinpah and Budd Boetticher had both expressed interest in directing an adaptation of Kesey's book. In February 1969, Daily Variety announced that Paul Newman planned to direct Sometimes a Great Notion the following summer. An April 1969 Daily Variety news item stated that the film might be shot in Canada. By May 1970, Daily Variety noted that Richard A. Colla had been set to direct the film, which would be a Jennings Lang presentation. Lang, the then-vice-president of Universal Films, was not listed in the onscreen credits.
The incidents in the film were generally faithful to those in the book; however, many aspects of the book were not included in the film. As noted in the LAHExam review, "Henry Stamper" is portrayed in the novel as fierce, self-reliant and tyrannical, while the movie depicts him as a lovable eccentric. In addition, although in the novel "Leeland Stamper," an urban sophisticate, wants to destroy "Hank Stamper," a rugged individualist, and comes to learn that Hank's ways have value, in the film the brothers' issues are restricted to personal ones.
After five weeks of filming, as noted in a July 23, 1970 Daily Variety article, Colla left the production because of "artistic differences over photographic concept" as well as an upcoming throat operation. Around that time, star-producer Paul Newman broke his ankle, necessitating a temporary shutdown of the production beginning July 29, 1970. As noted in a August 7, 1970 Hollywood Reporter news item, filming resumed two weeks later with Newman as director. Although the July 1970 Daily Variety article stated that the change might be temporary and that Stuart Rosenberg was being considered as a permanent replacement, Newman retained directorial duties and received sole onscreen credit as director. A modern source stated that Newman considered George Roy Hill to take over direction, and although Hill declined, he helped to edit Newman's footage.
The production, which was shot entirely on location in and around Newport, OR, continued into October 1970, after which, according to Filmfacts, Newman encountered difficulties with editing the footage. Filmfacts stated that several scenes were deleted in the editing process, including a sequence in which Lee has an affair with "Viv Stamper," prompting Hank to beat his brother savagely. Due to the production overruns and editing issues, as noted in the Variety review, the film's final cost was considerably higher than its original budget of $3.66 million.
Reviews, which were mixed, pointed out that Henry Stamper marked the first mostly unsympathetic character that Henry Fonda had ever played. Richard Jaeckel was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, and "All His Children" was nominated for Best Song. In June 1987, as noted in a Los Angeles Times article, Newman sued Universal and MCA, Inc. for $3 million, contending that they owed him profits from the film and three others. The disposition of the suit has not been determined.