One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Warner Home Video 37463
Color - 133 min
Released 16 December 1997
List Price: $24.98
2-Disc Keep Case
1 : USA
Closed Captioning: CC
Master format: Film
Sides: 2 (SS-RSDL)
Chapter stops: 48
English, French, Spanish
Audio commentary by director Milos Forman, producers 'Michael Douglas' and Saul Zaentz
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Roger Ebert / Jan 1, 1975
There is a curiously extended closeup of Jack Nicholson about four-fifths of the way through "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." We notice it because it lingers noticeably. It shows his character, R.P. McMurphy, lost in thought. It comes at the balancing point between the pranks and laughter of the earlier parts of the film, and the final descent into tragedy. What is he thinking? Is he planning new defiance, or realizing that all is lost?
The mystery of what McMurphy is thinking is the mystery of the movie. It all leads up to a late scene where he is found asleep on the floor next to an open window. By deciding not to escape, he has more or less chosen his own fate. Has his life force run out at last? After his uprising against the mental institution, after the inmates' rebellion that he led, after his life-affirming transformations of Billy and the Chief, after his comeback from an initial dose of shock therapy, has he come at last to the end of his hope?
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975) is on every list of favorite films. It was the first film since "It Happened One Night" (1934) to win all five of the top Academy Awards, for best picture, actor (Nicholson), actress (Louise Fletcher), director (Milos Forman) and screenplay (Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman). It could for that matter have won, too, for cinematography (Haskell Wexler) and editing (Richard Chew). I was present at its world premiere, at the 1975 Chicago Film Festival, in the 3,000-seat Uptown Theatre, and have never heard a more tumultuous reception for a film (no, not even during "E.T." at Cannes). After the screening, the young first-time co-producer, Michael Douglas, wandered the lobby in a daze.
But what did the audience, which loved the film so intensely, think it was about? The film is remembered as a comedy about the inmate revolt led by McMurphy, and the fishing trip, the all-night orgy, and his defiance of Nurse Ratched (Fletcher)--but in fact it is about McMurphy's defeat. One can call it a moral victory, and rejoice in the Chief's escape, but that is small consolation for McMurphy.
The film is based on Ken Kesey's 1962 best-selling novel, which Pauline Kael observed "contained the prophetic essence of the whole Vietnam period of revolutionary politics going psychedelic." Toned down for the 1970s into a parable about society's enforcement of conformism, it almost willfully overlooked the realities of mental illness in order to turn the patients into a group of cuddly characters ripe for McMurphy's cheerleading. We discover that the Chief is not really mute, Billy need not stutter, and others need not be paralyzed by shyness or fear. They will be cured not by Nurse Ratched's pills, Muzak and discussion groups, but by McMurphy liberating them to be guys--to watch the World Series on TV, go fishing, play pick-up basketball, get drunk, get laid. The message for these wretched inmates is: Be like Jack.
The movie's simplistic approach to mental illness is not really a fault of the movie, because it has no interest in being about insanity. It is about a free spirit in a closed system. Nurse Ratched, who is so inflexible, so unseeing, so blandly sure she is right, represents Momism at its radical extreme, and McMurphy is the Huck Finn who wants to break loose from her version of civilization. The movie is among other things profoundly fearful of women; the only two portrayed positively are McMurphy's hooker friends Candy and Rose. I mean this as an observation, not a criticism.
McMurphy's past is hinted at early in the film; he was sentenced to a prison farm for criminal assault against an underage girl ("she told me she was 18"), and has been sent to the mental institution for "evaluation." He is 38 years old, obviously a hell-raiser, and yet deeply democratic: He takes the patients at face value, treats their illnesses as choices that can be reversed, and tries by sheer force of will to bust them loose into a taste of freedom. The movie sees the patients in the same way. The photography and editing supply reaction shots that almost always have the same message: A given patient's fixed expression is misinterpreted because of the new context supplied by McMurphy. Consider the scene where McMurphy has stolen the boat and has his friends on board. When he is questioned, he introduces them all as doctors, and there are quick cuts to closeups of each one looking doctorly on cue. This has nothing to do with mental illness but everything to do with comedy.
Nicholson's performance is one of the high points in a long career of enviable rebels. Jack is a beloved American presence, a superb actor who even more crucially is a superb male sprite. The joke lurking beneath the surface of most of his performances is that he gets away with things because he knows how to, wants to, and has the nerve to. His characters stand for freedom, anarchy, self-gratification and bucking the system, and often they also stand for generous friendship and a kind of careworn nobility. The key to the success of his work in "About Schmidt" is that he conceals these qualities--he becomes one of the patients, instead of the liberating McMurphy.
If his performance is justly celebrated, Louise Fletcher's, despite the Oscar, is not enough appreciated. This may be because her Nurse Ratched is so thoroughly contemptible, and because she embodies so completely the qualities we all (men and women) have been taught to fear in a certain kind of female authority figure--a woman who has subsumed sexuality and humanity into duty and righteousness. Dressed in her quasi-military nurse's costume, with its little hat and its Civil War-style cape, she is dominatrix and warden, followed everywhere by the small, unspeaking nurse who is her acolyte.
Because we respond so strongly to her we hardly see Fletcher's performance. But watch her preternatural calm, her impassive "fairness," her inflexible adherence to the rules, as in the scene where she demands McMurphy get a majority vote in order to turn on the World Series on TV--this despite the fact that a majority of the patients don't understand what they are voting on. At the end, when McMurphy's final fate is decided upon, note how the male administrator tentatively suggests he be sent back to the prison farm, but Ratched firmly contradicts him: "We must not pass our responsibilities on to someone else."
Is "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" not a great film because it is manipulative, or is it great because it is so superbly manipulative? I can see it through either filter. It remains enduringly popular as an anti-establishment parable, but achieves its success by deliberately choosing to use the mental patients as comic caricatures. This decision leads to the fishing trip, which is at once the most popular, and the most false, scene in the movie. It is McMurphy's great joyous thumb in the eye to Ratched and her kind, but the energy of the sequence cannot disguise the unease and confusion of men who, in many cases, have no idea where they are, or why.
Consider by comparison the quiet, late-night speech by the Chief (Will Sampson), who speaks of his father. This is a window into a real character with real problems, who has chosen to be considered deaf and mute rather than talk about them. McMurphy's treatment works for him, and leads up to the sad perfection of the very final scenes--during which, if he could see them, McMurphy would be proud of his star pupil.
Milos Forman, born in Czechoslovakia in 1932, has become one of the great interpreters of American manners and mores. A leader of the Czech New Wave, his early films like "Loves of a Blonde" (1965) and "The Fireman's Ball" (1968) won worldwide audiences their use of paradoxical humor. (In what was seen as a parable of life under communism, the firemen arrive too late to save a barn, but when the farmer complains of the cold, they helpfully move him closer to the flames).
After the "Prague spring" came the Soviet crackdown, and Forman fled to America, where he has had extraordinary success (his "Amadeus" in 1984, produced by "Cuckoo" co-producer Saul Zaentz, won seven Oscars, including best picture and director). Look at the quintessentially American topics of his films: The runaway young people and conventional parents of "Taking Off" (1971), the anti-war musical "Hair" (1979), the New York historical romance "Ragtime" (1981), the defense of a rabble-rouser in "The People vs. Larry Flynt" (1996), the portrait of the McMurphy-like prankster Andy Kaufman in "Man on the Moon" (1999). He sees his adopted land in terms of its best nonconformist and outsider traditions, at a time when conformity is the new creed. His McMurphy succeeds and prevails as a character, despite the imperfections of the film, because he represents that cleansing spirit that comes along now and again to renew us.
Box Office Information
SEK 18,522,458 (Sweden) ( 1978)
199,306 (Spain) ( 1987) (reissue)
3,677,050 (Spain) ( 1975) (release)
1,005,303 (Sweden) ( 1976)
6 January 1975 - March 1975
Academy Awards, USA
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Best Actress in a Leading Role
'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' became the first film in 41 years to sweep the major categories of best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay.
Best Writing, Screenplay Adapted From Other Material
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Best Film Editing
Best Music, Original Score
The role of McMurphy was originally offered to James Caan.
Will Sampson, who plays Chief, was a park ranger in Oregon near the park where the movie was filmed. He was selected for the part because he was the only Native American that casting could find who matched the character's incredible size.
Kirk Douglas possessed the movie rights for a long time, before his son Michael Douglas finally started the project.
Many extras were authentic mental patients.
Kirk Douglas starred in the 1963 Broadway production after buying the film rights prior to publication; he later passed the film rights to his son Michael Douglas, but kept a percentage of the profits. Every major studio had declined to make the film during the period he was trying to star in it. Kirk Douglas had met Milos Forman in Prague while on a State Department tour and promised to send him the book after deciding he would be a good director for the film; the book never arrived, probably confiscated by communist Czech censors. Ken Kesey wrote a screenplay for the production, but Forman rejected it because Kesey insisted on keeping Chief Bromden's first-person narration.
Louise Fletcher was signed a week before filming began, after auditioning repeatedly over six months; director Milos Forman had told her each time that she just wasn't approaching the part correctly, but kept calling her back.
Danny DeVito reprised his performance from a 1971 off-Broadway revival.
The cast and crew had to become accustomed to working with extras and supporting crew members who were inmates at the Oregon State Mental Hospital; each member of the professional cast and crew inevitably worked closely with at least two or three mental patients.
Most of Jack Nicholson's scene with Dean R. Brooks upon arriving at the hospital was improvised - including his slamming a stapler, asking about a fishing photo, and discussing his rape conviction; Brooks's reactions were authentic.
Before shooting began, director Milos Forman screened the film Titicut Follies (1967) for the cast to help them get a feel for life in a mental institution.
Mel Lambert, who played the harbor master, was a local businessman rather than an actor; he had a strong relationship with Native Americans throughout the area, and it was he who suggested Will Sampson for the role of Chief Bromden.
With the exception of the fishing segment (which was filmed last), the film was shot in sequence.
Director Milos Forman relied heavily on reaction shots to pull more characters into scenes. In some group therapy scenes, there were ten minutes of Jack Nicholson's reactions filmed even if he had very little dialogue. The shot of Louise Fletcher looking icily at Nicholson after he returns from shock therapy was actually her irritated reaction to a piece of direction from Forman.
The script called for McMurphy to leap on a guard and kiss him when first arriving at the hospital. During filming, director Milos Forman decided that the guard's reaction wasn't strong enough and told Nicholson to jump on the other guard instead. This surprised the actor playing the second guard greatly, and in some versions he can be seen punching Nicholson.
There is a rumour that Jack Nicholson underwent ECT therapy during the scene where his character does.
Film debuts of Brad Dourif (who received a "Best Supporting Actor" Academy Award nomination), Christopher Lloyd and Will Sampson, as well as Tom McCall (former governor of Oregon) and Dr. Dean R. Brooks, superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, the film's main shooting location.
Kirk Douglas, who owned the rights, planned to star himself, but by the time they got around to making the film he was too old.
Ken Kesey, who wrote the original novel, said he would never watch the movie version and even sued the movie's producers because it wasn't shown from Chief Bromden's perspective (as the novel is).
Cameo: [Saul Zaentz] [- the film's producer appears as a man at the inmates' bus outing.]
Cameo: [Anjelica Huston] Jack Nicholson's one-time girlfriend appears as one of the crowd on the pier as the fishing excursion returns.
Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, and Angela Lansbury were all offered the role of Nurse Ratched.
Louise Fletcher only realized that the part of Nurse Ratched was a hotly contested role among all the leading actresses of the day when a reporter visiting the set happened to casually mention it.
Jack Nicholson disappeared two months before filming started. His absence was due to having hair plugs implanted.
This story was based on author Ken Kesey's experiences while working at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, California.
The fishing trip sequence was filmed at Depoe Bay, Oregon - the smallest harbor in the world.
Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman were offered the McMurphy role before Jack Nicholson.
In order to produce the film, Michael Douglas quit the show "The Streets of San Francisco" (1972).
This was the second film to win the grand slam of the Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director (Milos Forman), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor and Best Actress. The first was It Happened One Night (1934), four decades earlier.
Though veteran cinematographer Haskell Wexler is credited here as DP, he was actually replaced by Bill Butler early in the shoot due to various creative differences with producer Michael Douglas.
Author Ken Kesey was so bitter about the way the filmmakers were "butchering" his story that he vowed never to watch the completed film. Years later, he claimed to be lying in bed flipping through TV channels when he settled onto a late-night movie that looked sort of interesting, only to realize after a few minutes that it was this film. He then changed channels.
During most of the film's shooting, William Redfield was ill. He died several months after the film was completed.
According to Michael Douglas, director Milos Forman had his heart set on Burt Reynolds to play the part of McMurphy.
Continuity: McMurphy's hat when strangling Nurse Ratched.
Boom mike visible: [top]: a black mike standing out against the white ceiling.
Continuity: When the doctors bring back Randle McMurphy from his treatment, they walk in, one doctor puts down his doctor bag, they lay Randle down, and as they walk out the doctor bag has disappeared and neither one is carrying it out.
Crew or equipment visible: During the basketball game, McMurphy runs to the edge of the court, the camera follows and, for a moment, reveals an assortment of film production equipment including lighting stands, C-stands, lighting gels and even a crew member. Only visible in the wide screen version.
Continuity: In the "Voluntary/Involuntary" scene, McMurphy goes from having a "five o'clock shadow" to being clean shaved, then back to having stubble.
Crew or equipment visible: As McMurphy dances with one of the patients while trying to convince more people to vote in favor of watching the World Series, the shadow of a camera is plainly visible on their backs.
Continuity: In the voluntary/committed scene, the writing on the chalkboard behind nurses Ratched and Itsu is different in three different shots of them (widescreen version).
Audio/visual unsynchronized: When McMurphy is "announcing" the baseball game, his reflection in the darkened TV set does not match the audio track.
Continuity: Differences in clothing between McMurphy and his stunt double when McMurphy drops to the ground on the other side of the fence.
Anachronisms: After McMurphy hijacks the bus and is driving through town, there are some 1970s automobiles, including a Plymouth Duster and Chevy Nova, and a store with lots of color TVs in the window. The movie is set in 1963.
Anachronisms: Just before McMurphy climbs over the fence to hide in the bus, what looks to be a Ford Pinto can be seen in the hospital parking lot.
Continuity: After McMurphy, Harding drinks the medicine with his right hand. In the next shot he is finishing to drink with his left hand and holding a newspaper with the right hand.
Continuity: When Cheswick is spilling the drink from the bottle to the jar, it is colorless. But when he is dumping the drink, with the hose, in the mouth of the patients, it is red.
Movie Filming Locations
Depoe Bay, Oregon, USA
Oregon State Mental Hospital - 2600 Center Street NE, Salem, Oregon, USA
Salem, Oregon, USA
Specijalno vaspitanje (1977)
Times Square (1980)
Student Bodies (1981)
Monkey Shines (1988)
The Dream Team (1989)
Death Becomes Her (1992)
The Who's Tommy, the Amazing Journey (1993)
Drug-Taking and the Arts (1994)
Color of Night (1994)
Ice Cream Man (1995)
Twelve Monkeys (1995)
Bordello of Blood (1996)
A Smile Like Yours (1997)
Hav Plenty (1997)
Scream 2 (1997)
The Wedding Singer (1998)
Relax... It's Just Sex (1998)
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (1998) (TV)
Návrat idiota (1999)
The Green Mile (1999)
Girl, Interrupted (1999)
The Sinister Saga of Making 'The Stunt Man' (2000) (V)
Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Krieger und die Kaiserin, Der (2000)
Who Is Bernard Tapie? (2001)
Bicho de Sete Cabeças (2001)
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
The Omen Legacy (2001) (TV)
Hello, He Lied & Other Truths From the Hollywood Trenches (2002) (TV)
Reel Radicals: The Sixties Revolution in Film (2002) (TV)
About Schmidt (2002)
So schnell Du kannst (2002) (TV)
Final Destination 2 (2003)
'Catch Me If You Can': Behind the Camera (2003) (V)
Finding Nemo (2003)
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains (2003) (TV)
The Year of the Rat (2003) (V)
Something's Gotta Give (2003)
Chump Change (2004)
Saving Star Wars (2004)
The China Syndrome: A Fusion of Talent (2004) (V)
The China Syndrome: Creating a Controversy (2004) (V)
Precious Images (1986)
Oscar's Greatest Moments (1992) (V)
Love & Human Remains (1993)
The 65th Annual Academy Awards (1993) (TV)
The 69th Annual Academy Awards (1997) (TV)
The 70th Annual Academy Awards (1998) (TV)
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (1998) (TV)
A Decade Under the Influence (2003)
The 75th Annual Academy Awards (2003) (TV)
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains (2003) (TV)
The Ultimate Film (2004) (TV)
High Anxiety (1977)
Morons from Outer Space (1985)
The Brave Little Toaster (1987)
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988)
High School High (1996)
Good Burger (1997)
Is It Fall Yet? (2000) (TV)
Say It Isn't So (2001)
Anger Management (2003)
The Making of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' (2002) (V)
Shock Corridor (1963)
Full Cast and Crew
Writing credits (in alphabetical order)
Ken Kesey novel
Cast (in credits order) verified as complete
Jack Nicholson .... Randle Patrick McMurphy
Louise Fletcher .... Nurse Mildred Ratched
William Redfield .... Harding
Michael Berryman .... Ellis
Peter Brocco .... Colonel Matterson
Dean R. Brooks .... Dr. John Spivey
Alonzo Brown .... Miller
Scatman Crothers .... Orderly Turkle
Mwako Cumbuka .... Attendant Warren
Danny DeVito .... Martini
William Duell .... Jim Sefelt
Josip Elic .... Bancini
Lan Fendors .... Nurse Itsu
Nathan George .... Attendant Washington
Ken Kenny .... Beans Garfield
Mel Lambert .... Harbormaster
Sydney Lassick .... Charlie Cheswick
Kay Lee .... Night nurse
Christopher Lloyd .... Taber
Dwight Marfield .... Ellsworth, Dancing Patient
Ted Markland .... Hap Arlich
Louisa Moritz .... Rose
Philip Roth .... Woolsey (as Phil Roth)
Will Sampson .... Chief Bromden
Mimi Sarkisian .... Nurse Pilbow
Vincent Schiavelli .... Frederickson
Mews Small .... Candy (as Marya Small)
Delos V. Smith Jr. .... Scanlon
Tin Welch .... Ruckley
Brad Dourif .... Billy Bibbit
rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Anjelica Huston .... Woman in Crowd on Pier (uncredited)
Tom McCall .... News Commentator (uncredited)
Saul Zaentz .... Captain on Shore (uncredited)
Michael Douglas .... producer
Martin Fink .... associate producer
Saul Zaentz .... producer
Original Music by
Film Editing by
Production Design by
Art Direction by
Gerry Leetch .... hair stylist
Fred B. Phillips .... makeup artist (as Fred Phillips)
Joel Douglas .... unit production manager
Irving Saraf .... post-production supervisor
Joel Chernoff .... executive in charge of production (uncredited)
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Irby Smith .... first assistant director
Bill St. John .... second assistant director (as William St. John)
Joe Acord .... construction coordinator
Tom Bartholemew .... production painter
Terry E. Lewis .... props
Rudy Reachi .... assistant property master (uncredited)
Mark Berger .... post-production sound director
Pat Jackson .... sound editor
Larry Jost .... sound recordist (as Lawrence Jost)
Mary McGlone .... sound editor
Robert R. Rutledge .... sound editor (as Robert Rutledge)
Kirk Schuler .... assistant sound editor
Veronica Selver .... sound editor
Ted Whitfield .... music editor
Gene Radzik .... Dolby consultant: 2001 5.1 remix (uncredited)
Alan Gibbs .... stunts (uncredited)
Bill Butler .... additional photographer
Richard Chew .... supervising editor
Arthur Coburn .... assistant film editor (as Art Coburn)
Dick Colean .... camera operator
Natalie Drache .... script supervisor
Constance Field .... assistant film editor
Wayne Fitzgerald .... title designer
William A. Fraker .... additional photographer (as William Fraker)
Hugh K. Gagnier .... camera operator
Aggie Guerard Rodgers .... costumes (as Agnes Rodgers)
George Hill .... key grip
Gary Holt .... gaffer
Bonnie Koehler .... assistant film editor
Rhonda Kramer .... production office coordinator
Leonard Lipton .... production assistant
Dennis Marks .... gaffer
Jay Miracle .... assistant film editor
Walter Nichols .... best boy
Frank Noonan .... location auditor
Denise Schreiter .... location coordinator
Peter Sorel .... still photographer
Robert M. Stevens .... camera operator (as Robert Stevens)
Bill Tenny .... gaffer
Robert C. Thomas .... camera operator (as Robert Thomas)
Tom F. Thomas .... transportation captain (as Tom Thomas)
Dale Wasserman .... singer
Doug Willis .... best boy
Jim Young .... location auditor
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -