One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

Movie


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

McMurphy has a criminal past and has once again gotten himself into trouble and is sentenced by the court. To escape labor duties in prison, McMurphy pleads insanity and is sent to a ward for the mentally unstable. Once here, McMurphy both endures and stands witness to the abuse and degradation of the oppressive Nurse Ratched, who gains superiority and power through the flaws of the other inmates. McMurphy and the other inmates band together to make a rebellious stance against the atrocious Nurse.
USA
IMDb   8.7 /10
Metacritic   83 %
TheMovieDb    8.4 /10
RottenTomatoes  94 %
FilmAffinity   8.3 /10
Information
Release Date1975-11-19
Runtime2h 13mins
GenreDrama
Content RatingR (R)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #18 | Won 5 Oscars. Another 32 wins & 15 nominations.
CompanyFantasy Films
CountryUSA
LanguageEnglish

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (film)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a 1975 American psychological comedy-drama film directed by Miloš Forman, based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey. The film stars Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy, a new patient at a mental institution, and features a supporting cast of Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, Danny DeVito, Sydney Lassick, William Redfield, as well as Christopher Lloyd and Brad Dourif in their film debuts.

Filming began in January 1975 and lasted three months, taking place on location in Salem, Oregon, and the surrounding area, as well as Depoe Bay on the north Oregon coast. The producers decided to shoot the film in the Oregon State Hospital, an actual mental hospital, as this was also the setting of the novel. The hospital still functions (as of 2021), though the original buildings seen in the film have been demolished.

Considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is No. 33 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies list.

The film was the second to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor in Lead Role, Actress in Lead Role, Director, and Screenplay) following It Happened One Night in 1934, an accomplishment not repeated until 1991 with The Silence of the Lambs. It also won numerous Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards. In 1993, the film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.


Plot

In 1963, Randle McMurphy is on an Oregon work farm for statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl. He gets himself transferred to a mental institution to avoid the hard labor. The ward is dominated by head nurse Mildred Ratched, a cold, passive-aggressive tyrant who intimidates her patients.

The other patients include young, anxious, stuttering Billy Bibbit; Charlie Cheswick, who is prone to temper tantrums; delusional, child-like Martini; the articulate, repressed homosexual Dale Harding; belligerent and profane Max Taber; epileptics Jim Sefelt and Bruce Fredrickson; quiet but violent-minded Scanlon; tall, deaf-mute Native American "Chief" Bromden; and several others with chronic conditions.

Ratched sees McMurphy's lively, rebellious presence as a threat to her authority, which she responds to by confiscating and rationing the patients' cigarettes and suspending their card-playing privileges. McMurphy finds himself in a battle of wills against Ratched. He steals a school bus, escaping with several patients to go fishing on the Pacific Ocean Coast and encouraging them to discover their own abilities and find self-confidence.

After an orderly tells him that the judge's time sentence doesn't apply for people who are deemed to be criminally insane, McMurphy makes plans to escape, encouraging Chief Bromden to throw a hydrotherapy console through a window. It is also revealed that McMurphy, Chief, and Taber are the only non-chronic patients involuntarily committed to the institution; the rest of them are self-committed and could leave at any time, but are too afraid to do so. After Cheswick bursts into a fit and demands his cigarettes, which had been rationed by Ratched, McMurphy fights with the orderlies, and Chief intervenes.

Ratched sends Chief, Cheswick, and McMurphy to the "shock shop" as a result of this insubordination. While awaiting their punishment, McMurphy offers Chief a stick of gum, and discovers he can speak and hear, having feigned his deaf-muteness to avoid engaging with anyone. After being subjected to electroconvulsive therapy, McMurphy returns to the ward pretending to be brain damaged, but then reveals that the treatment has made him even more determined to defeat Ratched. McMurphy and Chief make plans to escape, but decide to throw a secret Christmas party for their friends after Ratched and the orderlies leave for the night.

McMurphy sneaks two women, Candy and Rose, and bottles of alcohol into the ward; he bribes guard Turkle to allow this. After the party, McMurphy and Chief prepare to escape, inviting Billy to come with them. Billy refuses, but asks for a "date" with Candy; McMurphy arranges for him to have sex with her. McMurphy and the others get drunk, and McMurphy falls asleep instead of making his escape with Chief.

Ratched arrives in the morning to find the ward in disarray and most of the patients passed out. She discovers Billy and Candy together, and aims to embarrass Billy in front of everyone. Billy manages to overcome his stutter and stand-up to Ratched. When she threatens to tell his mother, Billy cracks under the pressure and reverts to stuttering. Ratched has him placed in the doctor's office. Moments later, McMurphy punches an orderly when trying to escape out of a window with the Chief, causing other orderlies to intervene. Meanwhile, Billy commits suicide by slitting his throat with broken glass. Ratched tries to ease the situation by calling for the day's routine to continue as usual, and an enraged McMurphy strangles Ratched. The orderlies subdue McMurphy, saving Ratched's life.

Some time later, Ratched is wearing a neck brace and speaking with a weak voice, and Harding now leads the now-unsuspended card-playing. McMurphy is nowhere to be found, leading to rumors that he has escaped. Later that night, Chief sees McMurphy being returned to his bed. He greets him, elated that McMurphy had kept his promise not to escape without him, but notices McMurphy is unresponsive and physically limp, and discovers lobotomy scars on his forehead. Chief tearfully hugs McMurphy and says, "You're coming with me," before smothering him to death with a pillow. He then lifts the hydrotherapy fountain off the floor, smashes it through the window gates, and escapes alone, all while the remaining inmates, having been woken up by the glass breaking noise, watch and cheer him on.


Cast

  • Jack Nicholson as Randle Patrick "R.P." McMurphy
  • Louise Fletcher as Nurse Mildred Ratched
  • Will Sampson as "Chief" Bromden
  • William Redfield as Dale Harding
  • Brad Dourif as Billy Bibbit
  • Sydney Lassick as Charlie Cheswick
  • Christopher Lloyd as Max Taber
  • Danny DeVito as Martini
  • Dean Brooks as Dr. John Spivey
  • William Duell as Jim Sefelt
  • Vincent Schiavelli as Bruce Frederickson
  • Michael Berryman as Ellis
  • Alonzo Brown as Attendant Miller
  • Mwako Cumbaka as Attendant Warren
  • Nathan George as Attendant Washington
  • Marya Small as Candy
  • Scatman Crothers as Night Guard Turkle
  • Phil Roth as Woolsey
  • Louisa Moritz as Rose
  • Peter Brocco as Col. Matterson
  • Delos V. Smith Jr. as Inmate Scanlon
  • Josip Elic as Inmate Bancini
  • Mimi Sarkisian as Nurse Pilbow
  • Ted Markland as Hap Arlich

Production

The title comes from a nursery rhyme read to Chief Bromden as a child by his grandmother, mentioned in the book:

Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn, Apple seed and apple thorn, Wire, briar, limber lock Three geese in a flock One flew East One flew West And one flew over the cuckoo's nest.

Actor Kirk Douglas—who had originated the role of McMurphy in the 1963–64 Broadway stage version of the Ken Kesey novel—had purchased the film rights to the story, and tried for a decade to bring it to the big screen, but was unable to find a studio willing to make it with him. Eventually, he sold the rights to his son Michael Douglas, who succeeded in getting the film produced—but the elder Douglas, by then nearly 60, was considered too old for the McMurphy role, Gene Hackman, James Caan, Marlon Brando, and Burt Reynolds were also considered, but all four turned down the role, which ultimately went to 38-year-old Jack Nicholson. Douglas brought in Saul Zaentz as co-producer.

The film's first screenwriter, Lawrence Hauben, introduced Douglas to the work of Miloš Forman, whose 1967 Czechoslovak film The Firemen's Ball had certain qualities that mirrored the goals of the present script. Forman flew to California and discussed the script page by page, outlining what he would do, in contrast with other directors who had been approached who were less than forthcoming. Forman wrote in 2012: "To me, was not just literature, but real life, the life I lived in Czechoslovakia from my birth in 1932 until 1968. The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not".

Zaentz, a voracious reader, felt an affinity with Kesey, and so after Hauben's first attempt he asked Kesey to write the screenplay. Kesey participated in the early stages of script development, but withdrew after creative differences with the producers over casting and narrative point of view; ultimately he filed suit against the production and won a settlement.

Hal Ashby, who had been an early consideration for director, suggested Jack Nicholson for the role of McMurphy. Nicholson had never played this type of role before. Production was delayed for about six months because of Nicholson's schedule. Douglas later stated in an interview that "that turned out to be a great blessing: it gave us the chance to get the ensemble right".

Casting

Danny DeVito, Douglas’ oldest friend, was the first to be cast, having played one of the patients, Martini, whom he plays in the subsequent film, in the 1971 off-Broadway production. Chief Bromden, played by Will Sampson, was found through the referral of Mel Lambert (who portrayed the harbormaster in the fishing scene), a used car dealer Douglas met on an airplane flight when Douglas told him they wanted a "big guy" to play the part. Lambert's father often sold cars to Native American customers and six months later called Douglas to say: "the biggest sonofabitch Indian came in the other day!"

Bud Cort was considered for the role of Billy Bibbit.

Miloš Forman had considered Shelley Duvall for the role of Candy; coincidentally, she, Nicholson, and Scatman Crothers (who portrays Turkle) would all later appear as part of the main cast of the 1980 film adaptation of The Shining. While screening Thieves Like Us (1974) to see if she was right for the role, he became interested in Louise Fletcher, who had a supporting role, for the role of Nurse Ratched. A mutual acquaintance, the casting director Fred Roos, had already mentioned Fletcher's name as a possibility. Even so, it took four or five meetings, over a year, (during which the role was offered to other actresses such as Jeanne Moreau, Colleen Dewhurst, Ellen Burstyn, Angela Lansbury, Anne Bancroft, and Geraldine Page) for Fletcher to secure the role of Nurse Ratched. Her final audition was late in 1974, with Forman, Zaentz, and Douglas. The day after Christmas, her agent called to say she was expected at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem on January 4 to begin rehearsals.

In 2016, Fletcher recalled that Nicholson's salary was "enormous", while the rest of the cast worked at or close to scale. She put in 11 weeks, earning $10,000 before taxes.

Rehearsals

Prior to commencement of filming, a week of rehearsals started on January 4, 1975, in Oregon, during which the actors watched the patients in their daily routine and at group therapy. Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher also witnessed electroconvulsive therapy being performed on a patient.

Filming

Filming began in January 1975, and concluded approximately three months later, and was shot on location in Salem, Oregon, and the surrounding area, as well as the coastal town of Depoe Bay, Oregon.

The producers decided to shoot the film in the Oregon State Hospital, an actual mental hospital, as this was also the setting of the novel. The hospital's director, Dean Brooks, was supportive of the filming and eventually ended up playing the character of Dr. John Spivey in the film. Brooks identified a patient for each of the actors to shadow, and some of the cast even slept on the wards at night. He also wanted to incorporate his patients into the crew, to which the producers agreed. Douglas recalls that it was not until later that he found out that many of them were criminally insane.

As Forman did not allow the actors to see the day's filming, this led to the cast losing confidence in him, while Nicholson also began to wonder about his performance. Douglas convinced Forman to show Nicholson something, which he did, and restored the actor's confidence.

Haskell Wexler was fired as cinematographer and replaced by Bill Butler. Wexler believed his dismissal was due to his concurrent work on the documentary Underground, in which the radical militant group the Weather Underground were being interviewed while hiding from the law. However, Forman said he had terminated Wexler's services over artistic differences. Both Wexler and Butler received Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, though Wexler said there was "only about a minute or two minutes in that film I didn't shoot".

According to Butler, Nicholson refused to speak to Forman: "... never talked to Miloš at all, he only talked to me".

The production went over the initial budget of $2 million and over-schedule, but Zaentz, who was personally financing the movie, was able to come up with the difference by borrowing against his company, Fantasy Records. The total production budget came to $4.4 million.


Release

The film premiered at the Sutton and Paramount Theatres in New York City on November 19, 1975. It was the second-highest-grossing film released in 1975 in the United States and Canada with a gross of $109 million, one of the seventh-highest-grossing films of all time at the time. As it was released toward the end of the year, most of its gross was in 1976 and was the highest-grosser for calendar year 1976 with rentals of $56.5 million.

Worldwide, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest grossed $163,250,000. The picture was the highest grossing film released by UA up to that time.


Reception

Critics praised the film, sometimes with reservations. Roger Ebert said:

Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a film so good in so many of its parts that there's a temptation to forgive it when it goes wrong. But it does go wrong, insisting on making larger points than its story really should carry, so that at the end, the human qualities of the characters get lost in the significance of it all. And yet, there are those moments of brilliance.

Ebert would later put the film on his "Great Movies" list. A.D. Murphy of Variety wrote a mixed review as well, as did Vincent Canby: Writing in The New York Times:

A comedy that can't quite support its tragic conclusion, which is too schematic to be honestly moving, but it is acted with such a sense of life that one responds to its demonstration of humanity if not to its programmed metaphors.

The film opened and closed with original music by composer Jack Nitzsche, featuring an eerie bowed saw (performed by Robert Armstrong) and wine glasses. On the score, reviewer Steven McDonald:

The edgy nature of the film extends into the score, giving it a profoundly disturbing feel at times–even when it appears to be relatively normal. The music has a tendency to always be a little off-kilter, and from time to time, it tilts completely over into a strange little world of its own ...

The film went on to win the "Big Five" Academy Awards at the 48th Oscar ceremony. These include the Best Actor for Jack Nicholson, Best Actress for Louise Fletcher, Best Direction for Forman, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman. The film currently has a 94% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on reviews from 83 critics, with an average rating of 9.10/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "The onscreen battle between Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher serves as a personal microcosm of the culture wars of the 1970s – and testament to the director's vision that the film retains its power more than three decades later."

Kesey himself claimed never to have seen the movie, but said he disliked what he knew of it, a fact confirmed by Chuck Palahniuk, who wrote, "The first time I heard this story, it was through the movie starring Jack Nicholson. A movie that Kesey once told me he disliked."

In 1993, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.


Awards and nominations

AwardCategoryNominee(s)Result
Academy AwardsBest PictureMichael Douglas and Saul ZaentzWon
Best DirectorMiloš FormanWon
Best ActorJack NicholsonWon
Best ActressLouise FletcherWon
Best Supporting ActorBrad DourifNominated
Best Screenplay – Adapted from Other MaterialLawrence Hauben and Bo GoldmanWon
Best CinematographyHaskell Wexler and Bill ButlerNominated
Best Film EditingRichard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon KahnNominated
Best Original ScoreJack NitzscheNominated
American Cinema Editors AwardsBest Edited Feature FilmRichard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon KahnNominated
Bodil AwardsBest Non-European FilmMiloš FormanWon
British Academy Film AwardsBest FilmWon
Best DirectionMiloš FormanWon
Best Actor in a Leading RoleJack NicholsonWon
Best Actress in a Leading RoleLouise FletcherWon
Best Actor in a Supporting RoleBrad DourifWon
Best ScreenplayLawrence Hauben and Bo GoldmanNominated
Best CinematographyHaskell Wexler and Bill ButlerNominated
Best EditingRichard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon KahnWon
Chicago International Film FestivalBest FeatureMiloš FormanNominated
César AwardsBest Foreign FilmNominated
David di Donatello AwardsBest Foreign DirectorMiloš FormanWon
Best Foreign ActorJack NicholsonWon
Directors Guild of America AwardsOutstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion PicturesMiloš FormanWon
Golden Globe AwardsBest Motion Picture – DramaWon
Best Actor in a Motion Picture – DramaJack NicholsonWon
Best Actress in a Motion Picture – DramaLouise FletcherWon
Best Director – Motion PictureMiloš FormanWon
Best Screenplay – Motion PictureLawrence Hauben and Bo GoldmanWon
New Star of the Year – ActorBrad DourifWon
Golden Screen AwardsWon
Grammy AwardsBest Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television SpecialJack NitzscheNominated
Kansas City Film Critics Circle AwardsBest DirectorMiloš FormanWon
Kinema Junpo AwardsBest Foreign DirectorWon
Los Angeles Film Critics Association AwardsBest FilmWon
Nastro d'ArgentoBest Foreign DirectorMiloš FormanWon
National Board of Review AwardsTop Ten Films3rd Place
Best ActorJack NicholsonWon
National Film Preservation BoardNational Film RegistryInducted
National Society of Film Critics AwardsBest ActorJack NicholsonWon
New York Film Critics Circle AwardsBest ActorWon
Best Supporting ActressLouise FletcherRunner-up
Online Film & Television Association AwardsHall of Fame – Motion PictureWon
People's Choice AwardsFavorite Motion PictureWon
Sant Jordi AwardsBest Foreign ActorJack Nicholson (also for Carnal Knowledge and The Passenger)Won
Writers Guild of America AwardsBest Drama Adapted from Another MediumLawrence Hauben and Bo GoldmanWon

In 2015, the film ranked 59th on BBC's "100 Greatest American Films" list, voted on by film critics from around the world.

American Film Institute

  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies – #20
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains: Nurse Ratched – #5 Villain R.P. McMurphy - Nominated Hero
  • Nurse Ratched – #5 Villain
  • R.P. McMurphy - Nominated Hero
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Cheers – #17
  • AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) – #33