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One of the key movies of the 1970s, when exciting, groundbreaking, personal films were still being made in Hollywood, Milos Forman’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest emphasized the humanistic story at the heart of Ken Kesey’s more hallucinogenic novel. Jack Nicholson was born to play the part of Randle Patrick McMurphy, the rebellious inmate of a psychiatric hospital who fights back against the authorities’ cold attitudes of institutional superiority, as personified by Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). It’s the classic antiestablishment tale of one man asserting his individuality in the face of a repressive, conformist system–and it works on every level. Forman populates his film with memorably eccentric faces, and gets such freshly detailed and spontaneous work from his ensemble that the picture sometimes feels like a documentary. Unlike a lot of films pitched at the “youth culture” of the 1970s, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest really hasn’t dated a bit, because the qualities of human nature that Forman captures–playfulness, courage, inspiration, pride, stubbornness–are universal and timeless. The film swept the Academy Awards for 1976, winning in all the major categories (picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay) for the first time since Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night in 1931. –Jim Emerson
Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Brad Dourif. Based on Ken Kesey’s bestseller, this riveting story of a rebellious inmate who challenges the authorities at a mental institution garnered nine Oscar-® nominations. Among the five winners-Jack Nicholson for Best Actor, Louise Fletcher for Best Actress, Milos Forman for Best Director and Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz for Best Picture.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
84 of 94 people found the following review helpful
Great Adaptation December 12, 2002
By Bruce Kendall VINE™ VOICE
Milos Forman has always had a knack for assembling great ensemble casts. This is particularly true in his most critically acclaimed releases (Taking Off, Amadeus and this film). It would be difficult indeed to come up with actors and actresses who were better suited to fill the roles in OFOTCN. This is true in terms of both the stars, Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher, and the secondary characters. Who could have been a better Harding than William Redfield? A better Billy Bibbit than Brad Dourif? A better Cheswick than Sydney Lassick? And most especially, a better Chief Bromden than Will Sampson?
I rank this movie as the best of the best of what I consider to be American Cinema’s golden decade, the 70s. It certainly won the widest acclaim, with its sweep of the major Oscars for 1975 (Nicholson also won best actor from the New York Film Critics voters that year).
Not to be overlooked is the fantastic job performed by the film’s adaptors, Bo Goldman and Lawrence Hauben, who also won Oscars for their screenplay. True, they did have a fairly decent stage version (by Dale Wasserman) to work with. I remember seeing an excellent production of the play, with a terrific cast, in San Francisco circa 1972. Just as an aside, I read in the Norton Critical edition of the novel, a review of a NY production of the play by Walter Kerr that was an absolute pan. Suffice it to say that the movie is much different than either the novel or the play. Those familiar with Kesey’s great novel understand how difficult a transfer from page to screen would be; about a third of the story is Bromden’s delusional interior monologue. The final script, quite rightly, focuses almost exclusively on Randal P McMurphy’s struggle with Nurse Ratched for the hearts and minds of the inmates.
This is truly a gut and soul-wrenching movie, with many moments of high maniacal comedy interspersed. Though many of his other films are top-notch, this is Forman’s masterpiece. If you haven’t read the book, read it. It you don’t own this movie, buy it. There are few works in the history of American literature and film that are superior.
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Sights, Sounds and Images in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest October 14, 1999
By A Customer
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
The film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is adapted from a novel of the same name written by Ken Kesey. The movie carries with it symbolism through color, sounds, and images and the casting could not have been more proper. Jack Nicholson is cast in the lead role as Randle Patrick McMurphy, a ne’er-do-well who goes into a mental institution to finish off his jail sentence. He figures it will be more slack than the work farm. His nemesis is Nurse Ratched, cast and played extraordinarily by Louise Fletcher. The movie does well in incorporating feelings and colors that surround the viewer with the mental institution’s atmosphere. And the sounds and images put forth by director Milos Forman add to that ambiance. One of the film’s biggest successes lies in the cinematography (or lack thereof). Virtually all the scenes, even when the inmates go outside, are bleak and dreary. The lighting in the institution is the fluorescent, white-out type of lighting. Every slippery hospital surface is revealed and the viewer can almost smell the hospital cleaning fluids emanating from the screen. The hospital has no bright happy colors, either. It is filmed in the dim blues and greys of the ward that resemble the patients’ despair. The patients are dressed in dim grey as well and the nurse, as always, wears stark white. The nurse’s appearance also holds symbolism in it. Her uniform is always perfectly pressed. And her hat is always on straight. She represents order and authority, and her uniform is one symbolic affect of that order. It totally contrasts the patient’s mien – always disheveled, wearing demeaning hospital robes. The director uses wonderfully disenchanting sounds to relate to the audience the pain and helplessness of the patients. One patient is constantly remarking how tired he is and other characters are constantly stuttering and “acting weird.” Random yells echo throughout the halls. The echo allows for the hospital’s feeling of emptiness and loneliness and gives it a cavernous feel. Its halls are never ending and escape from this institution is futile. The echoes bounce off every surface, trapping each patient in their own madness. The use of hospital noises and colors add to the realistic scenery of the film. It is masterfully done, and each audience member is forced to go through the pain and despair of the patients. The subject matter has always been one I like. The ragamuffin character comes in and saves all the horribly despondent people from pure emotional distress. As if those patients didn’t have it bad enough, they are constantly being controlled by the Big Nurse. She represents order, authority – the Establishment. And these poor souls are putting their lives in her hands, only for her to take advantage of them. Milos Forman puts this story in perfect visual form, not using too many film techniques to take away from the story at hand. Colors, images, and sounds carried from the novel to the screen are constant and well-done. The feeling one gets from the movie is delicously horrible, as most asylums surely are. A phenomenal story by Kesey and direction by Forman, and an uncanny portrayal of McMurphy by Nicholson, allow the story to live on in visual form.
64 of 74 people found the following review helpful
BAD HAIR, GREAT FILM February 9, 2004
By DAVID BRYSON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE™ VOICE
It has taken me nearly 30 years to get round to watching this film, and I genuinely think I appreciate it more for being that much older. It has had accolades for everything — plot, direction, filming, casting, acting. It deserves them all. It is nothing short of compulsive. The bad guy who has not lost his soul (much less his spirit) is pitted against the embodiment of sanctimonious righteousness who never had a soul to lose.
I wonder whether Nicholson has even yet had full recognition for the truly great actor he is (how many people have even seen The King of Marvin Gardens, for instance?) His screen presence is enormous, magnetic and menacing. He combines outsize testosteronic individuality with the ability to get inside a character, and an electric sense of threat with a real power to tug at the heart-strings. Bad he may be, but unsympathetic never. He is a very big little guy, but he is still the little guy against the system. It must be impossible, surely, to upstage that?
Incredibly, no. The ultimate star in a film that has no shortage of up-and-coming luminaries as well as Nicholson (D de Vito for one) is Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched. I am never going to forget that mask-like expressionless face and that ever-rational, implacable, ever-modulated voice mouthing those soulless, uncomprehending, the-system-is-right banalities. Above all, I am never going to forget that hair. Among the many touches of genius in this production, that hairstyle is the ultimate. I simply could not take my eyes off it. The name is effective too, and I shall continue to believe until someone proves me wrong that it was an inspired borrowing from Jane Eyre — the dreadful and sadistic Miss Skatcherd brought up to date and given a 20th-century twist.
This film is never going to become dated as long as these polarities continue to repel each other. I saw it at all only because my son showed it to me. It is relevant to my generation, it is relevant to his, and I can’t foresee when it is not going to be relevant.