Directed by Milos Forman
Based on the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif
After career criminal R.P. McMurphy (Nicholson) is transferred to a mental institution; he begins looking for ways to disrupt the lives of the patients and the staff. When he runs into the iron will of Nurse Ratched (Fletcher) he finds added desire to fight the system. As McMurphy continues to push, his antics bring new consequences from Nurse Ratched.
This is a classic movie, directed by Oscar-winning director Milos Forman (Amadeus). The story is based on the controversial novel of the same name, written by Ken Kesey (Sometimes a Great Notion). The screenplay was written by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman (City Hall). The movie features an all-star cast that begins with Jack Nicholson (As Good as It Gets) and Louise Fletcher (Flowers in the Attic). Also featured are Danny DeVito (The Rainmaker), Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), and Brad Dourif (Dune).
Ken Kesey’s novel is a unique look into the minds of the mental patients at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Oregon. This same hospital is the setting for the movie, which takes the core of the story in a bit of a different direction. The screenplay, written by Hauben and Goldman, comes across as a faithful adaptation despite the changes. The characters are a wonderful mix of strangely unique people. Their quirks and weaknesses are wonderfully built into the drama of the film. The contention and friction between Ratched and the other characters is great as well. Overall, this is one of the great screenplays taken from a novel.
The acting in this movie is absolutely incredible. Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice for the role of McMurphy. His energetic, disjointed performance is exactly the counter-balance the film needed for Louise Fletcher’s performance. As Nurse Ratched, Fletcher is amazing. She has a cold and calculated delivery that creates the perfect antagonist for this movie. Both Nicholson and Fletcher would take home Academy Awards for their work on this movie.
With those two leading the way, the film needed a number of unique characters to mix into the story. That’s where DeVito, Lloyd, and Dourif come in. These men are just a handful of the men who played the motley crew of patients at the hospital. Each of these actors brought out something unique from their characters. Brad Dourif also earned an Oscar nomination for his performance as Billy Bibbit. The end result is a wonderful movie that features great performances from so many of the actors.
Visually, this movie is great. The movie earned an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography thanks to the work done by Haskell Wexler (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and Bill Butler (Rocky II). The decision to film on location in Salem, Oregon was a great one. In addition, the set design and costuming all seem to perfectly accentuate the unique contrasts in this story. The film also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Editing. The visuals were an important part of highlighting the line drawn between the patients and the rest of the world. In the end, this all comes together wonderfully.
In addition to all of the great visuals in this movie, the film also has an excellent score. The composer, Jack Nitzsche, earned his first Oscar nomination for his work on this one. The score features a unique blend of instruments that include the bowed saw and wine glasses. The haunting music seems to underscore the true nature of the events in the movie. Reviewer Steven McDonald said, “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.”
Not since It Happened One Night (1934) had a film found this much success at the Academy Awards. Like that 1934 film, this movie took home the top five awards of the evening. The film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay. Since then, The Silence of the Lambs has joined that small list of films to do so. In addition to the critical acclaim, the film also performed well at the box office, earning more than 100 million dollars. The movie has also been added to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.
This is one of those movies that everyone should see. If you’re a fan of the actors in this one you’re not going to be disappointed. I would also suggest this one to fans of the book. Despite the friction between Kesey and the film’s creative staff, I think this does justice to his story. If you’ve seen this one before, take the time to watch it again. Like most great films, this one seems to offer so much every time I see it. I would also suggest this to fans of psychological dramas. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars.