Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)


(director: Milos Forman; screenwriters: from the novel by Ken Kesey/Dale Wasserman author of the play/Bo Boldman/ Lawrence Hauben; cinematographers William A. Fraker/Bill Butler/Haskell Wexler; editors: Sheldon Kahn/Lynzee Klingman; music: Jack Nitzsche; cast: Jack Nicholson (Randle Patrick McMurphy), Louise Fletcher (Nurse Ratched), Dean Brooks (Dr. Spivey), Sidney Lassick (Cheswick), Danny De Vito (Martini), Will Sampson (Chief Bromden), William Redfield (Harding), Brad Dourif (Billy Bibbit), Christopher Lloyd (Taber), Scatman Crothers (Turkle Crothers), Michael Berryman (Ellis); Runtime: 133; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michael Douglas/Saul Zaentz; Warner Brothers; 1975)
“Its aims are too simplistic about life and happiness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Czech-born Milos Foreman’s (“The Fireman’s Ball”/”Amadeus”) crowd pleasing psychological tragi-comedy “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” based on the 1962 best-selling novel by Ken Kesey and the play by Dale Wasserman, is a cute satire about a mental institution as a metaphor for society. It highlights the suffering of the individual and the struggle to preserve the human spirit. It rails against the Establishment and its plans to get people to conform, and indirectly keys in on the unrest in American society caused by the protests over the Vietnam War. It also questions if everyone in a mental institution is really insane.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director Milos Forman, Best Actor Jack Nicholson, Best Actress Louise Fletcher, and Best Adapted Screenplay Bo Boldman and Lawrence Hauben.

Jack Nicholson as an impishly grinning Randle Patrick McMurphy takes centerstage, as he is transferred from a nearby prison for evaluation to the Oregon state mental hospital. There he encounters a diverse crew of mostly vegetable-like voluntary inmates, including a stuttering and insecure mama’s boy Billy (Brad Dourif), an over-the-top fidgety Cheswick (Sidney Lassick), a delusional self-appointed intellectual Harding (William Redfield), a good-natured simpleton Martini (Danny De Vito), an alarming looking Taber (Christopher Lloyd), and a mammoth stoic deaf-mute Native American Chief Bromden (Will Sampson). Nicholson soon overcomes the patients’ resistance to him and leads his new fellow-inmates against the authoritative domineering head honcho, Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), and her supportive nurses and strong-armed orderlies. The well-intentioned (absolutely sure that she’s right) but sinister nurse relates sanity to obedience, while the wisecracking, outspoken, but lovable Nicholson acts as the jester defying her and poking holes in her calm demeanor and strict rule book. His hell-raising actions give the other patients some hope to live again. Nicholson instigates a series of group rebellions; his most outrageous prank ends as a tragic after-hours party with hookers and booze. This will bring the authorities down on him, as they act to restore order. But Nicholson chooses not to escape and avoid punishment, as he remains with the inmates in order to continue to inspire them to resist the system.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is an energetic but manipulative film about fighting the system and not giving up hope. Its aims are too simplistic about life and happiness to make much of an impact, as its once accommodating pronouncements to rebellion seem outdated and not too revolutionary when viewed today. The film’s purposes seemed more comedic than offering any pertinent comment about mental illness and the institutions that treat their patients with electro-shocks and drug them into submission, except it does register outrage at how unnecessary are these treatments in most cases.