One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (film)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (film)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Miloš Forman
Produced by Saul Zaentz
Michael Douglas
Screenplay by Lawrence Hauben
Bo Goldman
Based on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by
Ken Kesey
Starring Jack Nicholson
Louise Fletcher
William Redfield
Brad Dourif
Danny DeVito
Christopher Lloyd
Music by Jack Nitzsche
Cinematography Haskell Wexler
Editing by Richard Chew[1]
Sheldon Kahn
Lynzee Klingman
Distributed by United Artists
Release date(s) November 19, 1975 (1975-11-19)
Running time 133 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $4.4 million
Box office $108,981,275

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a 1975 American drama film directed by Miloš Forman and based on the 1962 novel of the same name by Ken Kesey.

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 by The Silence of the Lambs.

The film is #20 on the American Film Institute's 100 Years... 100 Movies list. It was shot at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Oregon, which was also the setting of the novel.[2]



In 1963 Oregon, Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist anti-authoritarian criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. Although he does not show any overt signs of mental illness, he hopes to avoid hard labor and serve the rest of his sentence in a more relaxed hospital environment.

McMurphy's ward is run by steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who employs subtle humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine to suppress the patients. McMurphy finds that they are more fearful of Ratched than they are focused on becoming functional in the outside world. McMurphy establishes himself immediately as the leader; his fellow patients include Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), a nervous, stuttering young man; Charlie Cheswick (Sydney Lassick), a man disposed to childish fits of temper; Martini (Danny DeVito), who is delusional; Dale Harding (William Redfield), a high-strung, well-educated paranoid; Taber (Christopher Lloyd), who is belligerent and profane; and "Chief" Bromden (Will Sampson), a silent Native American believed to be deaf and mute.

McMurphy's and Nurse Ratched's battle of wills escalates rapidly. When McMurphy's card games win away everyone's cigarettes, Ratched confiscates the cigarettes and rations them out. McMurphy calls for votes on ward policy changes to challenge her. He makes a show of betting the other patients he can escape by lifting an old hydrotherapy console—a massive marble plumbing fixture—off the floor and sending it through the window; when he fails to do so, he turns to them and says, "But I tried goddammit. At least I did that."

McMurphy steals a hospital bus, herds his colleagues aboard, stops to pick up Candy (Marya Small), a party girl, and takes the group deep sea fishing on a commandeered boat. He tells them: "You're not nuts, you're fishermen!" and they begin to feel faint stirrings of self-determination.

Soon after, however, McMurphy learns that Ratched and the doctors have the power to keep him committed indefinitely. Sensing a rising tide of insurrection among the group, Ratched tightens her grip on everyone. During one of her group humiliation sessions, Cheswick's agitation boils over and he, McMurphy and the Chief wind up brawling with the orderlies. They are sent up to the "shock shop" for electroconvulsive therapy. While McMurphy and the Chief wait their turn, McMurphy offers Chief a piece of gum, and Chief murmurs "Thank you". McMurphy is delighted to find Bromden is neither deaf nor mute, and stays silent to deflect attention. After the electroshock therapy, McMurphy shuffles back onto the ward feigning illness, before humorously animating his face and loudly greeting his fellow patients, assuring everyone that the ECT only charged him up all the more and that the next woman to take him on will "light up like a pinball machine and pay off in silver dollars."

But the struggle with Ratched is taking its toll, and with his release date no longer a certainty, McMurphy plans an escape. He phones Candy to bring her friend Rose (Louisa Moritz) and some booze to the hospital late one night. They enter through a window after McMurphy bribes the night orderly, Mr. Turkle (Scatman Crothers). McMurphy and Candy invite the patients into the day room for a Christmas party; the group breaks into the drug locker, puts on music, and enjoys a bacchanalian rampage. At the end of the night, McMurphy and Bromden prepare to climb out the window with the girls. McMurphy says goodbye to everyone, and invites an emotional Billy to escape with them; he declines, saying he is not yet ready to leave the hospital—though he would like to date Candy in the future. McMurphy insists Billy have sex with Candy right then and there, and Billy (and Candy) agree. They retire to a private room. The effects of the alcohol and pilfered medication take their toll on everyone, including McMurphy and the Chief, whose eyes slowly close in fatigue.

Nurse Ratched arrives the next morning and discovers the scene: the ward completely upended and patients passed out all over the floor. She orders the attendants to lock the window, clean up, and conduct a head count. When they find Billy and Candy, the other patients applaud and, buoyed, Billy speaks for the first time without a stutter. Nurse Ratched then announces that she will tell Billy's mother what he has done. Billy panics, his stutter returns, and he starts punching himself in the groin; locked in the doctor's office, he kills himself. McMurphy, enraged at Nurse Ratched, chokes her nearly to death until orderly Washington knocks him out.

Some time later, the patients in the ward play cards and gamble for cigarettes as before, only now with Harding dealing and delivering a pale imitation of McMurphy's patter. Nurse Ratched, still recovering from the neck injury sustained during McMurphy's attack, wears a neck brace and speaks in a thin, reedy voice. The patients pass a whispered rumor that McMurphy dramatically escaped the hospital rather than being taken "upstairs".

Late that night, Chief Bromden sees McMurphy being escorted back to his bed, and initially believes that he has returned so they can escape together—which he is now ready to do since McMurphy has made him feel "as big as a mountain". However, when he looks closely at McMurphy's unresponsive face, he is horrified to see lobotomy scars on his forehead. Unwilling to allow McMurphy to live in such a state—or be seen this way by the other patients—the Chief smothers McMurphy to death with his pillow. He then carries out McMurphy's escape plan by lifting the hydrotherapy console off the floor and hurling the massive fixture through a grated window, climbing through and running off into the distance.



The title is derived from an American children's folk rhyme.[3] In a detail not included in the film, the novel shows it to be a rhyme that Chief Bromden remembers from his childhood.

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.


The film received generally positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert claimed that "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."[4] Ebert would later put the film on his "Great Movies" list.[5] A.D. Murphy of Variety wrote a mixed review as well,[6] as did Vincent Canby: writing in The New York Times, Canby called the film "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."[7]

The film went on to win a total of five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Jack Nicholson (who played McMurphy), Best Actress for Louise Fletcher (who played Nurse Ratched), Best Direction for Miloš Forman, Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman. The film currently has a 96% "Certified Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.[8]

The film is considered to be one of the greatest American films. Ken 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.[9] Kesey himself claimed never to have seen the movie, but said he disliked what he knew of it,[10] 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".[11]

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.

The film was shown in Swedish cinemas for nearly 11 years – between early 1976 and winter of 1986/1987 – which is still a record. When Miloš Forman learned that, he said, "I'm absolutely thrilled by that... It's wonderful."[citation needed]

Awards and honors

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest won all of the "Big Five" Academy Awards at the 48th Oscar ceremony

Award Category Nominee Result
Academy Award Academy Award for Best Picture Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
Academy Award for Best Director Miloš Forman Won
Academy Award for Best Actor Jack Nicholson Won
Academy Award for Best Actress Louise Fletcher Won
Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman Won
Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor Brad Dourif Nominated
Academy Award for Best Cinematography Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler Nominated
Academy Award for Film Editing Richard Chew, Lyzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn Nominated
Academy Award for Original Music Score Jack Nitzsche Nominated
Golden Globe Award Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Drama Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Director - Motion Picture Miloš Forman Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama Jack Nicholson Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Drama Louise Fletcher Won
Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman Won
Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year - Actor Brad Dourif Won
BAFTA Award BAFTA Award for Best Film Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz Won
BAFTA Award for Best Direction Miloš Forman Won
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role Jack Nicholson Won
BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role Louise Fletcher Won
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role Brad Dourif Won
BAFTA Award for Best Editing Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn Won
BAFTA Award for Best Cinematography Haskell Wexler and Bill Butler Nominated
BAFTA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay Laurence Hauben and Bo Goldman Nominated


American Film Institute recognition

See also


  1. ^ Chew was listed as "supervising editor" in the film's credits, but was included in the nomination for an editing Academy Award.
  2. ^ Oregon State Hospital - A documentary film (Mental Health Association of Portland)
  3. ^ One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
  4. ^ - Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, January 1, 1975
  5. ^ - Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, February 2, 2003.
  6. ^ - A.D. Murphy, Variety, November 7, 1975
  7. ^ Canby, Vincent (1975). "Critic's Pick: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The New York Times, November 20, 1975
  8. ^ "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2010-08-19. 
  9. ^ Carnes, Mark Christopher, Paul R. Betz, (1999). American National Biography, Volume 26. New York: Oxford University Press USA. ISBN 0-19-522202-4. p. 312
  10. ^ Carnes, p. 312
  11. ^ Foreword of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Copyright 2007 by Chuck Palahniuk. Available in the 2007 Edition published by Penguin Books

External links

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