According to the film critic Roger Ebert ‘The movie’s simplistic approach to mental illness is not really a fault of the movie, because it has no interest in being about insanity. It is about a free spirit in a closed system’. But when Forman-Saentz team who gave us Amadeus have had dealt with Ken Kesey’s book of the same title(1962) the film became a top hit. The movie was the first to win all five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Actor in Lead Role, Actress in Lead Role, Director, Screenplay) since It Happened One Night in 1934, an accomplishment not repeated until 1991, by The Silence of the Lambs.
The movie was filmed at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Oregon, which was the setting of the novel.
Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist criminal serving a short prison term on a work farm for statutory rape, is transferred to a mental institution little does he know what is in store for him there. He had manipulated the system for such a transfer where he’ll now be able to serve out the rest of his sentence in relative comfort and ease.
His ward in the mental institution is run by Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), a nasty villain whom you love to hate.( Nurse Ratched is currently rated #7 on the Internet Movie Database list of 50 Greatest Villains).
She doesn’t lashout or whip whom she wishes to bring to heel. Mostly her patients are “voluntary” patients anyway,- who are there by choice. While McMurphy initially has little respect for his fellow patients, his antiauthoritarian nature is aroused. What began as a little fun, to bring down her a peg or two,- strictly for laughs is gradually ratcheted into a fullblown fight on his part for the hearts and minds of the patients. She could take him on calmly since she represents authority: when he finds out only later that Ratched has the power to keep him there indefinitely we begin to see beyond his criminal record and learn to sympathizea little with him. He represents like you and me an individual and not a depersonalized number bristling at the unfair way she has stacked all the chips in her favour. Rather than have him transferred, Ratched sees his behavior as a personal affront and becomes obsessed with winning this contest.
McMurphy gradually forms deep friendships in the ward with a group of men which includes Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), a suicidal, stuttering and helpless young man whom Ratched has humiliated and dominated, and “Chief” Bromden (Will Sampson), a 6’ 5” muscular Native American. Believed by the patients to be deaf and unable to speak, Chief is mostly ignored and he becomes his only real confidant, as they both see their struggles against authority in similar terms.
McMurphy at first uses the chief as an advantage (for example, in playing basketball). Later, they and patient Charlie Cheswick (Sydney Lassick) are detained for being involved in a fight with the ward attendants. Cheswick undergoes electroshock therapy, while McMurphy and Chief wait their turn on a bench. While they wait, McMurphy offers Chief a piece of Juicy Fruit gum, and Bromden verbally thanks him. A surprised McMurphy discovers that Chief uses his’debility’ as a weapon against the authority. He rebels as McMurphy but in a different way. McMurphy hatches a plan that will allow himself and Bromden to escape. Following his “therapy,” McMurphy jokingly feigns catatonia before assuring his cohorts and Nurse Ratched that the attempt to subdue him didn’t work.
One night McMurphy sneaks into the nurse’s station and calls his girlfriend, Candy, and tells her to bring booze. He also takes Billy along. Another woman tags along and both enter the ward after McMurphy bribes the night watchman, Mr. Turkle (Scatman Crothers). They are found out probably because of the extant neuroleptic drugs (Thorazine, etc.) in their systems.
When Nurse Ratched arrives the next morning she commands the attendants to clean up the patients and conduct a head count. Billy is found in a room sleeping with Candy. When he announces that he is not ashamed with what he done, Nurse Ratched then threatens that she will tell his mother about it. Billy breaks down, and after being carried into the doctor’s office, kills himself by slitting his throat. McMurphy, furious tries to strangle her. McMurphy is subdued and taken away again.
A few days later, the patients are seen playing cards as usual. Nurse Ratched, her vocal cords damaged by McMurphy’s previous attack, is forced to speak through a microphone for the patients to hear her, and finds that she is now no longer able to intimidate them. Later that night, Chief Bromden sees McMurphy being returned to his bed. When the Chief approaches him, he finds to his horror that he has been given a lobotomy. Unwilling to leave McMurphy behind, the Chief suffocates his neurologically disabled friend with a pillow. He follows Randle’s plan for escape by heroically hoisting a very heavy hydrotherapy control panel (which McMurphy had tried to lift earlier) and hurling it through a barred window. He is last seen fleeing the institution.
Kirk Douglas originated the role of McMurphy in a stage production, and then bought the film rights, hoping to play McMurphy on the screen. He passed the production rights to his son, Michael Douglas, who decided his father was too old for the role. Kirk was reportedly angry at his son for a time afterwards because of this. Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman were considered to play the lead.
The role of domineering Nurse Ratched was turned down by six actresses, Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda, and Angela Lansbury, until Louise Fletcher accepted casting only a week before filming began.
Jack Nicholson Randle Patrick McMurphy
Louise Fletcher Nurse Mildred “Big Nurse” Ratched
William Redfield Dale Harding
Dean R. Brooks Dr. John Spivey
Scatman Crothers Orderly Turkle
Danny DeVito Martini
William Duell Jim Sefelt
Brad Dourif Billy Bibbit
Christopher Lloyd Jim Taber
Will Sampson Chief Bromden
Vincent Schiavelli Frederickson
Nathan George Attendant Washington
Sydney Lassick Charlie Cheswick
Louisa Moritz Rose
The film marked the film debuts of Sampson, Dourif and Lloyd. It was one of the first films for DeVito. (DeVito and Lloyd co-starred several years later on the television series Taxi.)
Directed by Miloš Forman
Produced by Michael Douglas
Written by screenplay by Lawrence Hauben
based on the novel by Ken Kesey
Music by Jack Nitzsche
Cinematography Haskell Wexler
Editing by Sheldon Kahn
Running time 133 min.
Country United States
Gross revenue $112,000,000
The title is derived from an American children’s folk rhyme.
Wire, briar, limber-lock
Three geese in a flock
One flew east, one flew west
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.
It loses a bit of the significance it has in the novel, where it is part of a rhyme Chief Bromden remembers from his childhood. This detail was not included in the film.
McMurphy: Which one of you nuts has got any guts?
McMurphy: That’s right, Mr. Martini. There is an Easter Bunny.
Chief Bromden: My pop was real big. He did like he pleased. That’s why everybody worked on him. The last time I seen my father, he was blind and diseased from drinking. And every time he put the bottle to his mouth, he don’t suck out of it, it sucks out of him until he shrunk so wrinkled and yellow even the dogs didn’t know him.
McMurphy: Killed him, huh?
Chief Bromden: I’m not saying they killed him. They just worked on him. The way they’re working on you.
McMurphy: I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this.
McMurphy: I’m a goddamn marvel of modern science.
Taber: Jack Dumpey’s full of shit!
[McMurphy is pretending to watch the World Series on TV]
McMurphy: Someone get me a fucking wiener before I die.
Nurse Ratched: Aren’t you ashamed?
Billy: No, I’m not.
[Applause from friends]
Nurse Ratched: You know Billy, what worries me is how your mother is going to take this.
Billy: Um, um, well, y-y-y-you d-d-d-don’t have to t-t-t-tell her, Miss Ratched.
Nurse Ratched: I don’t have to tell her? Your mother and I are old friends. You know that.
Billy: P-p-p-please d-d-don’t tell my m-m-m-mother.
McMurphy: A little dab’ll do ya.
McMurphy: What are you doin’ here? You oughta be out in a convertible bird-doggin’ chicks and bangin’ beaver.
McMurphy: Is that crazy enough for ya’? Want me to take a shit on the floor?
McMurphy: [about shock treatments] They was giving me ten thousand watts a day, you know, and I’m hot to trot! The next woman takes me on’s gonna light up like a pinball machine and pay off in silver dollars!
McMurphy: She was fifteen years old, going on thirty-five, Doc, and she told me she was eighteen, she was very willing, I practically had to take to sewing my pants shut. Between you and me, uh, she might have been fifteen, but when you get that little red beaver right up there in front of you, I don’t think it’s crazy at all and I don’t think you do either. No man alive could resist that, and that’s why I got into jail to begin with. And now they’re telling me I’m crazy over here because I don’t sit there like a goddamn vegetable. Don’t make a bit of sense to me. If that’s what being crazy is, then I’m senseless, out of it, gone-down-the-road, wacko. But no more, no less, that’s it.
Candy: [innocently] You all crazy?
McMurphy: In one week, I can put a bug so far up her ass, she don’t know whether to shit or wind her wristwatch.
McMurphy: I’m here to cooperate with you a hundred percent. A hundred percent. I’ll be just right down the line with ya’. You watch.
[the inmates are playing cards and betting with cigarettes]
Martini: [rips a cigarette in half] I bet a nickel.
McMurphy: Dime’s the limit, Martini.
Martini: I bet a dime.
[Puts the two halves onto the table]
McMurphy: This is not a dime, Martini. This is a dime.
[shows a whole cigarette]
McMurphy: If you break it in half, you don’t get two nickels, you get shit. Try and smoke it. You understand?
McMurphy: You don’t understand.
McMurphy: What do you think you are, for Chrissake, crazy or somethin’? Well you’re not! You’re not! You’re no crazier than the average asshole out walkin’ around on the streets and that’s it.
McMurphy: Why don’t ya shut your goddamn mouth and play some music.
[McMurphy, getting Chief into the basketball game]
McMurphy: Hit me, Chief, I got the moves!
Nurse Ratched: If Mr. McMurphy doesn’t want to take his medication orally, I’m sure we can arrange that he can have it some other way. But I don’t think that he would like it.
[McMurphy turns around to see Harding smiling at him]
McMurphy: Heh, YOU’D like it, wouldn’t you?
[to Harding, regarding the pills]
McMurphy: Here, give it to me
Cheswick: Rules? PISS ON YOUR FUCKING RULES!
Chief Bromden: Mmmmmm, Juicy Fruit.
[about Nurse Ratched]
McMurphy: Well I don’t wanna break up the meeting or nothin’, but she’s somethin’ of a cunt, ain’t she Doc?
Dr. Spivey: Well, the real reason that you’ve been sent over here is because they wanted you to be evaluated… to determine whether or not you are mentally ill. This is the real reason. Why do you think they might think that?
McMurphy: Well, as near as I can figure out, it’s ’cause I, uh, fight and fuck too much.
McMurphy: Get out of my way son, you’re usin’ my oxygen.
McMurphy: Nurse Ratched, Nurse Ratched! The Chief voted! Now will you please turn on the television set?
Nurse Ratched: [she opens the glass window] Mr. McMurphy, the meeting was adjourned and the vote was closed.
McMurphy: But the vote was 10 to 8. The Chief, he’s got his hand up! Look!
Nurse Ratched: No, Mr. McMurphy. When the meeting was adjourned, the vote was 9 to 9.
McMurphy: [exasperated] Aw come on, you’re not gonna say that now! You’re not gonna say that now! You’re gonna pull that hen house shit? Now when the vote… the Chief just voted – it was 10 to 9. Now I want that television set turned on *right now*!
[Nurse Ratched closes the glass window]
McMurphy: You’re not an idiot. Huh! You’re not a goddamn looney now, boy. You’re a fisherman!
Nurse Pilbow: Don’t get upset, Mr. McMurphy.
McMurphy: I’m not getting upset, Nurse Pilbow. I just don’t want anyone to slip me salt peter!
[telling McMurphy about Chief]
Billy: He-he-he can’t hear you. He’s a d-d-deaf and d-d-dumb Indian.
McMurphy: [pointing to naked woman on playing card] Where do you suppose she lives?
McMurphy: We’re just having a little party.
Orderly Turkle: Party my ass, this ain’t no nightclub!
Night Nurse: Mr. Turkle?
McMurphy: Where the fuck is he, why doesn’t he answer her?
Taber: He’s jerkin’ off somewhere.
Orderly Turkle: Ain’t no one jerkin’ off nowhere muthafucker!
McMurphy: Turkle what the fuck are you doing in here? Go out and talk to her.
Orderly Turkle: I’m doin’ the same fuckin’ thing your doin’- hidin’!
Chief Bromden: Mac… they said you escaped. I knew you wouldn’t leave without me. I was waiting for you. Now we can make it, Mac; I feel big as a damn mountain.
[he suddenly sees the lobotomy scars]
Chief Bromden: Oh, no…
Chief Bromden: [embracing McMurphy] I’m not goin’ without you, Mac. I wouldn’t leave you this way… You’re coming with me.
Chief Bromden: [laying him down] Let’s go.
McMurphy: But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.
McMurphy: Who’s the head bull-goose loony around here?
Orderly Turkle: Oh shit, the supervisor!
Nurse Ratched: Your hand is staining my window.
McMurphy: Jesus Christ! D’you nuts wanna play cards or do ya wanna fuckin’ jerk off?
McMurphy: Koufax looks down! He’s looking at the great Mickey Mantle now! Here comes the pitch! Mantle swings! It’s a fucking home run!
[loud cheering from the patients]
Young Psychiatrist: Have you ever heard of the old saying “a rolling stone gathers no moss?”
Young Psychiatrist: Does that mean something to you?
McMurphy: Uh… tt’s the same as “don’t wash your dirty underwear in public.”
Young Psychiatrist: I’m not sure I understand what you mean.
McMurphy: [smiling] I’m smarter than him, ain’t I?
McMurphy: Well, that sort of has always meant, is, uh, it’s hard for something to grow on something that’s moving.
Psychiatrist: Dr. Sanji?
Dr. Sanji: I don’t think he’s overly psychotic, but, I still think he’s quite sick.
Psychiatrist: You think he’s dangerous?
Dr. Sanji: Absolutely so.
McMurphy: [pretending to watch the World Series on TV] Koufax… Koufax kicks. He delivers. It’s up the middle! It’s a base hit! Richardson is rounding first. He’s going for second. The ball’s into deep right center. Davis cuts the ball off! Here comes the throw. He throws it to second! He slides! He’s in there! He’s safe! It’s a double.! Richardson’s on second base!
[McMurphy gets up as the other patients come to see what he's doing]
McMurphy: Koufax is in big fucking trouble! Big trouble, baby! All right. Tresh is the next batter. Tresh looks in. Koufax… Koufax gets a sign from Roseboro. He kicks once. He pumps. He fires. It’s a strike! Koufax’s curve ball is snapping off like a fucking firecracker! All right, here he comes with the next pitch. Tresh swings. It’s a long fly ball to deep left center!
McMurphy: It’s going! It’s gone! Let’s hear it! One way!
Harding: I’m not just talking about my wife, I’m talking about my LIFE, I can’t seem to get that through to you. I’m not just talking about one person, I’m talking about everybody. I’m talking about form. I’m talking about content. I’m talking about interrelationships. I’m talking about God, the devil, Hell, Heaven. Do you understand… FINALLY?
McMurphy: What are we doing in here, Chief? Huh? What’s us two guys doing in this fucking place? Let’s get out of here. Out.
Chief Bromden: Canada?
McMurphy: Canada. We’ll be there before these sonofabitches know what hit ‘em. Listen to Randall on this one.
McMurphy: When we get to Canada…
McMurphy: I can’t take it no more. I gotta get outta here.
Chief Bromden: I can’t. I just can’t.
McMurphy: It’s easier than you think, Chief.
Chief Bromden: For you, maybe. You’re a lot bigger than me.
Taber: [Taber is picking on Harding as he plays Monopoly with Martini]
[pushing his back]
Taber: Come on, Harding. Play the game. Play it!
Harding: I am playing the game! Stop bothering me! I can’t concentrate!
Taber: [pushing him again] Play the game, Harding. Come on!
Harding: [shouting] You keep your hands off me, YOU SON OF A BITCH!
Attendant Warren: Good morning, Miss Ratched.
Nurse Ratched: Good morning.
Attendant Washington: Good morning, Miss Ratched.
Nurse Ratched: Mr. Washington.
Nurse Ratched: Good morning.
Nurse Pilbow: Good morning, Miss Ratched.
Nurse Ratched: Good morning.
Attendant Washington: Morning, Bancini.
Attendant Washington: How do you feel?
Nurse Pilbow: Medication time. Medication time.
* The role of McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson) among others was offered to James Caan.
* Many extras were authentic mental patients.
* Louise Fletcher was signed a week before filming began, after auditioning repeatedly over six months; director Milos Forman had told her each time that she just wasn’t approaching the part correctly, but kept calling her back.
* Danny DeVito reprised his performance from a 1971 off-Broadway revival.
* The cast and crew had to become accustomed to working with extras and supporting crew members who were inmates at the Oregon State Mental Hospital; each member of the professional cast and crew inevitably worked closely with at least two or three mental patients.
* Most of Jack Nicholson’s scene with Dean R. Brooks upon arriving at the hospital was improvised – including his slamming a stapler, asking about a fishing photo, and discussing his rape conviction; Brooks’s reactions were authentic.
* Before shooting began, director Milos Forman screened the film Titicut Follies (1967) for the cast to help them get a feel for life in a mental institution.
* Mel Lambert, who played the harbor master, was a local businessman rather than an actor; he had a strong relationship with Native Americans throughout the area, and it was he who suggested Will Sampson for the role of Chief Bromden.
* With the exception of the fishing segment (which was filmed last), the film was shot in sequence.
* Director Milos Forman relied heavily on reaction shots to pull more characters into scenes. In some group therapy scenes, there were ten minutes of Jack Nicholson’s reactions filmed even if he had very little dialogue. The shot of Louise Fletcher looking icily at Nicholson after he returns from shock therapy was actually her irritated reaction to a piece of direction from Forman.
* The script called for McMurphy to leap on a guard and kiss him when first arriving at the hospital. During filming, director Milos Forman decided that the guard’s reaction wasn’t strong enough and told Nicholson to jump on the other guard instead. This surprised the actor playing the second guard greatly, and in some versions he can be seen punching Nicholson.
* Ken Kesey, who wrote the original novel, said he would never watch the movie version and even sued the movie’s producers because it wasn’t shown from Chief Bromden’s perspective (as the novel is).
* Cameo: [Saul Zaentz] [- the film's producer appears as a man at the inmates' bus outing.]
* Cameo: [Anjelica Huston] Jack Nicholson’s one-time girlfriend appears as one of the crowd on the pier as the fishing excursion returns.
* Louise Fletcher only realized that the part of Nurse Ratched was a hotly contested role among all the leading actresses of the day when a reporter visiting the set happened to casually mention it.
* This story was based on author Ken Kesey’s experiences while working at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, California.
* The fishing trip sequence was filmed at Depoe Bay, Oregon – the smallest harbor in the world.
* In order to produce the film, Michael Douglas quit the show “The Streets of San Francisco” (1972).
* Though veteran cinematographer Haskell Wexler is credited here as DP, he was actually replaced by Bill Butler early in the shoot due to various creative differences with producer Michael Douglas.
* During most of the film’s shooting, William Redfield was ill. He died several months after the film was completed.
* According to Michael Douglas, director Milos Forman had his heart set on Burt Reynolds to play the part of McMurphy.
* The musical theme by Jack Nitzsche played during the opening and closing was based on the chord structure of the song “Please Release Me”.
* Lily Tomlin wanted to play Nurse Ratched, but was committed at the time to Nashville (1975).
* In 2007, the American Film Institute ranked this as the #33 Greatest Movie of All Time.
* During filming, a crew member running cables left a second story window open at the Oregon State Mental Hospital and an actual patient climbed through the bars and fell to the ground, injuring himself. The next day The Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon reported the incident with the headline on the front page “One flew OUT of the cuckoo’s nest”.
* During production, Nicholson and Forman spoke to each other through the cinematographer, but faked a friendly relationship when the media and studio personnel would show up to the set.
* Milos Forman had considered Shelley Duvall for the role of Candy. 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, and decided to cast her as Nurse Ratched.
* Louise Fletcher was so upset with the fact that the other actors could laugh and be happy while she had to be so cold and heartless that near the end of production she removed her dress and stood in only her panties to prove to the actors she was not “a cold-hearted monster”.
* Will Sampson, who plays Chief Bromden, was a park ranger in Oregon in a park near where the movie was filmed. He was selected for the part because he was the only Native American the Casting Department could find who matched the character’s incredible size.
* Kirk Douglas starred in the 1963 Broadway production after buying the film rights prior to publication. Kirk had met Milos Forman in Prague while on a State Department tour and promised to send him the book after deciding he would be a good director for the film; the book never arrived, probably confiscated by censors of the Czech government, which was Communist at the time. Ken Kesey wrote a screenplay for the production, but Forman rejected it because Kesey insisted on keeping Chief Bromden’s first-person narration.
* During the ECT scene, McMurphy says “A little dab will do ya” as the nurse is putting conductor gel on the side of his head. This phrase, not in the original script, is a reference to the advertising jingle of Brylcreem hair cream, which was a popular hair care product for men in the 1960s and 1970s.
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.
Today, the film is considered to be one of the greatest American films and is ranked at number 33 on the American Film Institute’s list of AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Movies.
check out Loves of a blonde, another Forman film cinebuff.wordpress.com