1977 – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest


One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) is one of the greatest American films of all time – a $4.4 million dollar effort directed by Czech Milos Forman.

The Novel by Ken Kesey was made in to a milestone of Film history. Its allegorical theme is set in the world of an authentic mental hospital (Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Oregon), a place of rebellion exhibited by a energetic, flamboyant, wise-guy anti-hero against the Establishment, institutional authority and status-quo attitudes (personified by the patients’ supervisory nurse). [Forman himself noted that the asylum was a metaphor for the Soviet Union (embodied as Nurse Ratched) and the desire to escape.] Expressing his basic human rights and impulses, the protagonist protests against heavy-handed rules about watching the World Series, and illegally stages both a fishing trip and a drinking party in the ward – leading to his own paralyzing lobotomy.

Jack Nicholson’s acting persona as the heroic rebel McMurphy, who lives free or dies (through an act of mercy killing), had earlier been set with his performances in Easy Rider (1969) and Five Easy Pieces (1970). The mid-70s baby-boomers’ counter-culture was ripe for a film dramatizing rebellion and insubordination against oppressive bureaucracy and an insistence upon rights, self-expression, and freedom.

The role of the sexually-repressed, domineering Nurse Ratched was turned down by five actresses – Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, Ellen Burstyn, and Angela Lansbury – until Louise Fletcher accepted casting (in her debut film) only a week before filming began. And actor James Caan was also originally offered the lead role of McMurphy, and Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman were considered as well. The entire film was shot in sequence, except for the fishing scene (shot last).

It surprised everyone by becoming enormously profitable – the seventh-highest-grossing film ever (at its time), bringing in almost $300 million worldwide. The independently-produced film also swept the Oscars: it was the first film to take all the major awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress) since Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night (1934). It was nominated for nine Academy Awards in total: Best Actor (Jack Nicholson with his first win after losing the previous year for Chinatown (1974)), Best Actress (Louise Fletcher), Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography (Bill Butler and Haskell Wexler), Best Director, Best Editing, Best Picture, Best Score (Jack Nitzsche) and Best Supporting Actor (Brad Dourif). “Cuckoo’s Nest” beat out tough competition for Best Picture by Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) and Altman’s Nashville (1975).

The film’s unauthorized screenplay (by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman) was restructured and adapted from author Ken Kesey’s 1962 popular, best-selling novel of the same name so that it would appeal to contemporary audiences. [Kesey wrote the first version of the film’s screenplay.] The film’s title was derived from a familiar, tongue-twisting Mother’s Goose children’s folk song (or nursery rhyme) called Vintery, Mintery, Cutery, Corn. The ones that fly east and west are diametrically opposed to each other and represent the two combatants in the film. The one that flies over the cuckoo’s nest [the mental hospital filled with “cuckoo” patients] is the giant, ‘deaf-mute’ Chief:
Vintery, mintery, cutery, corn,
Apple seed and apple thorn;
Wire, briar, limber lock,
Three geese in a flock.
One flew east,
And one flew west,
And one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

The novel was originally dramatized on Broadway (an adapted play by Dale Wasserman) beginning in 1963 with actor Kirk Douglas starring in the lead role as McMurphy and Gene Wilder as stuttering Billy Bibbit. Kirk Douglas bought the rights to the novel, but couldn’t convince film studios to produce the film. Many years after its short theatrical run, Douglas transferred the rights to his son, actor/producer Michael Douglas, who co-produced the United Artists film with Saul Zaentz. Michael Douglas had considered playing the starring role, but by the time of the film’s production, he judged himself too old.

Kesey had derived most of the novel’s secondary characters from real-life psychiatric ward patients at a VA hospital (in Menlo Park, CA) where he had once worked in a night job in the late 50s. (In the novel, McMurphy was a stocky redhead with a poorly-stitched gash across his cheekbone and nose. And 6′ 8″ tall, ‘mute’ native American Chief Bromden, a paranoid schizophrenic, narrated the story and was the central character in the novel, providing hallucinatory images of an all-powerful, all-seeing bureaucratic ‘harvesting machine’ designed to foster complete social integration – a Combine, that would squelch all individuality and create a compliant society (both within the hospital and in the wider society). Those who were non-conforming would be relegated to a correctional facility for repair or removal. Kesey was so incensed by the change in the perspective of the story-telling (away from Chief Bromden’s first-person perspective) and other changes in the script that he sued the producers.)



One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won all of the “Big Five” Academy Awards at the 48th Oscar ceremony

* Academy Award for Best Picture — Michael Douglas, Saul Zaentz
* Academy Award for Best Director — Miloš Forman
* Academy Award for Best Actor — Jack Nicholson
* Academy Award for Best Actress — Louise Fletcher
* Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay – Laurence Hauben, Bo Goldman

It was nominated for an additional four

* Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor — Brad Dourif
* Academy Award for Best Cinematography — Haskell Wexler, Bill Butler
* Academy Award for Film Editing — Richard Chew, Lyzee Klingman, Sheldon Kahn
* Academy Award for Original Music Score — Jack Nitzsche

Golden Globes

The film won all six nominated awards:

* Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama
* Golden Globe Award for Best Director – Motion Picture — Miloš Forman
* Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama — Jack Nicholson
* Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama — Louise Fletcher
* Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay — Laurence Hauben, Bo Goldman
* Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year – Actor — Brad Dourif

BAFTA Awards

The film won 6 BAFTAs

* BAFTA Award for Best Film
* BAFTA Award for Best Direction — Miloš Forman
* BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role — Jack Nicholson
* BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role — Louise Fletcher
* BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role — Brad Dourif
* BAFTA Award for Best Editing — Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman, Sheldon Kahn


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