One Flew over the cuckoos nest (1975)

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. 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 attitudes (personified by the patients' supervisory nurse).

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 against oppressive bureaucracy and an insistence upon rights. The role of Nurse Ratched was turned down by five actresses - Anne Bancroft, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, Ellen Burstyn, and Angela Lansbury - until Louise Fletcher accepted casting only a week before filming began. And actor James Caan was also originally offered the lead role of McMurphy.

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 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 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.

McMurphy and Nurse Rachet confront each other over the baseball gameKesey had derived most of the novel's secondary characters from real-life psychiatric ward patients at a VA hospital (Agnews Hospital in San Jose, CA) where he had once worked. (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 and changes in the script that he sued the producers.)


The role of McMurphy was originally offered to James Caan.

Will Sampson, who plays Chief, was picked because he was a park ranger in Oregon near the park where it was filmed.

Kirk Douglas possessed the movie rights for a long time, before his son Michael Douglas finally started the project.

Many extras were authentic mental patients.

Kirk Douglas starred in the 1963 Broadway production after buying the film rights prior to publication; he later passed the film rights to his son Michael, but kept a percentage of the profits. Every major studio had declined to make the film during the period he was trying to star in it. Kirk Douglas 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 communist Czech censors. Ken Kesey wrote a screenplay for the production, but Forman rejected it because Kesey insisted on keeping Chief Bromden's first-person narration.

Louise Fletcher was signed a week before filming began, after auditioning repeatedly over six months; 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 swatting a fly, asking about a fishing photo, and discussing his rape conviction; Brooks' 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 Murphy 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.

There is a rumour that Nicholson underwent ECT therapy during the scene where his character does.

This story was based on author Ken Kesey's experiences while working at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Menlo Park, California, USA.

Film debuts of Brad Dourif (who received a "Best Supporting Actor" Academy Award nomination), Christopher Lloyd and Will Sampson, as well as Tom McCall (a former governor of Oregon) and Dr. Dean R. Brooks, superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, the film's main shooting location.

Kirk Douglas, who owned the rights, planned to star himself, but by the time they got around to making the film he was too old.

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.

Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, and Angela Lansbury were all offered the role of Nurse Ratched.

Jack Nicholson disappeared two months before filming started. His absence was due to having hair plugs implanted. This is also why he wears the stocking cap throughout the movie.

This story was based on author Ken Kesey's experiences while working at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, California, USA.

The fishing trip sequence was filmed at Depoe Bay, Oregon - the smallest harbor in the world.

Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman were offered the part before Jack Nicholson.