One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
“You have to really decide where you want to live: if you want to live in the jungle or in the zoo. You will be surprised how many people prefer to live in the zoo. They are not ready to pay for the freedom. They think that freedom should be – you know – for free…”
Milos Forman was a director-for-hire on Cuckoo’s Nest, a Michael Douglas/Saul Zaentz production adapted from Ken Kesey’s early 60s bestseller. But it was a natural fit. Forman had been orphaned by the Holocaust and was 16 when Czechoslovakia went Communist. In 1968, the return of Soviet tanks sent him into exile in the West. He knew all about institutionalized madness, even if he toned down the trippier aspects of the book. And he carried off a remarkably forceful and authentic movie, fluctuating between antic liberation and harrowing repression built around what is probably the essential Jack Nicholson performance as congenital rebel Randle P McMurphy. Alternately wildly funny – when McMurphy takes his fellow asylum inmates for some recreation, for example – and harrowing (when Louise Fletcher’s nurse Ratchett reasserts her control), the film puts you through an emotional wringer, and doesn’t soften any pills.
Cuckoo’s Nest became the first film since It Happened One Night in 1935 to win a clean sweep of the five major Academy Awards.
A powerful, smashingly effective movie… Forman doesn’t let the McMurphy character run away with the picture and it’s Nicholson’s best performance… One hell of a good film.
Pauline Kael, New Yorker
Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, Christopher Lloyd, Brad Dourif
Winner: 5 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Screenplay
Michael Douglas, Saul Zaentz
Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman
Sheldon Kahn, Lynzee Klingman