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One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is a 1975 American drama film directed by Miloš Forman. The film is an adaptation of the 1962 novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. The movie was the second 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. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is frequently called one of the greatest films in the history of American cinema.

There had been an earlier stage version of the book, in 1963, but the film does not use the script of the stage version.

The movie was filmed at Oregon State Hospitalmarker in Salem, Oregonmarker, which was the setting of the novel.


Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for statutory rape, is transferred to a mental institution. This is a ploy to avoid hard labor and serve the rest of his sentence in a more relaxed environment. He is anti-authoritarian with a history of violence, but he exhibits no signs of mental illness.

McMurphy's ward in the mental institution is run by a calm but unyielding tyrant, Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) who employs a combination of subtle humiliation in group therapy, punishment disguised as unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine. McMurphy finds that the other male and mostly-middle-aged patients are more institutionalized and afraid of Ratched than they are focused on becoming functional in the outside world. McMurphy befriends patients Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), a stuttering young man, and "Chief" Bromden (Will Sampson), a silent six-feet-seven inch (2 m) tall Native American, Charles Cheswick (Sydney Lassick), a man disposed to childish fits of temper, Martini (Danny DeVito), who is delusional, and Dale Harding (William Redfield), a high-strung, well-educated patient. Believed by the patients and staff to be a deaf-mute, Chief is mostly ignored but is respected because of his size, at which McMurphy marvels at first sight.

McMurphy baits Nurse Ratched at first merely to amuse himself, but he intensifies his efforts to loosen her control. Rather than have McMurphy transferred, Ratched bides her time and increasingly asserts power. McMurphy gambles with the other patients, acting as dealer and humorously narrating and entertaining them, while draining their petty cash accounts and their allotments of cigarettes. To break the monotony, McMurphy calls for votes on ward policy changes: watching a World Series baseball game on the television on the ward, and a pickup game of basketball against the orderlies. Then he makes a show of betting the other patients that he can lift an old hydrotherapy console—a massive and still-connected marble plumbing fixture—off the floor of the ward, and loses, storming out and delivering the line "Well, at least I tried." McMurphy then learns that Ratched has the power to keep him involuntarily committed to the ward indefinitely, as the more sympathetic ward psychiatrist, while nominally her supervisor, is a figurehead. He accuses the voluntary patients on the ward of deliberately neglecting to let him know this.

To boost morale on the ward, McMurphy sponsors a deep sea fishing trip, by escaping over the asylum's fence and stealing a school bus. Mac brings along a party girl, Candy. This is the only location in the film outside the hospital. Later, McMurphy, the Chief and patient Charlie Cheswick are detained for fighting with the ward orderlies. Cheswick undergoes electroconvulsive 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 comments "Thank you", and a moment later, when McMurphy hands him another stick of gum, Chief says,"Ah, Juicy Fruit". McMurphy is shocked to hear the Chief speak to anyone for the first time in decades, and discovers that Chief shares his distaste of the hospital establishment but stays silent to deflect attention, instead of attracting attention to himself as McMurphy does. The Chief becomes McMurphy's confidant, given their shared experiences with authority. McMurphy devises a plan for the Chief and him to escape, and unsuccessfully tries to persuade him to try to lift the huge plumbing console. After this round of electroshock therapy, McMurphy stiffly walks onto the ward feigning catatonia before humorously animating his face and loudly greeting his fellow patients, assuring everyone that the ECT was unsuccessful as an attempt to subdue him.

One night, McMurphy sneaks into the nurses' station and calls Candy and another lady friend, Rose, and has them bring booze to the hospital. They enter the ward after McMurphy bribes the night watchman, Mr. Turkle (Scatman Crothers). The patients drink while Billy flirts with Candy. McMurphy goads Billy into trying to sleep with Candy, and Billy reluctantly agrees. After Billy and Candy go into a private room, the rest of the patients, including McMurphy and the Chief, who had been planning to escape that night, pass out after a long night of drinking.

When Nurse Ratched arrives the next morning she orders the attendants to lock the window and clean up the patients and conduct a head count. Billy is found undressed with Candy. When Ratched scolds him and asks if he is ashamed of his behavior, Billy announces, without stuttering, that he is not. Nurse Ratched promises to tell his mother what Billy had done. Billy panics and his stutter returns, and after being carried into the doctor's office, he kills himself by slitting his throat. Ratched blames McMurphy. McMurphy, appalled at Nurse Ratched's handling of the situation and her killing who he viewed as a younger brother, chokes her. Everyone is appalled but can do nothing but watch. She almost dies, but one of the male nurses knocks Mac away at the last second and she coughs and gasps on the floor.

After some time has passed, the patients in the ward are shown playing cards as before, only this time without McMurphy present. Harding, now dealing, mimicks McMurphy's narration of the game. Nurse Ratched, still recovering from the neck injury from McMurphy's attack, is forced to use a microphone in the nurses' station to be heard by her patients.

Later that night, Chief Bromden sees McMurphy being returned to his bed. When the Chief looks closely at McMurphy's unresponsive face, he is horrified to learn that McMurphy received a lobotomy. Unwilling to allow McMurphy to live in such a state, or be seen this way by the other patients, the Chief suffocates McMurphy. The Chief carries out McMurphy's escape plan by lifting the hydrotherapy console off the floor of the ward and hurling the massive fixture through a grated window. The Chief is last seen by patient Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd), who immediately starts cheering, which wakes up the confused patients.

Differences between novel and film

The main difference between the two is that the novel is narrated by Chief Bromden, and the reader knows straight away that he is not mute and deaf.

Other changes are minor changes such as the additions of other patients and prostitutes. In general, the novel is much darker with many more patients ending their own lives.


Kirk Douglas originated the role of McMurphy in a presidential 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 afterward because of this. Actor James Caan was originally offered the McMurphy role, and Marlon Brando and Gene Hackman were considered as well. According to the director on the latest Special Edition DVD, he wanted Burt Reynolds 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.

Cast List

Actor Role
Jack Nicholson Randle Patrick McMurphy
Louise Fletcher Nurse Mildred Ratched
William Redfield Dale Harding
Brad Dourif Billy Bibbit
Sydney Lassick Charlie Cheswick
Will Sampson Chief Bromden
Danny DeVito Martini
Christopher Lloyd Max Taber
Dean R. Brooks Dr. John Spivey
William Duell Jim Sefelt
Vincent Schiavelli Frederickson
Nathan George Attendant Washington
Scatman Crothers Orderly Turkle
Mews Small Candy
Louisa Moritz Rose
Mimi Sarkisian Nurse Pilbow
Harry Yates New Night Supt

The film marked the credited 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.

Title interpretation

The title is derived from an American children's folk rhyme.

"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."
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, but the line retains its relevance since the story ends with two patients dead from different causes and one who escapes from the hospital. It is worth noting that the cuckoo in folklore parlance is implied as having no nest, given its custom of laying its eggs in other birds' nests (giving rise to the term cuckolding).


The film received generally positive reviews from critics. Roger Ebert (who won a Pulitzer Prize later that year) 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". Ebert would later put the film on his "Great Movies" list. A.D. Murphy of Variety wrote a mixed review as well. 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% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes.

The film is considered to be one of the greatest American films. Kesey himself claimed to have disliked the movie, a fact revealed by Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk in the foreword of the 2007 edition, "The first time I heard this story, it was through the movie starring Jack Nicholson. A movie that Kesey once told me he disliked".

In 1993, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congressmarker and selected for preservation in their National Film Registry.

The film was shown in Swedishmarker cinemas between 1975 and 1987 — twelve years, which is still a record. When Miloš Forman learned that, he said, "I'm absolutely thrilled by that... It's wonderful."

Awards and honors

Academy Awards

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest won all of the "Big Five" Academy Awards at the 48th Oscar ceremony It was nominated for an additional four

Golden Globes

The film won all nominated six awards

BAFTA Awards

The film won 6 BAFTAs It was nominated for


American Film Institute recognition

See also


  1. - Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, January 1, 1975
  2. - Roger Ebert review, Chicago Sun-Times, February 2, 2003.
  3. - A.D. Murphy, Variety, November 7, 1975
  5. 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

  • as "Great Movie"

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