One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)


The story begins with Randle McMurphy's admission to a psychiatric ward for evaluation. McMurphy is not mentally ill. He is a petty felon, a prison inmate who is faking mental problems in order to avoid the grueling prison work details. He thinks that the cushy life in a mental word, playing cards and wearing pajamas all day, will have to be a significant improvement over the endless days of back-breaking labor on the prison farm.

The essence of the story results from following the premise through. What impact will a perfectly sane, anti-establishment, rabble-rouser have on the population of cuckoos? Will the staff think his rebellious sanity is actually a lack of co-operation with their established routine? McMurphy seems like the ultimate bull in their china shop, with his eternal challenges to their authority, and his boisterous nature amid the sedated patients and the perpetually eerie elevator music playing in the background.

McMurphy and the head nurse form the battle lines for control of the ward. During the course of the film, McMurphy breathes life into the loonies, and enriches their lives in many ways, but Big Nurse must win some battles because she makes the rules.


Brad Dourif showed his butt in a post-sex scene.

Mews Small showed her right breast while she was getting dressed on a boat.

Her first significant chess move against McMurphy is to persuade the committee that McMurphy may actually have some mental problems, and should stay in the ward. At first, this seems to be exactly what McMurphy wants, but the nurse's external politeness masks the heart of a cobra. If McMurphy had been sent back to prison, he would have been released in 68 days. But commitment to a mental ward, with a judgment that he might be dangerous, could extend his confinement indefinitely. His great plan backfired. He traded 68 days of hard work for a lifetime in a mental institution. She then opts for heavy medication, electric shock treatments, and  .... 

Despite Big Nurse's power, there was a point when McMurphy could have gotten away, but he postponed his escape to do a great favor for a fellow inmate. Because of his generosity, he fell asleep and got busted. It is McMurphy's character development which takes the story beyond amusing and makes it truly great. When McMurphy first came into the hospital, he was amusing and life-affirming for the other patients, but he was also completely self-centered. As the movie progressed, his attitude changed, and he developed a legitimate paternal concern for his fellow patients. In the end, he didn't snap against the authorities because he was abused personally, but because of the injustice of the system and the way that system abused his friends. Eventually, he snapped into a physical attack which allowed Big Nurse to take her ultimate revenge.

The bittersweet ending reveals that McMurphy won a victory even in his loss. Although his body was crushed by the system, his spirit endured through the others in the ward, especially the gigantic unspeaking Native American who seemed to take on McMurphy's soul. Part of the structural beauty of the film is that The Chief and McMurphy seem to switch places during the course of the story.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Commentary by director Milos Forman and producers Michael Douglas and Saul Zaentz

  • Theatrical trailer(s)

  • New 2001 digital transfer from restored elements

  • Soundtrack remastered

  • "The Making of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," a 48-minute documentary featuring the actors, the moviemakers, and writer Ken Kesey recounting the history of the original novel to its stage and movie adaptations

  • 8 additional scenes

  • Widescreen anamorphic format, 1.85:1

The film swept all the five major Academy Awards in 1976 (picture, director, actor, actress, screenplay), the first time that had happened in 45 years (Frank Capra's It Happened One Night). Unlike a lot of films which pandered to the anti-establishment "youth culture" of the sixties and early seventies, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest still seems fresh and relevant, and could just as easily take place today. Although author Ken Kesey is well known for his adventures in the hippie years, this book was actually written in 1962, before the cultural revolution. It is a movie about human dignity, pride, inspiration, and courage. After nearly three decades, its greatness has been confirmed, and it is currently rated twelfth of all time at IMDb. Nicholson's performance as Randle McMurphy is honored as one of the most memorable in screen history, and the director said "Jack Nicholson was sent from heaven. He doesn't just play R.P. MacMurphy. He is R.P. MacMurphy." The cast of nuts includes some memorable performances from an assortment of character actors, including future stars Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd.

The new 2-disk DVD set includes a new digital transfer and remastered soundtrack, a feature-length commentary by the director, nine additional scenes, and a documentary on the making of the film.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: four stars, an all-time classic.

  • In the history of the Oscars, only three films have swept all five major Oscars (writer, director, actor, actress, picture). This is one of them. (It Happened One Night and The Silence of the Lambs are the others)

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 8.7/10 - number 12 of all time.
  • with their dollars: a massive hit. It grossed $112 million in 1975 dollars.


IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is an A. A popular hit, a critical smash, an enduring cultural treasure.

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