Today! Because I must be crazy to be in a loony bin like this –
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
Directed by Milos Forman
Starring Jack Nicholson (x4), Louise Fletcher (x3), Brad Dourif, Will Sampson, Scatman Crothers (x3), Danny DeVito (x5), Vincent Schiavelli (x5), Christopher Lloyd (x4), Michael Berryman, Peter Brocco, Sydney Lassick, Louisa Moritz, Mews Small, William Redfield
I was already well familiar with the movie by the time I read Ken Kesey’s book, which is a very different Cuckoo’s Nest experience, and then later Dale Wasserman’s play – which bears more similarity to the movie, but is sort of a neat hybrid of the two. Kesey famously hated the direction the movie went, because again, that book is wildly different, even as it tells basically the same story, but both are pretty great in their own ways.
The movie, however, does win out in the end, being the absolute cinematic classic that it is. And the whole thing came together as it did by a lot of luck – Kirk Douglas had starred as McMurphy on Broadway in the early ’60s and held the rights, only to age out of the role and pass the producing onto his son Michael, opening the door for Nicholson to come on board. That casting delayed the film, due to other Nicholson projects, which also roundabout-ly caused Lily Tomlin to vacate the Nurse Ratched role, picked up by Louise Fletcher, who subsequently dropped out of the epic pre-production on Robert Altman’s Nashville, in the role that ultimately Lily Tomlin ending up jumping into (Part of the reason Tomlin’s Linnea has deaf children in Nashville is because Louise Fletcher was fluent in sign language, having been born to deaf parents!). I think I have all that right, pulled together through various sources and my muddled memory.
1975 is quite possibly the greatest year in movie history – there is plenty of ’75 still to come, despite this being only the second film from that year on the list so far, following Rocky Horror back at #363 – and yet One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is such an unquestionable masterpiece that virtually no one is rankled by the awards it dominated, straight out of the mouths of Nashville, Jaws, Dog Day Afternoon, and to a lesser extent Barry Lyndon (How about that big five up for Best Picture?!). It was famously only the second movie to win all the top five categories at the Oscars – Picture, Actor, Actress, Director, and Screenplay – following Capra’s It Happened One Night way back in ’34, and has only been followed in the feat by Silence of the Lambs in ’91.
One has to wonder if the Nicholson portion of this sweep was due partly to his being well overdue by ’75. Don’t get me wrong, Jack the Actor is incredible in this part, but in this deep a year, and facing pretty heady competition from the also overdue Pacino for Dog Day, didn’t the fact that he’d gone 0 for 4 in the previous six years, across Chinatown, Easy Rider, The Last Detail, and Five Easy Pieces factor in some? (For his part, Pacino was only 0 for 3 in the previous three years – Godfather, Godfather Part II, and Serpico). Just saying!
But man, the awards onslaught for this film! It also won this big five at the Globes (I have no idea if other films have done this, because the Globes don’t matter), and everything except screenplay at the BAFTAs, plus Supporting Actor for Dourif and Film Editing. It was nominated for nine Oscars in total, including Dourif, Editing, Cinematography, and Score, and has placed as high as 20th on the AFI’s greatest movies list. For what it’s worth, IMDB users have it ranked at 16th overall, as of this writing. But has any love truly been given for the film’s Best World Series Reenactment? I’d say not enough!
Six advancing actors in the guilds today, including #273 Cheap Detective co-stars Fletcher (also #219 The Player) and Crothers (also #331 Twilight Zone) to the Threes, Nicholson (#368 Anger Management, #310 Mars Attacks!, #207 A Few Good Men) and Lloyd (#393 The Dream Team, #344 Back to the Future II, #281 Buckaroo Banzai) to the Fours, and frequent co-stars Danny DeVito (also Mars Attacks! and #375 Romancing the Stone) and Vincent Schiavelli (also #398 Ghost and Buckaroo Banzai)- both appearing in #282 Johnny Dangerously and #205 Batman Returns – heading to the Fives as the 15th and 16th members!