A big Oscar winner in 1975, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
still holds up remarkably well. Ken Kesey's novel
, an allegory of repression and rebellion set in a mental hospital in the early 1960s, is cannily adapted by Czech director Milos Forman into a comedy drama with a cool, unassuming, near-documentary look. Jack Nicholson has his most jacknicholsonian role as Randle P McMurphy, a livewire troublemaker who unwisely cons his way out of prison and into a mental institution without realising he has switched from serving a sentence with a release date to being committed until adjudged sane by the same people he is winding up on a daily basis. Louise Fletcher, in a career-defining turn, is Nurse Ratched, the soft-spoken sadist who represents the worst type of matronly authoritarianism and clashes with Randle all down the line.
Taking another look at the picture after all these years, it's a surprise that all the unknown actors who seemed like real mental patients have graduated to becoming prolific character actor stars: Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, Vincent Schiavelli, Brad Dourif, the late Will Sampson, Sidney Lassick, Michael Berryman. Unlike many Best Picture Oscar winners, this deals with profound subject matter without seeming self-important: Forman's approach and all-round great acting make it play as a small character story as well as a Big Statement about the human condition. Full marks also for Jack Nitzsche's musical saw-based score.
On the DVD: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest comes to DVD in a two-disc special edition with a great-looking anamorphic 1.85:1 print and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtrack, plus tracks in French and Italian and optional subtitles in half a dozen languages. Disc 2 has the trailer, about 13 minutes of deleted scenes (mostly from the first third of the film, and all pretty good) and a making-of retrospective documentary with interesting material from producers Michael Douglas (who inherited the rights from Kirk) and Saul Zaentz, Forman, screenwriter Bo Goldman and many cast-members (though not Nicholson). There's also a commentary track by Forman, Douglas and others which repeats a few things from the documentary but also goes into more scene-specific detail about the development and shooting. --Kim Newman
Nicholson/Dourif/Fletcher/Samp ~ One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nes