One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

R | 129 or 133 mins | Drama | November 1975

Director:

Milos Forman

Cinematographer:

Haskell Wexler

Production Designer:

Paul Sylbert

Production Company:

Fantasy Films
Full page view
HISTORY

According to studio production notes, Ken Kesey wrote the novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest , between midnight and dawn while working as a night aide at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital. At that time, he was a graduate fellow at Stanford University’s Creative Writing Center. Published in 1962, the novel’s anti-establishment narrative was embraced by the burgeoning counterculture and became a cult classic, according to an 18 May 1974 LAT article.
       On 15 Jun 1962, DV reported that actor Kirk Douglas’s company, Joel Productions, would produce Broadway and film versions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest adapted by Dale Wasserman. Douglas planned to star and George Roy Hill was set to direct. A 2 Jan 1975 DV article stated that Wasserman had written a script. One week later, however, the 9 Jan 1975 DV published a piece by Wasserman in the “Letters to the Editor" which clarified that he wrote the play that opened on Broadway in 1962, but not the screenplay. The theater production was directed by Alex Segal and starred Douglas as “Randle P. McMurphy” and Ed Ames (“Chief Bromden”), William Daniels (“Harding”), Joan Tetzel (“Nurse Ratched”) and Gene Wilder (“Billy Bibbit”).
       While touring Eastern Europe, Douglas met director Milos Forman, who was then living in Prague, and later mailed him copy of the novel. Forman never received the book, perhaps due to strict censorship laws and monitoring by Czech customs officials, and he and Douglas did not meet again for many years. By 1 Dec 1969, Avco-Embassy had acquired the property for future production according to a ... More Less

According to studio production notes, Ken Kesey wrote the novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest , between midnight and dawn while working as a night aide at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital. At that time, he was a graduate fellow at Stanford University’s Creative Writing Center. Published in 1962, the novel’s anti-establishment narrative was embraced by the burgeoning counterculture and became a cult classic, according to an 18 May 1974 LAT article.
       On 15 Jun 1962, DV reported that actor Kirk Douglas’s company, Joel Productions, would produce Broadway and film versions of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest adapted by Dale Wasserman. Douglas planned to star and George Roy Hill was set to direct. A 2 Jan 1975 DV article stated that Wasserman had written a script. One week later, however, the 9 Jan 1975 DV published a piece by Wasserman in the “Letters to the Editor" which clarified that he wrote the play that opened on Broadway in 1962, but not the screenplay. The theater production was directed by Alex Segal and starred Douglas as “Randle P. McMurphy” and Ed Ames (“Chief Bromden”), William Daniels (“Harding”), Joan Tetzel (“Nurse Ratched”) and Gene Wilder (“Billy Bibbit”).
       While touring Eastern Europe, Douglas met director Milos Forman, who was then living in Prague, and later mailed him copy of the novel. Forman never received the book, perhaps due to strict censorship laws and monitoring by Czech customs officials, and he and Douglas did not meet again for many years. By 1 Dec 1969, Avco-Embassy had acquired the property for future production according to a HR news item published that day. However, a 15 Dec 1970 HR news item indicated that Douglas still maintained ownership of the property, as Wasserman had recently sold his motion picture rights to Joel Productions while retaining television, stage and cassette rights.
       Douglas’s ongoing desire to develop the film adaptation was thwarted by several obstacles, including litigation brought by Wasserman that tied up the rights for two years. By 1971, Douglas reportedly believed that he was no longer young enough to play the role of McMurphy and gave the property to his son Michael Douglas. At that time, Michael made a deal with Saul Zaentz of Fantasy Records, which was forming a subsidiary, Fantasy Films. A 21 Mar 1973 HR news item announced that Fantasy planned to finance the film, marking Michael Douglas’s debut as a producer. The following day, DV stated that Fantasy would produce in association with Douglas’s Bryna Company. Although a 6 Jun 1973 Var news item reported that Hal Ashby would direct the film, Zaentz and Douglas later replaced him with Milos Forman, who was by then living in New York City. The filmmakers were reportedly unaware that Kirk Douglas had originally wanted Forman to direct.
       According to production notes, the producers waited nine months for actor Jack Nicholson to complete his role in The Fortune (1975). Reprising their roles from the stage play were Delos V. Smith, Jr. (“Scanlon”), who, according to a 2 Jan 1975 DV article, performed in a Huntington Hartford production of the story, and Danny DeVito, who had appeared as “Martini” in a 1971 off-Broadway revival. Mimi Sarkisian (“Nurse Pilbow”) had appeared in a long-running San Francisco production of the play. Making his film debut as “Chief Bromden” was Will Sampson, a Creek Indian who had never before acted. Also making their film debuts in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were Brad Dourif ("Billy Bibbit”) and Christopher Lloyd (“Taber”). In an 18 Nov 1975 DV article, Jeanne Moreau stated that she turned down the role of “Nurse Ratched,” which was played in the film by Louise Fletcher. Modern sources report that Angela Lansbury, Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, Ellen Burstyn and Anne Bancroft also turned down the role.
       A 26 Apr 1973 HR news item reported that Kesey would write the screenplay. In an 8 Apr 1975 Women’s Wear Daily article, Douglas stated that Kesey was paid for a script he submitted in 1972, but it was rejected, as it was written in the first person point of view of Chief Bromden, in the style of the novel. The producers hired Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman, who changed the point of view to third person. Although HR production charts listed the first day of principal photography as 11 Jan 1975, a 16 Jan 1975 LAT news item reported that the filming began two days later, on 13 Jan 1975. According to production notes, the film was shot entirely at the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, which provided the company an entire wing that served as sets and administrative offices. The company paid a rental fee of $250 per day, according to a 7 Mar 1975 HR article. Several patients appeared in the film as extras, or served as technicians or maintenance people, according to a 13 Apr 1975 NYT article. The hospital’s director, Dr. Dean R. Brooks, appeared in the film in the role of “Dr. Spivey.” Oregon’s former governor, Tom McCall, portrayed an uncredited news commentator.
       One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Nicholson), Actress (Fletcher), Directing, and Writing ((Screenplay Adapted from Other Material), and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Dourif), Cinematography, Film Editing and Music (Original Score). The film won Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture-Drama, Best Screenplay-Motion Picture, Best Motion Picture Actor (Nicholson), Best Motion Picture Actress (Fletcher), Best Director and Best Debut in a Motion Picture (Dourif). Among many other awards, the picture won Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium from WGA. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was ranked 33rd on AFI's 2007 100 Years…100 Movies--10th Anniversary Edition list of the greatest American films, moving down from the 20th position it held on AFI's 1997 list.
       The end credits contain an acknowledgment that portions of the 1963 World Series broadcast was courtesy NBC, Inc. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
15 Jun 1962.
---
Daily Variety
30 Jun 1970.
---
Daily Variety
6 Aug 1970.
---
Daily Variety
2 Jan 1975.
---
Daily Variety
9 Jan 1975.
---
Daily Variety
14 Nov 1975
p. 3, 11.
Films & Filming
Mar 1976
pp. 41-43.
Films & Filming
Apr 1976
pp. 30-31.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Dec 1969.
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 1970.
---
Hollywood Reporter
21 Mar 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
22 Mar 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
26 Apr 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 1975
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Apr 1975
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Mar 1975.
---
Hollywood Reporter
14 Nov 1975
p. 3.
Los Angeles Times
18 May 1974
Section II, p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
16 Jun 1975.
---
Los Angeles Times
21 Nov 1975
Section IV, p. 1.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
26 Nov 1975
p. 45.
New Republic
13 Dec 1975
pp. 22-23.
New York
1 Dec 1975
pp. 80-83.
New York Times
13 Apr 1975.
---
New York Times
20 Nov 1975
Section II, p. 1.
New York Times
2 Jan 1976.
---
Rolling Stone
4 Dec 1975
pp. 48-54.
Saturday Review
10 Jan 1976
p. 61.
Time
1 Dec 1975
p. 68.
Variety
9 Jan 1975.
---
Variety
19 Nov 1975
p. 18.
Women's Wear Daily
8 Apr 1975
p. 16.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Milos Forman film
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Addl photog
Addl photog
Cam op
Cam op
Cam op
Gaffer
Gaffer
Gaffer
Key grip
Best boy
Best boy
Still photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Art dir
FILM EDITORS
Supv film ed
Film ed
Film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
Asst film ed
SET DECORATORS
Props
Const coord
Prod painter
COSTUMES
MUSIC
Orig mus comp
Mus ed
SOUND
Pre-prod sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles by
MAKEUP
Makeup
Hairdresser
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting
Casting
Unit prod mgr
Post-prod supv
Scr supv
Loc auditor
Loc auditor
Transportation capt
Prod asst
Prod office coord
Loc coord
Tech adv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Dale Wasserman, produced by David Merrick and Edward Lewis (New York, 12 Nov 1963), which was based on the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey (New York, 1962).
DETAILS
Release Date:
November 1975
Premiere Information:
New York and Los Angeles opening: 19 November 1975
Production Date:
mid January--mid April 1975
Copyright Claimant:
N. V. Zwaluw
Copyright Date:
13 November 1975
Copyright Number:
LP45279
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Duration(in mins):
129 or 133
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
24414
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

At an Oregon mental asylum, serene but tyrannical Nurse Ratched maintains firm control over the men’s ward. In the day room, calm music blares from a record player, as she and her assistant, Nurse Pilbow, hand out daily medications to their patients. Randle Patrick McMurphy, who is eager to escape a work farm prison where he is serving a six-month sentence for statutory rape, is delivered to the asylum wearing handcuffs. When McMurphy attempts to greet a very tall Native American, called Chief Bromden, he is met with a blank stare and no response. Billy Bibbit, the youngest patient in the ward who has a marked stutter, informs McMurphy that Bromden is a deaf-mute. When the hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Spivey, meets with McMurphy, he tells him that the prison officials believe McMurphy is faking mental illness and informs him that the hospital staff will be evaluating him to determine whether he should be returned to complete his sentence or remain at the asylum. McMurphy arrives at Ratched’s ward as she is leading a group therapy session in which she urges the men to discuss the marital and sexual problems of Harding, a well-spoken, educated patient who suspects his wife of infidelity. The men are at first reluctant to speak up, but Ratched encourages them to talk. Due to the intrusive nature of the discussion, Harding becomes upset, causing tension to rise within the group. The session ends with loud arguments that prompt the orderlies to physically remove some of the patients out of the room to restore the peace. During an outdoor exercise interval, McMurphy encourages Bromden to play basketball by climbing onto the shoulder of another ... +


At an Oregon mental asylum, serene but tyrannical Nurse Ratched maintains firm control over the men’s ward. In the day room, calm music blares from a record player, as she and her assistant, Nurse Pilbow, hand out daily medications to their patients. Randle Patrick McMurphy, who is eager to escape a work farm prison where he is serving a six-month sentence for statutory rape, is delivered to the asylum wearing handcuffs. When McMurphy attempts to greet a very tall Native American, called Chief Bromden, he is met with a blank stare and no response. Billy Bibbit, the youngest patient in the ward who has a marked stutter, informs McMurphy that Bromden is a deaf-mute. When the hospital psychiatrist, Dr. Spivey, meets with McMurphy, he tells him that the prison officials believe McMurphy is faking mental illness and informs him that the hospital staff will be evaluating him to determine whether he should be returned to complete his sentence or remain at the asylum. McMurphy arrives at Ratched’s ward as she is leading a group therapy session in which she urges the men to discuss the marital and sexual problems of Harding, a well-spoken, educated patient who suspects his wife of infidelity. The men are at first reluctant to speak up, but Ratched encourages them to talk. Due to the intrusive nature of the discussion, Harding becomes upset, causing tension to rise within the group. The session ends with loud arguments that prompt the orderlies to physically remove some of the patients out of the room to restore the peace. During an outdoor exercise interval, McMurphy encourages Bromden to play basketball by climbing onto the shoulder of another patient and shooting the ball through the hoop, but Bromden shows little interest. Later, McMurphy encourages his fellow patients to play blackjack, instead of their usual pinochle, using cigarettes to represent dimes. When McMurphy asks Ratched to turn down the music so the men can hear each other, Ratched refuses, explaining that the older men who are hard of hearing would not be able to enjoy it. McMurphy balks at taking medication, but Ratched convinces him to cooperate by offering to administer the medicine in another way. At the next group session, McMurphy suggests changing the work detail, so that the men can watch the opening of the World Series on television. Ratched patiently explains that making changes would disturb the men in the ward who take a long time adjusting to a schedule. She suggests taking a vote, but most of the men are reluctant, even fearful, of voting against her will. Later, in the “tub room” of the asylum, McMurphy suggests that they leave the asylum to watch the game at a bar, but the men explain that they are locked in. McMurphy bets them that he can get them out and attempts to lift a large marble washing station with which he plans to break open a window, but finds it too heavy. When he finally gives up, he tells the others that at least he tried. At the next group session, Ratched focuses on Billy, who had asked a girl to marry him. Ratched mentions that Billy’s mother never told Ratched about the girl, which causes Billy’s stutter to intensify. When she asks about the first time he tried to commit suicide, another patient, Cheswick, asks Ratched why she presses Billy on the subject when he does not wish to talk. Changing the subject, he says that he would like to see the baseball game and asks for another vote. This time, all nine men in the group vote in favor of the game, but Ratched tells them that there are eighteen patients in the ward and a majority vote is needed to change ward policy. McMurphy approaches each of the other men, urging them to raise their hands, but they are too mentally ill to comprehend the events around them. Just as Ratched ends the group meeting, McMurphy convinces Bromden to raise his hand, but Ratched again refuses to give in, claiming that the vote was closed. Refusing to be defeated, McMurphy stares at the blank television screen and pretends to watch the game, shouting out a play-by-play commentary that inspires the other men to join him and cheer. After his fourth week at the asylum, McMurphy meets with Spivey, as other doctors observe their conversation. When he is asked if he likes being at the asylum, McMurphy responds that Ratched is not honest, that she “likes a rigged game.” Spivey tells McMurphy that he diagnoses no evidence of mental illness, prompting McMurphy to make silly faces and other odd movements, and ask, “Is this crazy enough for you?” As the men are preparing to go on an outing, McMurphy impulsively asks Bromden to help him over the barbed wire fence around the hospital. On the other side, he hides in the vacant bus until the men board, then drives the bus away, leaving the asylum staff behind. After picking up Candy and Rose, friendly prostitutes with whom he is acquainted, he takes the men to a marina, where he convinces the harbor master to let them charter a boat, introducing himself and his cohorts as doctors from the mental institution. He teaches the men to bait a hook and puts Cheswick in charge of the ship’s wheel, while Billy and Candy go below deck. When the men later return to the waiting police who accompany Spivey, they are exhilarated. Later, the panel of doctors meet and cannot agree on whether McMurphy is mentally ill, but some believe he is dangerous. When they consider returning him to the prison, Ratched suggests that they keep him rather than relinquish their problems to another institution. Outside, McMurphy leads the men in a game of basketball. Bromden walks back and forth between the two baskets, ensuring that his own team’s ball goes into the basket while preventing the opposing team’s ball from going through, but everyone enjoys the game. During a hydrotherapy session, McMurphy mentions to one of the orderlies that he has only sixty-eight days left of his sentence, but is told that, unlike a prison sentence, asylum commitments last until the doctors allow you to leave. At the next group session, McMurphy accuses his fellow patients of not explaining that he must remain there at the discretion of Ratched and the doctors. Harding says that he did not know, as he had voluntarily committed himself, and Ratched explains that McMurphy is one of only a few who are actually committed. Hearing that Billy could leave if he wished, McMurphy tells him that he is young and should be out enjoying women. He tells the men they are no crazier than most people. When Ratched encourages comments on McMurphy’s statement, the men direct their challenges at her, by asking why the doors to their rooms are locked during the day and why their cigarettes are withheld from them. When the usually docile Cheswick demands his cigarettes, Ratched accuses McMurphy of creating the necessity of rationing their cigarettes, because he was winning their money and cigarettes in gambling. A patient, Taber, who has been hiding a lit cigarette in the cuff of his pants, yells out in pain when it burns his leg, creating chaos that builds when Cheswick loudly demands his cigarettes and disturbs the more vulnerable patients. To calm him, McMurphy breaks the window of the nurses’ office to retrieve his cigarettes. Meanwhile, Washington, an orderly, tries to force Cheswick from the room, prompting McMurphy to punch him. They fight, but when Washington holds McMurphy down, the silent Bromden comes to his aid. Order is restored when more orderlies are called in, and McMurphy, Bromden and Cheswick are cuffed and taken from the room to be given sedatives. While waiting in a hall, after Cheswick is taken away, McMurphy offers Bromden a piece of chewing gum and is given a quiet thank you, revealing that Bromden can both hear and speak. McMurphy suggests they escape the asylum together, but he is taken away and given electroshock treatment. When McMurphy returns to the ward, he shuffles in, bearing a vacant look on his face, but soon laughs and acknowledges that he is playing a joke on the men. Still intent on escaping, McMurphy breaks into the nurses’ office one night and calls Candy and Rose, asking them to bring liquor. McMurphy invites Bromden to leave with him, but Bromden declines. When Candy and Rose arrive, McMurphy pulls them in through a window and awakens the men for a farewell party. Afterward, McMurphy prepares to leave with the women and says goodbye to each of the men. Noting that Billy is upset, McMurphy invites him to come along, but Billy believes he is not ready for the outside world. Realizing that the virginal Billy is attracted to Candy, McMurphy arranges for them to have a private “date.” While waiting for Candy, McMurphy falls asleep and when the orderlies and nurses arrive the next morning to discover the disheveled room, it is too late for him to escape. When the hospital attendants discover Billy in bed with Candy, Ratched asks him if he is ashamed of himself. Billy answers without stuttering that he is not, but when Ratched threatens to tell his mother, he breaks down and is taken from the room by the orderlies. Shortly after, Billy commits suicide. Angry, McMurphy grabs Ratched by the throat and strangles her, until Washington knocks him out. Later order is restored and Ratched, now wearing a neck brace, regains control of the men, although they still play blackjack using cigarettes for money. McMurphy, however, has not been seen and various rumors circulate, some stating that he escaped the asylum and others that he is on another floor, “meek as a lamb.” During the middle of the night, McMurphy is returned to his bed by orderlies. Bromden goes to him, ready for the two of them to escape, but discovers that McMurphy has been given a lobotomy that has left him vacant and spiritless. To free him, Bromden suffocates his friend with a pillow. He then goes to the tub room, lifts the washing station and breaks the window, through which he leaves the asylum. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

CASABLANCA

During World War II, Casablanca, Morocco is a waiting point for throngs of desperate refugees fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe. Exit visas, which are necessary to leave the country, are at ... >>

CITIZEN KANE

Seventy-year-old newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane dies in his palatial Florida home, Xanadu, after uttering the single word “Rosebud.” While watching a newsreel summarizing the years during which Kane ... >>

REAR WINDOW

Laid up with a broken leg during the height of summer, renowned New York magazine photographer L. B. “Jeff” Jeffries enters his last week of home confinement, bored and ... >>

RAGING BULL

In 1941, at a boxing match in Cleveland, Ohio, pandemonium breaks out when Jake La Motta, an up-and-coming young boxer, loses a decision to Jimmy Reeves, suffering his first ... >>

CITY LIGHTS

At an outdoor dedication ceremony, a tramp is discovered sleeping in the arms of a statue as it is being unveiled before a crowd. He is chased into ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.