“Which one of you nuts has got any guts?”
That’s R.P McMurphy, the newest member of Nurse Ratchet’s mental ward. He was transferred from the penitentiary because he wasn’t cooperating, but he’s just a live-wire, not crazy. Most of it is an act, he hoots like a gorilla and climbs on the orderlies at first, but once he sees his ward-mates McMurphy starts to enjoy the entertainment around him. But there’s one person there ruining his good time; Nurse Ratchet. McMurphy rallies his ward-mates around him to rebel against the cold-hearted nurse and feel some freedom, if only for a little while.
Jack Nicholson pours so much energy into playing R.P. McMurphy it feels like he can bend the entire ward with just the raise of an eyebrow. He’s perfectly cocky, rebellious and knows how to mold the patients, but can’t get Nurse Ratchet to budge. When he’s denied simple wishes, like watching a baseball game, he pretends to watch a baseball game, yelling and cheering while narrating the game to his comrades. It’s hard to keep him down. And that’s why he won Best Actor
Nurse Ratchet, played by Louise Fletcher is a worthy adversary and also brought home the Lead Actress Oscar. She holds all the power and has this creepy sense of control over all the men in the ward. When she scolds with her fierce eyes, it can freeze the men in their tracks and make your hair stand up. Her face is eerily placid and void of emotion, and next to so many colorful characters she looks especially blank and wicked. The way she talks to the men and keeps them down is so cold and clinical, she won’t even let them watch a baseball game.
One of the funnest thing about this film is the variety of crazy people in the ward, and a few familiar faces just getting their start on Cuckoo’s Nest. There’s an always smiling Danny Devito as Mr. Martini, Christopher Lloyd as Tabor, who enjoys bullying paranoid Harding and Brad Dourif makes his debut (and a supporting actor nomination) as the sweet stuttering young Billy. Along with the budding stars are unforgettable extras (where IMDB claims some of them to be real mental patients.) I always love when the old man in the wheel chair gets to go swimming; his reaction is just so genuine and wonderful, does anyone know if he was a real patient?
My favorite scene is the later group therapy scene, where Cheswick (Sydney Lassick) throws a tantrum for his cigarettes. It’s where the power struggle between McMurphy’s riled companions and Nurse Ratchet it being pulled to a near snap. The scene stars with Ratchet trying to run her usual quiet group therapy session, arguments flare up and by the end everyone is freaking out. It’s utter chaos with poor Cheswick sounding like an angry toddler yelling, “I want something done!”
I cannot recommend One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest enough. Those who’ve read the book may be a little upset at how different the two mediums are, author Ken Kesey was so upset that he’s made it a point to never watch the film. Yet AFI has ranked this as #20 in their top 100 films. On top of the awards for the actors, Cuckoo’s Nest took home top honors for adapted screenplay, director and picture. The course language brings the film to an R rating (and provides some of the best lines), but if you watch it on T.V. (AMC plays it quite often) it’s edited to a PG-13.