Saturday, April 22, 2017


For whatever reason I was thinking of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest today. Why did it have such an impact? The movie feels very real. Cinéma vérité style realism isn't the only way to go, of course, but it the context of Hollywood at the time it was new and fresh. The camera finds the action, the source of conflict in the scene, of course. But its view is unsettled, as if it were another person in the room not quite sure where to look.

Casting enhanced this feeling. Jack Nicholson was the only actor anywhere near being a star. Louise Fletcher had done a lot of TV guest roles, but very few films up to that point. A few supporting roles were filled by non-actors.

Seen above, Christopher Lloyd was experienced onstage, not much known outside of it. It's different now, and strange seeing him as a borderline abusive mental patient. Also, it's weird to see him with such short hair, especially in the seventies.


susan said...

I agree the style of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was unique in a time when some very good films for adults were more common than today (Cool Hand Luke - Hud - The Godfather - Bonnie and Clyde - Dog Day Afternoon and others). It seems that when there's intense competition is when the best things happen. For example, Jack Nicholson was born to play the part of McMurphy, the dangerous misfit who rails against the system embodied by Nurse Ratched. It's always fascinating to watch Nicholson using the happy go lucky body language we see in this clip, but if it’s possible to trump Nicholson in acting then it can only be done by the steely Fletcher. Their relationship is one of the great on screen confrontations.

It's interesting you mention the reality of the movie because I remember hearing it really was filmed inside a residential psychiatric hospital, and even featured real patients in some scenes. The depressing, stifling atmosphere of 1960s institutions looks and sounds just right, including the depressing colour of the paint on the corridor walls - and Christopher Lloyd's short hair.

It remains a very amazing movie.

Ben said...

The late sixties and seventies were an open time for mid-to-big budget movies. I think this is in part because the ideas of what could make money for a studio were in flux. A lot of movies made under the old formulas didn't work, while there were unexpected successes outside of that. Hollywood got much more cautious soon afterwards. Heaven's Gate gets blamed a lot, and while I haven't seen it that's probably an oversimplification. It is true that blockbuster became a formula in themselves around that time.

Nicholson seems born to play McMurphy. Of course people think of him being that kind of character in real life. Whether or not he is - my guess is in some but not all ways - he projects the right kind of energy. Fletcher is a stark contrast. Nurse Ratched made her reputation, and you can see why.

Could you film this movie on a studio set? Maybe, but it wouldn't be the same. If it worked at all it would be as some kind of surreal Dr. Caligari nightmare, which isn't exactly what this is. As for Lloyd's character, he seems likely as not to have had a few electroshock sessions. He's lucky enough or just self controlled enough to have not been lobotomized. Sadly not everyone is.

Oh yes.