204. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (US 1975)
Director: Milos Forman
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, William Redfield, Will Sampson, Sydney Lassick, Christopher Lloyd, Danny De Vito, Brad Dourif
Screenplay: Bo Goldman
Novel: Ken Kesey
Cinematography: Haskell Wexler
Music: Jack Nitzsche
Fact: Angelica Huston plays bit-part 'Woman on the Pier'
Lie: Christopher Lloyd appears in terrible sitcom/embarrassing titty extravaganza 'Stacked'. Oh, hang on; that should be 'fact'
Other Fact: This was to be another of Kirk Douglas's 'love me, everyone' vanity projects. Thankfully nobody would give him the money.
Charismatic criminal brings hope to asylum inmates
Hard to know where to start with this one. An outstanding film in every respect and one that seems to have completely disappeared from the schedules.
Pitch perfect acting from all concerned. The cast spent may weeks living in the grounds of a genuine mental institution to achieve a high level of verisimilitude and it's difficult to say who gets the acting honours in this one. Christopher Lloyd (in his debut film role) is fantastic as the 'non-voluntary' Taber, a man with violent and sociopathic tendencies. I would imagine that every genuine psychopath would identify with the cutaway shot of Taber getting excited as MacMurphy attacks Nurse Ratched. Lloyd's only other performance of equal measure could only be as the Reverend Jim in 'Taxi' (Jim left his wealthy home because his family was too fat).
Redfield and Dourif are good, but of the 'Dad's Army'-style troupe of loons, the pick of the bunch has to be Lassick as perpetually on the verge of breakdown Charlie Cheswick. Lassick's performance is a work of genius and out-takes from the film suggest that the actor was sailing dangerously close to the wind in terms of identifying too closely with his character.
Fletcher's interpretation of what could have been a simple representation of evil is inspired and there were times when I felt that I wanted to 'comfort' her. In a physical sense. I know, I know, but I've been like this ever since I saw Ellen Burstyn in 'Requiem For a Dream' (see 200). The nurse's uniform doesn't help, either. I haven't got the figure for it. (Etc. - forever. See also "The wife's knickers are coming off when I get home; they're crushing me bollocks something ruthless," for a variation on the same Northern Comic gag/routine.)
Predictably, the ultimate honours go to the 1975 winner of the Academy Award for best actor. Nicholson projects a variation of his own charismatic self. His comic timing is impeccable (when required) and his dramatic acting skills are such that the film that the audience is swept along with his vision and this makes the final tragedy all the more heartbreaking (and his empowerment of the Chief all the more enervating). The film is almost the true embodiment of Laura Mulvey's 'male gaze' theory 'writ large'.
Nicholson may have (long ago) slipped into (self acknowledged) self parody, but what does it matter? His body of work in the seventies is almost unmatchable.
An actors' film, therefore, but great directing and a superb script from (almost) untried screenwriter Goldman.
And best of all, no Kirk Douglas.