Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Jack Nicholson and company

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975). Director: Milos Forman.

Author Ken Kesey reportedly hated this film version of his novel, which takes place in a state mental institution. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), arrested for statutory rape, is sent from a work farm to the institution, but it is suspected that he is faking his alleged mental illness. McMurphy provides some inspiration and leadership for other inmates, and finds himself in a deadly tussle with head nurse Rachet (Louise Fletcher). The odd thing about the movie is how conventional it is in many ways, despite the lead character being an anti-hero [and despite some intelligence and good qualities he is basically a loser -- I mean look where he is!] Some of the sequences are dramatically dubious to say the least, and the movie comes off [deliberately, I believe] as more of a black comedy than a serious expose of conditions and attitudes in mental hospitals. Nicholson won an Oscar and is fine, although the role is not in any way out of his range. Louise Fletcher also won an Oscar and is excellent as the nurse, who is less evil than misguided. The film introduced Brad Dourif as young Billy, and he's been playing odd types in the movies ever since. Danny De Vito [who is only adequate] and Christopher Lloyd later wound up on Taxi, where their talents, especially the former's, were better served. William Redfield, Scatman Crothers, and especially Sydney Lassick are all quite good in important supporting roles. The movie presents women and black men, traditionally oppressed and victimized, in positions of authority over the exclusively Caucasian patients, but really does nothing with the premise, and the other female characters, such as hooker friends of McMurphy's, are presented basically as cartoons. Fletcher's next film was the ill-received Exorcist 2: The Heretic.

Verdict: At times quite arresting, but nothing really special here. **1/2.

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