United Artists release of a Fantasy Films production. Produced by Saul Zaentz, Michael Douglas. Stars Jack Nicholson. Directed by Milos Forman. Screenplay, Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman, from novel by Ken Kesey, dramatized for the stage by Dale Wasserman; camera (DeLuxe Color), Haskell Wexler, Bill Butler, William Fraker; editors, Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman, Sheldon Kahn; music, Jack Nitzsche; production design, Paul Sylbert; art direction, Edwin O’Donovan; sound, Lawrence Jost, Mark Berger; asst. director, Irby Smith. Reviewed at MGM Studios. Culver City, Nov. 7, ’75. (MPAA Rating: R.) Running time: 133 MIN.
Randel P. McMurphy – Jack Nicholson
Nurse Ratched – Louise Fletcher
Billy Bibbit – Brad Dourif
Despite its seeming more like a fabulous remake of a dated story rather than the first film version of a noted book and play, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is brilliant cinema theatre. Jack Nicholson stars in an outstanding characterization of Ken Kesey’s asylum anti-hero, McMurphy, and Milos Forman’s direction of a superbly-cast film is equally meritorious. Louis Fletcher is excellent as the arch-nemesis ward nurse of the piece, handsomely produced by Saul Zaentz (of Fantasy Records) and Michael Douglas. The R-rated comedy-melodrama is one of United Artists’ more impressive releases this year.
The past 15 years have covered what seems to be a century of enlightenment. Kesey, a major intellectual catalyst of the Beatnik era, is virtually an elder statesman of the avant-garde; he and others were stirring up the mind when less aware kids were doing their “American Graffiti” numbers. What used to be theatre-of-the-absurd has become, via and after JFK, the Beatles, Vietnam, youthful rebellion, Watergate, etc., almost conventional, cliche storytelling.
Thus, this long-delayed film emerges with a dual impact. To those under the age of, say 25, it will be a theatrically powerful but not especially challenging ensemble showpiece, which poses the now-familiar question, who is insane — the keepers or the kept? To those over that age barrier, it is intellectual nostalgia (a revisitation of the days when causes didn’t choke from mace attacks), Lawrence Welk consciousness-raising, or a first-class Maugham, Galsworthy, Maxwell Anderson or Arthur Miller revival.