IMDB has a lot of interesting "trivia" -- their word -- about the movie. I knew that many of the extras were real mental patients. I didn't know Will Sampson got the role of Chief Bromden because he was the only person they could find who had the two qualities they needed (Native American and physically huge). [NOTE: He wasn't an actor.] I didn't know that Jack Nicholson and Milos Forman (the director) were at odds with each other:
...Nicholson and director Milos Forman had very different ideas about how the narrative should play out; for example, Forman thought that the ward should be in bedlam when McMurphy showed up and Nicholson posited that his character would have absolutely no effect on the mental patients if they were already riled up, which would have negated the purpose of his character and therefore much of the plot. Nicholson and Forman both refused to give an inch, both believing they were right and the other was wrong. The two months that Jack Nicholson disappeared for was more like two weeks, and he didn't disappear. In actuality, Nicholson spearheaded a coup among the other actors and refused to let Forman run rehearsals, running them himself instead.Wow. Nicholson got it right. Other evidence of how wrong Forman could be: He wanted Burt Reynolds to play McMurphy! But he was right -- I think -- not to want the fishing scene. He thought -- I agree -- it interfered with the claustrophobic atmosphere of the rest of the film. I detested the fishing scene in the book. It's exactly where I stopped reading. I liked the movie McMurphy as an anti-authoritarian, counterculture guy. The McMurphy in the book was Mr. Masculine Energy. Let's fish, let's watch baseball, let's play basketball, let's drink, let's have sex with prostitutes... and isn't the nurse a bitch?
Other evidence of how much credit Nicholson deserves:
Most of Jack Nicholson's scene with Dean R. Brooks upon arriving at the hospital was improvised - including his slamming a stapler, asking about a fishing photo, and discussing his rape conviction; Brooks's reactions were authentic.Brooks actually was superintendent of a mental hospital. This scene reminded us of the office interview scene in "The Shining," which Nicholson made 5 years later.
Kirk Douglas owned the rights to the book for a long time and wanted to play McMurphy. When I read the book -- which was after I saw the movie and knowing Douglas wanted the part -- I fell into picturing Kirk Douglas. He was much more the sort of person (the author) Ken Kesey had in mind. Nicholson made the movie into something that resonated in 1975. The book was published in 1963... and feels like it.
Ken Kesey was pissed:
Ken Kesey wrote a screenplay for the production, but Forman rejected it because Kesey insisted on keeping Chief Bromden's first-person narration....
[Kesey said] he would never watch the movie version and even sued the movie's producers because it wasn't shown from Chief Bromden's perspective (as the novel is)...."After a few minutes"... hilarious.
Author Ken Kesey was so bitter about the way the filmmakers were "butchering" his story that he vowed never to watch the completed film. Years later, he claimed to be lying in bed flipping through TV channels when he settled onto a late-night movie that looked sort of interesting, only to realize after a few minutes that it was this film. He then changed channels.
Watching the movie last night, I had to stop and think who Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher) was reminding me of. Something about that voice. Then I realized: Condoleezza Rice! Oh, no! So steady, so calm... so infuriating. And I like Condoleezza Rice! Louise Fletcher did a fine job with her role. Has anyone ever won an Oscar for showing so little expression? She was not -- as Nurse Ratched was in the book -- an embodiment of matriarchy and women's repression of men. She was horrible, cold, and controlling, but she also had some humanity. She was in a predicament trying to deal professionally with some very trying individuals. She made all the wrong decisions, but she was recognizably human.
The actors who played those patients did a fine job portraying seriously ill men and making them dramatically effective and immensely entertaining. We felt free to laugh at them a lot without getting the nagging guilty feeling that we weren't showing enough respect for the mentally ill. There's bonus entertainment in the fact that two of them are actors we came to love in bigger roles: Danny Devito and Christopher Lloyd.
"If they made this movie today, they'd ruin it with music," I said halfway through. There was scene after scene with no music, other than the occasional record that a character in the movie played. Jack Nitzsche got an Oscar nomination for the score, and his music is memorable and evocative, but I think it only plays over the opening credits and at the very end. There was never any of that sort of movie music that instructs us on how to think and feels our emotions before we get a chance to feel them for ourselves. When Nurse Ratched puts a syrupy, soporific version of "Charmaine" on the record player for the ritual of dispensing the psychotropic drugs, what we feel is in counterpoint to the music. (With all the special features on DVDs today, I wish there was one that let you turn off the score.)
Such are my scattered thoughts on Christmas morning about "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," watched on Christmas Eve.