Thursday, July 22, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #55

55. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

The counterculture movement of the late 1960's produced some of the best art, literature, music and films of the 20th Century. One of those pieces was Ken Kesey's controversial novel about a social dropout who checks himself into a mental institution and stirs up the status quo. The novel was risqué, graphic and a sleeper success. Soon after the release of the novel, it was turned into an Off-Broadway play by Dale Wasserman (writer of Man of La Mancha) and starred Kirk Douglas. In 1975, the United Artists studio purchased the rights to Kesey's novel and Wasserman's script (to be produced by Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas). Several actors were considered for the part of Randle P. McMurphy, but it was Jack Nicholson who director Milos Forman put his faith in for the lead role. Nicholson's performance (which won him his first Oscar) is his best. With every role he plays, Jack puts in just a little bit (or maybe a lot) of himself and with McMurphy, his method fits so well. There was a long list of actresses that turned down the part of the stern and vicious Nurse Ratched (including Colleen Dewhurst, Anne Bancroft and Angela Lansbury). After several months of auditions, Forman went with an unknown television character actress named Louise Fletcher. Fletcher's bold portrayal of the wicked nurse is so chilling and it garnered her fame, praise and an Oscar (for Best Actress!). The supporting cast is also filled with zany character actors (some of whom had been in the play) including Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Scatman Crothers and Will Sampson (in the poignant role of Chief Bromden). But the best supporting performance in the film comes from Brad Dourif (later famous for being the voice of "Chucky"), who plays the tragic role of Billy. His portrayal of the shy, frightened young man-child is so important to the heart of the film. It is a great film that, in addition to its leads winning Oscars, also won the three big prizes: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (just like #62: The Silence of the Lambs did later).

Next Post: #54

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