One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest


19th November 1975, Los Angeles and New York, USA

129 min.


© 1975 The Saul Zaentz Company


“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. „

(A. D. Murphy, Variety, 2008)

After being convicted of the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl, Randle McMurphy pretends to be insane in order to avoid prison. However, McMurphy soon learns that the institution is the worst prison he could have chosen. The film, which was awarded five Oscars, tells the tragedy of a conflict between an individual and a totalitarian regime.

About the movie

Randle McMurphy is an outlandish outsider, and a convicted criminal who has problems adapting to the status quo. After McMurphy is sentenced to prison for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl who claimed to be 18, he explains, ”She  was very willing, I practically had to take to sewing my pants shut.” He is able to escape penal labor by convincing the court the he belongs in a mental institution. At the mental institution, McMurphy fights against the unlimited power of the evil Nurse Ratched.

McMurphy fights to defend the other patients in the mental institution from Nurse Ratched. He teaches the dumb Native American Chief Bromden, the neurotic Billy Bibbit, the fantasising Martin and the childish Charlie Cheswick how to long for freedom and life behind the walls of the bureaucratic madhouse. And, because even a complete madman deserves to have a bit of fun, he organizes a party and demands to watch a baseball final. What McMurphy doesn’t realize is that his true adversary isn’t Nurse Ratched, but a madman with an angelic face.

After his American debut “Taking Off”,Forman spent several years searching for new film material. During this time, Forman suffered both in his personal and his professional life, but this interim period also sparked a radical change in his creative style. As a result, Forman managed to break away from the typical Czech tragicomedy to focus on psychological dramas. This shift ultimately helped him to gain an American audience.

Forman was given a second chance to work in America when actor and producer Michael Douglas offered him the chance to make a film adaptation of Ken Kesey’s cult novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. The independently produced film surprised everyone involved when it earned nearly $300 million worldwide. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”  was the seventh most profitable film of the 1970s, and the first movie since Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” (1934) to win awards in all major categories. The next movie to do this was “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1991.


  • The role of McMurphy (played by Jack Nicholson) was originally offered to James Caan. 
  • Many of the film’s extras were real mental patients. Before shooting began, the entire cast and crew had to watch the documentary “Titicut Follies“ about life in a mental institution to get a feel for the people staying there.
  • During filming a crew member running cables left a second story window open and an actual patient climbed through the bars and injured himself. The next day, The Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon reported the incident with the headline on the front page "One flew OUT of the cuckoo's nest". 
  • With the exception of the fishing scene (which was filmed last), the film was shot in sequence. 
  • When they filmed the fishing scene the entire cast got seasick (with the exception of Jack Nicholson) . To make it worse, it took a whole week to shoot it. Danny DeVito still gets queasy thinking about it. 
  • In 2007 the American Film Institute ranked “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest“ as the 33rd Greatest Movie of All Time.
  • Louise Fletcher signed onto the film only a week before filming began. Fletcher auditioned repeatedly over six months and at each audition director Milos Forman told her that she just wasn't approaching the part correctly. In spite of that, he finally cast her.
  • Lily Tomlin was originally cast as Nurse Ratched. Tomlin left the film to replace Louise Fletcher in Robert Altman‘s “Nashville“ after Fletcher withdrew from the film to act in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest“. The two actresses switched their roles in the two films.
  • Louise Fletcher only realized that the part of Nurse Ratched was a greatly contested role among the leading actresses of the day (Colleen Dewhurst, Geraldine Page, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Jane Fonda and Angela Lansbury) when a reporter visiting the set happened to casually mention it. 
  • The title of both the movie and the book is derived from an old American children's folk rhyme. This folk rhyme is hummed by Native American Chief Bromden as a memory of his childhood. However, this detail was removed from the finished movie.
  • At first author Ken Kesey took helped work on  the screenplay, but in the end he backed out  over arguments with the producer. He wanted the story to be told from Chief Bromden's perspective (like in the novel) but Forman declined. The author sued the movie's producers and won a partial financial settlement. Supposedly Kesey never saw the movie, but even so he claims that he didn’t like what he had heard about it. Once he even changed the television channel when he realized that the movie was playing.
  •  Ken Kesey’s novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was adapted for the stage by Dale Wasserman. It premiered on Broadway in 1963 with Kirk Douglas in the leading role. Kirk then bought the film rights and tried to generate interest from most major studios, however he didn’t succeed. After many years, Douglas gave the rights to his son Michael who coproduced the film with Saul Zaentz and United Artists.  
  • Kirk Douglas first met Milos Forman in Czechoslovakia, and after deciding that he would be a good director for the film he promised to send Forman the book. However, the book was probably confiscated by Czech customs because it never arrived. When Milos Forman finally received the book “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest“ from Kirk’s son Michael, he was already in exile in America and had no idea that it was the same book that had been offered to him some time ago.
  • Kirk Douglas planned to star in the film, but by the time they got around to making it he felt that he was too old. 
  • Danny DeVito reprised his performance from 1971 when he starred in the theatre adaptation at the Mercer-Hansberry Theatre in New York City.
  • Saul Zaentz’s friend, Oregon businessman Mel Lambert (who played the harbour master) had a strong relationship with Native Americans throughout the area. It was Lambert who found Will Sampson (a painter of nature scenes) to play the role of silent Chief Bromden. Lambert approached Sampson when he came to buy a used car. 
  • Will Sampson moved to Los Angeles after the filming to try for success as an actor. He was cast in a few minor roles, but he became an alcholic and died in his 50s.
  • Director Milos Forman relied heavily on reaction shots to pull more characters into scenes. In some group therapy scenes he would flim ten minutes of Jack Nicholson's reactions even if Nicholson had very little dialogue. The shot of Louise Fletcher looking icily at McMurphy after he returns from shock therapy was actually her irritated reaction to a piece of direction from Forman.
  • The script called for Nicholson to leap on a guard and kiss him when he first arrived at the hospital. During filming, Forman decided that the guard's reaction wasn't strong enough and told Nicholson to jump on the other guard instead. This very surprised actor actually punched Nicholson.
  • Tom McCall, the former Governor of Oregon appeared in the movie.
  • Doctor Dean R. Brooks, the real superintendent of Oregon State Hospital for the Insane plays himself in the movie.
  • Most of the scene in which Randle McMurphy arrives at the hospital was improvised. The moments include: slamming the stapler, the question about the fishing photo, and the discusion of his rape conviction. Non-actor Brooks's reactions were basically authentic.
  • In 2001 Warner Bros. released a restored digital version for the two-disc DVD edition. The restoration consisted of the renovation of the filmstrip and digital preservation of the movie. The DVD was released on 24th September 2002.
  • Forman ordered a symphony orchestra to record the film’s soundtrack. When the composer Jack Nitzche arrived to record the music he came accompanied by an old man lugging a huge suitcase and dismissed the orchestra. Nitzche  recorded nearly all the music that afternoon using only glasses of water. He later added several bars of instrumental music and  embellished the soundtrack with some sounds from a buzz saw and other imaginative instruments.

Milos Forman about the movie

  • “One day, I got a package from California. There was a book inside I’d never heard of written by an author I’d never heard of but when I started to read I saw right away that this was the best material I’d come across in America.”
  • “Hell, Milos, I tried to get the rights to the fucking book, if you know what I mean, but that old boy Douglas beat me to the punch,” said Jack Nicholson when I offered him the part.
  • “All the scenes stood or fell with Jack Nicholson, who was a dream to work with. He had none of the vanity, egomania, or obsessions of a star. He insisted on receiving the same treatment as everyone else. He was always prepared for his scenes and had a clear idea of what he wanted. His sense of humour put everyone at ease, which is always a great asset on a set. He helped the people around him because he knew that the better their performances were, the better he would look in the end.”
  • “Discovering Nurse Ratched in the prim, angelic Louise Fletcher surprised me, but the more I thought about it, the more it made me sense. I’d learned long before that it’s better to cast against type in the leading roles and with it in the minor roles. For reasons of economy and clarity, I prefer to give the audience a quick read of secondary characters by casting obvious physical types, but with the principal roles, it’s more engaging to uncover a different personality under the obvious type, to peel away the erroneous expectations, to be surprised by a deeper knowledge of the character.”

Making of

Completely Cuckoo

87 min., color
Director: Charles Kyselyak
© Quest Productions

The Making of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'

70 min., color
Director: Charles Kyselyak
An abridged version of Completely Cuckoo is on the two-disc DVD edition of the film
© 2002 The Saul Zaentz Company



  • Salem, Oregon

  • Oregon State Hospital, Salem, Massachusetts
    • All the scenes in the mental hospital.
  • Depoe Bay
    • Randle steals a ship and leaves to fish with the other patients.
  • Fayetteville – Spring Lake, North Carolina

  • Fort Bragg
    • Randle takes the patients for a fishing trip on the bay.


Oscar® - Academy Awards
(48th Annual)
Los Angeles
Oscar® Best Actor in a Leading Role
Jack Nicholson
("R. P. McMurphy")
Best Actress in a Leading Role
Louise Fletcher
("Nurse Ratched")
Best Director
Milos Forman
Best Picture
Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas (Producers)
Best Adapted Screenplay
Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Brad Dourif
("Billy Bibbit")
Best Cinematography
Haskell Wexler, Bill Butler
Best Film Editing
Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman, Sheldon Kahn
Best Music (Original Score)
Jack Nitzsche
National Society of Film Critics Awards New York
NSFC Award (National Society of Film Critics Award) Best Actor
Jack Nicholson
("R. P. McMurphy")
New York Film Critics Circle Awards
(40th Annual)
New York
NYFCC Award (New York Film Critics Circle Awards) Best Actor
Jack Nicholson
("R. P. McMurphy")
Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards
(1st Annual)
Los Angeles
LAFCA (Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award) Best Picture
National Board of Review Awards
(47th Annual)
New York
NBR Award (National Board of Review Award) Best Actor
Jack Nicholson
("R. P. McMurphy")
Sant Jordi Awards Barcelona
Sant Jordi Best Foreign Actor
Jack Nicholson
("R. P. McMurphy")
Directors Guild of America Awards
(28th Annual)
Los Angeles
DGA (Directors Guild Award) Outstanding Directorial Achievement for 1975 (Feature Film)
Milos Forman
Writers Guild of America Awards Los Angeles
WGA (Writers Guild Award - Screen) Best Adapted Drama
Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman
Golden Globe Awards
(33th Annual)
Los Angeles
Golden Globe Best Motion Picture (Drama)
Saul Zaentz, Michael Douglas
Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama)
Louise Fletcher
("Nurse Ratched")
Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture (Drama)
Jack Nicholson
("R. P. McMurphy")
Best Director (Motion Picture)
Milos Forman
Best Screenplay (Motion Picture)
Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman
New Star Of The Year (Actor)
Brad Dourif
("Billy Bibbit")
BAFTA Awards (The British Academy of Film and Television Arts) London, United Kingdom BAFTA Film Best Film
Best Supporting Actor
Brad Dourif
("Billy Bibbit")
Best Actor
Jack Nicholson
("R. P. McMurphy")
Best Director
Milos Forman
Best Actress
Louise Fletcher (“Nurse Ratched”)
Best Film Editing
Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman, Sheldon Kahn
Best Soundtrack
Mary McGlone, Robert R. Rutledge, Veronica Silver, Lawrence Jost, Mark Berger
Best Screenplay
Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman
Best Cinematography - Haskell Wexler, Bill Butler, William A. Fraker
BAFTA Awards (The British Academy of Film and Television Arts) London
United Kingdom
Anthony Asquith Memorial Award (for Film Music) Jack Nitzsche
David di Donatello Prizes Rome
David Best Foreign Actor
Jack Nicholson
("R. P. McMurphy")
Best Director – Foreign Film
Milos Forman
Bodil Awards Copenhagen
Bodil Best Non-European Film
Milos Forman
American Cinema Editors Awards Los Angeles
Eddie Best Edited Feature Film
Richard Chew, Lynzee Klingman, Sheldon Kahn
Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists Taormina
Silver Ribbon Best Director - Foreign Film
Milos Forman
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Kansas City
KCFCC (Kansas City Film Critics Circle Award) Best Director
Milos Forman
César Awards
(2nd Annual)
César Best Foreign Film
Milos Forman
Grammy Awards
(20th Annual)
Los Angeles
Grammy Best Album of Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special
Jack Nitzsche
Golden Screen Awards Frankfurt
Golden Screen Best Foreign Film
Milos Forman
Kinema Junpo Awards Tokyo
Readers' Choice Award Best Foreign Language Film Director
Milos Forman
People's Choice Awards California
People's Choice Awards Favorite Motion Picture

Technical information

35 mm
Aspect ratio: 1,85:1
Sound mix: mono


Fantasy Films presents
R. P. McMurphy Jack Nicholson


Nurse Ratched Louise Fletcher
Harding William Redfield
Director of Photography Haskell Wexler
Additional Photography by Bill Butler
Screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman
Based on the novel by Ken Kesey
Produced by Saul Zaentz & Michael Douglas
Directed by Milos Forman
Main Titles by Elinor Bunin
Ellis Michael Berryman
Col. Matterson Peter Brocco
Dr. Spivey Dean R. Brooks
Miller Alonzo Brown
Turkle Scatman Crothers
Warren Mwako Cumbuka
Martini Danny De Vito
Sefelt William Duell
Bancini Josip Elic
Nurse Itsu Lan Fendors
Washington Nathan George
Beans Garfield Ken Kenny
Harbor Master Mel Lambert
Cheswick Sydney Lassick
Night Supervisor Kay Lee
Taber Christopher Lloyd
Ellsworth Dwight Marfield
Hap Arlich Ted Markland
Rose Louisa Moritz
Woolsey Phil Roth
Chief Bromden Will Sampson
Nurse Pilbow Mimi Sarkisian
Fredrickson Vincent Schiavelli
Candy Marya Small
Scanlon Delos V. Smith, Jr.
Ruckley Tin Welch
Billy Bibbit Brad Dourif
Original music composed by Jack Nitzsche
Supervising Film Editor Richard Chew
Associate Producer Martin Fink
Production Designer Paul Sylbert
Additional Photography Whilliam Fraker
Production Manager Joel Douglas
Art Director Edwin O'Donovan
First Assistant Director Irby Smith
Second Assistant Director William St. John
Film Editors Lynzee Klingman and Sheldon Kahn
Sound Recordist Lawrence Jost
Camera Operators Hugh Gagnier, Robert Stevens, Dick Colean, Robert Thomas
Gaffers Gary Holt, Bill Tenny, Dennis Marks
Key Grip George Hill
Best Boy Walter Nichols, Doug Willis
Props Terry Lewis
Costumer Agnes Rodgers
Make up Fred Phillips
Hairdresser Gerry Leetch
Still Photographer Peter Sorel
Script Supervisor Natalie Drache
Post-Production Sound Director Mark Berger
Sound Editors Mary McGlone, Veronica Selver, Robert Rutledge, Pat Jackson
Music Editor Ted Whitfield
Assistant Sound Editor Kirk Schuler
Assistant Film Editors Bonnie Koehler, Jay Miracle, Art Coburn, Constance Field
Location Auditors Frank Noonan, Jim Young
Construction Coordinator Joe Acord
Production Painter Tom Bartholomew
Transportation Captain Tom Thomas
Production Assistant Leonard Lipton
Production Office Coordinator Rhonda Kramer
Location Coordinator Denise Schreiter
Title by Wayne Fitzgerald
Post-Production Supervisor Irving Saraf
Portions of the 1963 World Series Broadcast - Courtesy of NBC, Inc.
The play version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is by Dale Wasserman
Casting Mike Fenton & Jane Feinberg
© 1975 By N.V. Zwaluw
original music score © 1975 By N.V. Zwaluw
Produced through the facilities of Fantasy Films, Berkeley California







Publicity photos