The Aisle Steat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

I saw One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in high school. For English class, we read Ken Kesey's book, then watched Milos Forman's film adaptation. (This was back in the day when teachers could show R-rated movies in class without worrying about getting fired.) One of our required essays was to examine how the colors black and white are used symbolically in the film. I got an A on that, no doubt in part because I absolutely loved Cuckoo's Nest and therefore happily absorbed it. My occasion for revisiting it recently is the release of the “Ultimate Collector's Edition” from Warner Home Video. You don't just get a great movie when you buy this box set; you also get a ton of cool memorabilia that nicely accentuates the feature itself.

This is, of course, the story of Randall McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), who is brought to an asylum for evaluation. He bonds with his fellow patients, particularly a Native American whom he dubs Chief (Will Sampson), and clashes with the authoritarian Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher). Released in 1975, the film had the sort of anti-establishment tone that was popular in the era. It definitely felt more affection toward the patients than it did toward the care staff, and there was a strong thematic viewpoint suggesting that the “oppressed” are actually more righteous than those in control. The movie also makes you like and even empathize with McMurphy, despite the fact that one of the reasons he's been committed is for statutory rape.

The thing that strikes me now about One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is how perfect the screenplay by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman is. Everything that happens is carefully structured so that it builds up to the ending, an unforgettable moment of raw power. Even after 35 years, the performances remain some of the most indelible in cinema history. Nicholson and Fletcher obviously make magic with the words and emotions given to them in the script, but so do all the supporting actors, no matter how large or small their parts. Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and Brad Dourif all had early roles in the movie, playing mental patients with affection rather than condescension. No wonder it won five Oscars, including Best Picture!

The Ultimate Collector's Edition is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray. The bonus features kick off with optional audio commentary from Milos Forman, and producers Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
“Completely Cuckoo” is a comprehensive 86-minute documentary about the making of the film. Most of the key players (Nicholson excluded) are interviewed, and there is some early black-and-white video footage from behind the scenes. All kinds of topics are covered, including how they got permission to film in a real mental hospital, how they coped with the terminal illness of a cast member (William Redfield), and how the production improbably located a seven-foot Native American to play Chief. The anecdotes related here are both informative and entertaining, giving you great insight into how a classic was made.

“Asylum” is a 30-minute look at Oregon State Hospital, where the movie was filmed. We learn about its history, as well as its current operation. Past and present mental health treatments are contrasted. This segment is pretty heavy on medical talk, but also extremely interesting in helping you to see how authentic Cuckoo's Nest was.

There are eight deleted scenes. One of the most noteworthy finds McMurphy walking nearly naked into the dining room, while another has him trying to defend a patient who is urinating in a corner of the therapy room. All the scenes are pretty good and seem to have been cut only for time or to avoid repetition. One of the scenes – with McMurphy talking to the others shortly after his arrival – was clearly cut because it tipped off the ending, which is better left as a shock.

Finally, you can see the original 3-minute theatrical trailer.

That's the stuff on the disc. The box also contains some awesome goodies, starting with a deck of playing cards. Different characters' faces are on the backs of them. McMurphy, naturally, is the Ace. Four miniature lobby cards showcase different artwork created to sell the film. (They're suitable for framing.) There is a small book with press clippings and reviews from the time of original release, as well as a larger book with more than 50 pages of production photographs and information. This is probably my favorite of the swag. Last, but not least, encased in a faux patient file, are six character cards – glossies of some of the key players.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Ultimate Collector's Edition is one of the nicest DVD box sets I've ever seen. Very appropriate for one of the best movies I've ever seen.

( out of four)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest Ultimate Collector's Edition - Own it on DVD or Blu-Ray September 14.