Saturday, December 8, 2007

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST: 35th Anniversary Blu-ray (Fantasy Films 1975) Warner Home Video

Milos Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)  follows the mismanaged exploits of one Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson); a convict charged with statutory rape who fakes insanity to escape hard labor in prison. Convinced that McMurphy has indeed lost his mind, the warden transfers him to a maximum security asylum for rehabilitation. The facility is overseen by Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher); a superficially congenial nurse who employs subtle humiliation, drug therapy and a debilitating regiment of menial exercises to keep her patients sufficiently anesthetized.    

Oddly enough, McMurphy seems to fit right in. He delights at ‘playing’ with the fragile psyches of his fellow patients; the reclusive, Ellis (Michael Berryman); perpetually horny and delusional, Martini (Danny DeVito); neurotic Billy (Dan Dourif); pseudo-frustrated intellectual, Frederickson (Vincent Schiavelli) and stoic deaf/mute Chief Bromden (Will Samson) until he realizes that what is entirely lacking from this hospital environment is any genuine sense of hope for rehabilitation. Instead, Ratched and her staff seem content to maintain the patients in their current state, simply to keep the peace.

Determined that he should not lose his own sanity while under lock and key, McMurphy steals a bus and takes his fellow inmates on a lark and fishing expedition that infuriates the administrative staff. McMurphy further incurs Nurse Ratched's wrath by suggesting that he and 'his friends' should not be physically restrained and/or drugged into submission simply because they are bothersome.

During a group therapy session one of the patients, Cheswick (Sidney Lassick) suffers a breakdown that results in a brawl between the orderlies and McMurphy and Chief Bromden. The three are restrained and sent for electroshock therapy to 'correct' their behavior and Randle begins to realize that faking his own 'insanity' might not have been such a good idea. 

With his own release from the hospital no longer assured, Randle plots a breakout. He bribes the night guard to allow his gal pal, Candy (Marya Small) and her friend, Rose (Louisa Moritz) into the facility with some booze so that the boys can have themselves a party. The next morning Ratched discovers Billy and Candy together. His stutter is gone. But when Ratched informs Billy she is going to tell his mother what he's done his stutter returns. Billy locks himself in the doctor's office and commits suicide. Randle is so outraged he attacks and attempts to strangle Ratched before being knocked unconscious by one of the guards. 

Much later Chief Bromden sees Randle being led to his room. Believing that he is preparing for their escape from the hospital, Bromden quietly sneaks in but is horrified to discover that Randle has been lobotomized. Rather than allow him the indignation of this catatonic state, Bromden smothers Randle with his pillow, then escapes by smashing through one of the windows.

One Flew Over A Cuckoo's Nest is a strangely enlightened and morally uplifting film. Director Milos Forman constructs an insular world that is both unsettling and yet safe and familiar. Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman's screenplay struggles to maintain a balance between the many character parts - each fascinating - though some given precious little to do except adorn the background - and the overall arch of inspiring hope when nothing but abject misery seems to loom overhead. 

Whenever the script allows, Forman and his cinematographer Haskell Wexler get up close to the characters, allowing the drama to naturally develop between them. Much more of an ensemble piece than a star vehicle, the film is undoubtedly grounded by its two most galvanic central performances from Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. But in the end its the unerring human drama and saga of the human spirit that continues to speak to us these many years later.

Warner Home Video’s 35th Anniversary Blu-ray pads out the extra features but gives us the same 1080p transfer as its single disc digipak offering from a few years ago. This isn't necessarily bad, but 'Anniversary Editions' are supposed to be about offering the home consumer definitive hi-def transfers. We don't get that here. Color and contrast levels seem just a tad weaker than expected. Flesh tones are pasty at best. Whites exhibit a dull slightly bluish tint. Film grain is present although it appears some minor DNR has been applied to minimize its presence herein.  The audio is a bigger disappointment. We get the same 5.1 Dolby Digital rather than a DTS upgrade, which a 35th anniversary of anything certainly warrants!  

Extras include an audio commentary from Milos Forman. It's the same commentary as before. We also get the 86 min. 'Completely Cuckoo' - a thorough look back at the making of the film, as well as a 31 min. featurette on the improvements made to real mental institutions since the film's debut. A few deleted scenes and a theatrical trailer are also included. Again, Warner pads out the extras with reproduced lobby cards, poster art and a booklet that is glossy but short on production details. Bottom line: recommended. 

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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