Seen On Screen Blogathon–“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)

I am a little late with this post; but I have a good excuse. I was at my first ever TCM Film Festival!! More on that in a future post. Anyway, I wanted to complete my blog entry because I did watch the movie prior to leaving for LA to attend the festival.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is based on Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same title. It tells the story of Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) who is admitted to an Oregon mental institution in 1963. It is established that McMurphy is a repeat offender whose recent crime has him doing hard labor on a work farm for having sex with a 15-year old girl. Despite being the protagonist of the story, McMurphy is not a good person. To avoid further hard labor, McMurphy feigns insanity so he will be transferred to the mental institution. The ploy works and he feels pretty slick for his deception. He instantly gets on the wrong side of the head nurse, Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher).

The Oregon State Hospital in Salem, OR as I remember it

Having lived in Salem, OR since the age of 5 (though I have since moved to a Portland, OR suburb), I grew up driving past the Oregon State Hospital where One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed. The dirty cream colored, derelict building covered in rust stains, was the eyesore we drove past every time we took NE Center Street to go to the other side of town. While it was still a functioning mental institution, the building always looked dark and abandoned. Frankly, it looked scary. This section of Center Street is not the greatest, besides sitting in an area known as “Felony Flats,” it was also near the Dome Building which served as the administrative offices of the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC). This is where the director of the ODOC, Michael Francke, was stabbed to death in 1989. There was a 1991 episode of Unsolved Mysteries where Robert Stack introduces the segment from the site of Francke’s murder. The Oregon State Hospital section of Center Street also houses the jail for juvenile offenders and is close to the Oregon State Penitentiary. And if that wasn’t enough, famous Oregon serial killer, Jerry Brudos lived on Center Street. His home was where he took his victims, murdered them, and mutilated their bodies. Suffice it to say, this was not a great area of town.

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched. Ratched wears her hair in 40s Victory Rolls, which I thought was an interesting choice.

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I was amazed to see that the hospital that I knew looked exactly the same twenty years prior when it was filmed. The same dirty cream colored paint, the same bars on the windows, the same circular driveway. Having read that they actually filmed inside the hospital, this film gave me a chance to see what it looked like on the inside. The hospital looked exactly how I thought it would. Dirty, sparsely furnished and decorated, colorless, and frankly depressing. Unfortunately, all throughout my life growing up in Oregon, I have heard about the conditions of Oregon mental health facilities. Oregon is not known for good treatment of mental health patients (see articles about Fairview Training Center. There is also an OPB (PBS) documentary called “In the Shadow of Fairview” that covers all the problems with the Fairview Training Center in Salem). Though the action in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest does not specifically state which hospital is depicted, the conditions shown in the film live up to Oregon’s reputation in regard to mental health treatment.

Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy and Will Sampson as the Chief.

After Randle McMurphy arrives at the hospital, he quickly meets some of the patients. There’s “Chief” Bromden (Will Sampson), a tall Native American man who is seemingly deaf and mute. The other patients think that Chief is dumb as well as deaf and mute. However, McMurphy learns that there is more to the Chief and the two men become allies as well as friends. Another patient is Dale Harding (William Redfield) who is desperate and always philosophizing about life and experiencing existential crises. Martini (Danny DeVito) is childlike and in denial about his mental health. Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif) stutters and is depressed and anxious after his mother ruined his relationship with the love of his life. It seems that Billy’s mother has some sexual hang-ups that she takes out on his son. Other patients also include the violent, mean and profane Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd) and epileptic Bruce Fredrickson (Vincent Schiavelli).

McMurphy driving the wrong way down Court Street in downtown Salem. The furniture store is now a bookstore.

McMurphy begins to exert his influence on the other men seeing that they’re capable of more than Nurse Ratched is allowing them to show. He convinces them to play basketball during the daily exercise session and even convinces the men to participate in a vote to be allowed to watch the World Series on television before their daily chores session. Despite a majority of the men voting watching the baseball game, Nurse Ratched finds a way to not allow it to happen. She seems to relish the control she has over the men. Upset, McMurphy stages a breakout and he and the men take the hospital bus to the beach for a fishing trip. I did notice that McMurphy was driving on Court Street in downtown Salem, which doesn’t really make sense as a route you’d take from the Oregon State Hospital as it runs parallel with Center Street where the hospital is located. It’s also not a route that one would take to get to Highway 22 which takes you to the beach. I also noticed that McMurphy is driving the wrong way down Court Street, which is a one-way (though maybe in ’75 it was a one-way in the other direction). He’s also driving in the opposite direction of the highway that goes to the beach. However, it is Hollywood, so it doesn’t need to make sense, they just need to be seen driving. They probably had that block closed for the shoot–it was just something fun that I noticed.

While not mentioned explicitly in the film, the men’s fishing trip takes place in Depoe Bay, OR, which is a little more than an hour west of Salem. I recognized the charter boat company in the background of the scene and the bridge and stairs they walk down to get to the Depoe Bay Harbor, which is known as “The World’s Smallest Harbor.” The harbor is off Highway 101 heading south. Underneath the bridge are stairs that pedestrians take to cross under the highway to get to the harbor. Dockside Charters on the east side of Highway 101 is where McMurphy charters the boat. This is still there today. Across the highway is the Oregon State Parks Whale Watching Center, which is not seen in the film; but this is an awesome place to visit should you find yourself on the Central Oregon Coast.

The men charter a boat in Depoe Bay, OR

Eventually as one can expect, McMurphy finally has it out with Nurse Ratched in the film. Having never seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest prior to watching it for this blog entry, I was expecting her to be more explicitly evil. However, Nurse Ratched’s evilness comes in her manipulation of her mentally ill patients. She knows exactly what to say and what to do to set off her patients and get them to bend to her will. This is definitely true in the case of young Billy, who at one point actually overcomes his stuttering. However that lasts all of five minutes as Nurse Ratched knows exactly what to say to ruin his confidence and make his stuttering even worse than it was previously. It’s clear that Nurse Ratched thrives on controlling her patients. She doesn’t want them to get better or even to learn how to effectively manage their illness so they can live fulfilling lives. I was surprised how violent the final confrontation between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy was.

I thought this was an excellent film though it isn’t something that I’d want to watch again and again. The ending scenes with the water fountain I had seen on an episode of The Simpsons. I found the performance of the Chief particularly touching and am hoping that he had a good life after the events depicted in this film. It was also interesting seeing a part of Salem that I’d seen all my life, but in 1975.

The Oregon State Hospital has since been repainted and refurbished. Part of it is still a working mental institution, but they’ve also converted part of it into a museum.

The newly refurbished Oregon State Hospital in Salem, OR

8 thoughts on “Seen On Screen Blogathon–“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)

  1. Really enjoyed reading your post as this one of my fave movies. Having worked in mental health and reviewing this film myself I was interested to learn some of the the inpatients starred in this movie. I would love your thoughts on the article I included as referenced in my post as someone from this area. Thanks for the insights.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great post. I had read that the actual director of the Oregon State Hospital played a fictionalized version of himself in the film. I thought he was really good too. I had no idea he wasn’t a paid actor until I read the imdb trivia. That’s interesting that they used real patients. I wonder how they felt about the entire filming process.

      I can see Angela Lansbury as Nurse Ratched for some reason. I cannot picture Audrey Hepburn; but at the same time, I could see her being really good and turning in a tour de force against type performance.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The Seen On the Screen Blogathon: Wrapup – Taking Up Room

  3. Wow, I had no idea “Cuckoo” had this kind of authenticity–thanks for all this. I may have to see this movie even if it does get violent. Thanks again for joining the blogathon, Kayla! Hope you had fun at the TCMFF, too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t realize that they filmed inside of the Oregon State Hospital. I thought they just used it for exterior scenes. It was fun seeing locations that I recognize and have seen in person many times. There aren’t as many movies made in Oregon, so getting to see locations I’m familiar with is fun.

      I had a blast at the TCMFF, I need to post about my experience.

      I joined too many blogathons though, lol, so I’m trying to make sure I meet all my deadlines for those as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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