Ken Kesey's blistering attack on American society as viewed through an insane asylum where R.P. McMurphy (a career-best Jack Nicholson) is sent for "evaluation treatment".
The first movie since Frank Capra's It Happened One Night to sweep the big five Oscars (director, screenplay, actor, actress, film), Cuckoo's Nest remains an unlikely and inspiring triumph.
The dream-like novel was considered unfilmable, the co-producer was a TV actor with a famous dad, the Czech director was still largely unknown outside Europe and every 'name' actress in Hollywood had turned down the role of callous Nurse Ratched. And yet, as soon as Jack Nicholson signed on the dotted line, everything fell into place.
He may be a huge, red-headed Irishman in Ken Kesey's book, but the live-wire misfit Randle P. McMurphy, who turns the mental institution upside down, was the role Jack Nicholson was born to play. With or without shock therapy, Nicholson is simply electrifying.
But this is far from a one-man show, and indeed, even the non-speaking parts make an indelible visual impression. As direct and simple as it is funny and moving, this is a masterpiece of dramatic naturalism.
Oscars went to Nicholson, Louise Fletcher as castrating Nurse Ratched, producer Michael Douglas and Milos Forman's unblinking direction. Cuckoo spent 14 years in development limbo but remains the most radical film to emerge from mainstream Hollywood. Too many classic set pieces to mention but keep your ears cocked for that immortal line "Mmmm, Juicy Fruit." Certified brilliance.