I started writing a short history for each of the Top 100 films on the American Film Institutes list, and then I realized that the AFI list is problematic for a few different reasons. It only represents the opinions of film critics, it stays within the boundaries of Hollywood and American born films, and it tends to pander towards the classics with films that were extremely important but don’t necessarily represent the opinions of those that watch them, the movie going public.
So, I present the exact same project with the Top 100 movies from The Internet Movie Database’s Top 250 list. The IMDB list is a much greater tool, and one I’ve used in the past because it’s dynamic. Over the course of the years it has changed substantially adding new films, removing old films and generally reflecting the opinions of those that watch the films.
Ken Kesey’s classic novel of a criminal’s ill-fated attempt to while away his prison time in a mental ward by pretending to be insane is the number 11 movie of all time according to the folks at IMDB. Kesey’s novel, written in 1962, was adapted into a stage play in 1963 and the film was made by Milos Forman in 1975 with Jack Nicholson in the lead as McMurphy.
The film’s premise, the dark and disturbing life that McMurphy casts himself into at the mental ward revolves around a few key characters and their likely insanity. Nurse Ratched played by Louise Fletcher is considered one of the great villains of movie history, literally beating her ward into submission, including McMurphy eventually.
For his part, Ken Kesey is said to have loathed the adaptation as it was made, as too many changes were made to his source material for the sake of the film. He didn’t approve of the casting of Jack Nicholson, nor did he approve of the narrative technique. In the novel, Chief Bromden, the Schizophrenic Native American is the source of the narration, whereas the film focuses more on McMurphy.
Story wise, the film explores the relationships that McMurphy develops when he enters the mental ward, especially with his two closest friends, Billy Bibbit and Chief Bromden. His plan to eventually escape is ultimately foiled by his own excesses and the stern, nearly evil demeanor of Nurse Ratched. McMurphy’s fate, punished for his crimes by lobotomy and eventually taken out of his misery by Chief Bromden, is inevitable and ends the film with only Bromden finding escape, another good argument for Kesey’s original ending.
The rights to the film were originally bought by Kirk Douglas, who played McMurphy in the stage play a decade earlier, and then passed to his son Michael. However, the part was given up to another actor (eventually Nicholson) as the younger Douglas believed his father too old to play the part.
The film itself was greeted with decent reviews, declared a work of brilliance that at times over reached its own boundaries, trying to do too much. However, as time passed, like most films, it’s been recognized as one of the truly great films in American Movie History.