Tag Archives: asylum

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #5 – NURSE RATCHED

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #5 – NURSE RATCHED

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Directed by: Miloš Forman

Produced by: Saul Zaentz, Michael Douglas

Screenplay by: Lawrence Hauben, Bo Goldman

Based on: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

Cast: Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson, William Redfield, Danny Devito, Brad Dourif, Christopher Lloyd etc.



“Now calm down. The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine.” Nurse Ratched


Not all film monsters come from outer space or the mountains of Transylvania or from beyond the grave. In fact, some of the scariest monsters from literature and the silver screen are often humans. A magnificent example of this is Ken Kesey’s controlling matriarch figure from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Nurse Mildred Ratched. Even the name conjures up feelings of evil, manipulation and pain. There has been a recent Netflix origin story with Sarah Paulson in the iconic role, however, today I will concentrate on Louise Fletcher’s mesmerising rendition of authoritarian villainy.

Evil comes in many guises and can be overt, perverted or, in Nurse Ratched’s case, extremely covert. She is the personification of calm on the outside, but clearly raging with poison and anger on the inside. Her obsessive desire for routine and control makes her ideal to be the Head of the Department, however, it is the burning internal joy she appears to take from manipulating and bullying the inmates which makes her an extremely dangerous person. The battle of wills she has with Randall P. McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) powerfully drives the narrative in the film. Nicholson gives an electric performance as the convict faking lunacy. But he is more than matched by the subtle pragmatism in Louise Fletcher’s portrayal. Both deservedly won Academy Awards.

Apparently the role of Nurse Ratched was offered to esteemed actresses such as Anne Bancroft, Angela Lansbury and Geraldine Page, but eventually Milos Forman and his producers offered the role to then unknown, Louise Fletcher. It’s a serendipitous piece of casting as a well-known actress would arguably have provided less surprise within the characterisation. Fletcher herself has commented that she felt Ratched was a virgin. Further going on to say in an interview with Vanity Fair, “She hasn’t married, hadn’t done this, hadn’t done that, and was self-sufficient on her own leading this life, because she dedicated her life, her earlier life, to other people who needed her.” Perhaps this caring for others eventually wore her down and Ratched may suffer from compassion fatigue. Either that or she is genuinely the most insane person in the asylum, while ruling with quiet and ruthless efficiency.


UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #8 – THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

UNDER-RATED CLASSICS #8 – THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

Directed, written and produced by: William Peter Blatty

Based on The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty

Starring: Stacy Keach, Scott Wilson, Jason Miller, Ed Flanders, Robert Loggia, Moses Gunn, Joe Spinell, Neville Brand etc.

Music by: Barry De Vorzon

Cinematography: Gerry Fisher

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***



“I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”
― Edgar Allan Poe

Sparked by uber-film critic Mark Kermode waxing lyrical about The Ninth Configuration (1980) in one of his cinema books, I was extremely pleased when I found a remastered 2016 reissue streaming on Amazon Prime. I don’t always agree with Kermode’s effusive praise of certain films, however, his opinion should always be respected. Having watched the film I can concur that it is indeed an under-rated classic. Just to clarify, for me, an under-rated classic can be a film I love, plus satisfy the following criteria:

  1. Must not have won an Oscar.
  2. Must not have won a BAFTA.
  3. Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
  4. Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
  5. Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
  6. Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.

While the writer and director, William Peter Blatty, won a Golden Globe for best screenplay, I feel that The Ninth Configuration (1980) is somewhat of a lost masterpiece. It was released at the same time as Ordinary People (1980) , The Elephant Man (1980) and Raging Bull (1980) and rarely seems to be discussed or praised at all these days. Well, aside from Mark Kermode’s gratefully received validation. Thematically, it is very strong as it deals with mental breakdown and illness amidst soldiers post-Vietnam. Moreover, it also contains memorable iconography within a curiously foreboding setting.



Based on Blatty’s 1978 novel, which in itself was a reworking of an earlier story called, Twinkle, Twinkle “Killer” Kane, The Ninth Configuration centres the action in a grand chateau located, rather weirdly in America somewhere. The dark, shadowy castle (which was actually in Germany), is surrounded by deep forestation and is used by the U.S. government as an insane asylum for military personnel. Spring-boarding themes and ideas from movies such as: One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Mash (1970) and, in regards to its exploration of P.T.S.D., The Deer Hunter (1978), the narrative features a whole host of eccentric and over-the-edge characters. They include an Astronaut, Captain Billy Cutshaw (Scott Wilson), who went mad and sabotaged a space launch, Jason Miller as Lieutenant Frankie Reno, a soldier attempting to direct Hamlet with a cast of dogs; and the recently arrived, new psychiatrist, Colonel Vincent Kane (Stacey Keach). It is Kane’s and Cutshaw’s developing relationship which powers many of the philosophical and existential debates within the film’s incredible script.

For a film set in an asylum Blatty unsurpisingly uses dark humour, hysterical personalities and some incredibly funny lines of dialogue to propel an absurd first half. However, as Cutshaw and Kane’s connection grows deeper, the two men push each other into some very dark places. Exploring the slight gap between insanity and sanity is a tricky thing to get right in terms of tone, however, Blatty, is a brilliant writer and succeeds with a script that zig-zags the line between chaos and structure. He also benefits from an amazing ensemble cast of character actors who throw themselves heartily into the chaos on show. Scott Wilson and Stacey Keach are especially memorable in their intense and honest portrayals of soldiers pushed too far by their respective commands.

Overall, The Ninth Configuration (1980) is a forgotten masterpiece which deserves revisiting. I was blown away by the endlessly quotable dialogue and the risks Blatty took as a director. I mean, he opens with an incongruous Country and Western song-backed montage before the credits. This pop video beginning is jarring, but somehow makes sense in the end. Blatty then veers between farcical humour, crazed episodes involving the lunatics taking over the asylum, and philosophical and theological discourse within the therapy sessions. Finally, the film finishes with a violent and cathartic denouement, yet one which, given the dark existentialism that has unfolded, is amazingly full of hope, faith and optimism.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11