We Love… The Imaginary Baseball Scene in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

“Koufax… Koufax kicks. He delivers. It’s up the middle! It’s a base hit! Davis cuts the ball off! Here comes the throw. He throws it to second! He slides! He’s in there! He’s safe!”

Before the tragedy, before the Chief speaks, before the electro therapy, and the blood, and the alcohol, before all of that, kooky 70s classic One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest delivers this cockle-warming nugget of a movie moment. As the most demented cheerleader you’ve ever seen, Jack Nicholson’s McMurphy sets the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. Banged up with a posse of (essentially) non-crazy crazy folk, his quest to watch the World Series baseball on the hospital’s communal television cultivates a frosty enmity between himself and the remote, authoritarian Nurse Ratched. Men and their sports, eh?

McMurphy approaches the nurse’s station window, elated at his sudden voting victory to have the television turned on. “The Chief voted!” he yells, triumphant. “Now, will you please turn the television set on?” Behind the glass, the wretched Ratched slides open her window. “Mr McMurphy, the meeting was adjourned and the vote was closed,” she responds with infuriating equanimity. “When the meeting was adjourned the vote was nine to nine.”

Elected the number five greatest movie villain by the American Film Institute in 2003 (and that’s number five to the likes of Hannibal Lector and Norman Bates), Louise Fletcher’s Nurse Ratched is the perfect foil to psychiatric patient McMurphy. “Watch her preternatural calm,” notes critic Roger Ebert, “her impassive ‘fairness’, her inflexible adherence to the rules.” Composed where McMurphy is emotional, orderly where he is chaotic, Ratched does not see men when her haughty gaze falls on her patients, she sees sick children in desperate need of domination.

So, how combat such tyrannical rule? Raise hell, of course. Off storms McMurphy, slamming the bench opposite the TV to the floor before hurling himself fitfully into it. And then… a moment of clarity. One of those god-sent flashes of inspiration. That TV screen isn’t blank – look, there, the pitcher pitches, the batter bats. “Koufax is in big fucking trouble! Big trouble, baby!” bellows McMurphy in commentary. The other patients filter in to see what all the fuss is about. “A strike!” rejoices McMurphy, and suddenly the other men are caught up in it all. They listen raptly, seeing the game through him, cheering, whooping. “Koufax’s curve ball is snapping off like a fucking firecracker!” They clap and howl, spurred by the excitement of the non-game, jumping and alive. More alive than they’ve been in years, and all because of this lone, exceptional, riveting nutter.

“You ask me, is McMurphy crazy?” director Milos Forman considers in conversation with Rolling Stone magazine. “I don’t want to know this. Is he a hero? I don’t know this either. A modern hero is very ambiguous.” Ambiguous he may be, tied up in accusations of rape and hot-headedness, but there’s no denying the life he breathes into the tired monotony of constant and efficient hospital dictatorship.

And as the lines blur between his character’s horror and heroism, so do they smudge and smear between Jack Nicholson and McMurphy. Anti-establishment, anti-authority, anti-hero McMurphy is Jack, Jack is McMurphy. “If you get an impulse in a scene, no matter how wrong it seems, follow the impulse,” Jack would later say. “It might be something and if it ain’t – take two!” Such is the philosophy of McMurphy, also. Go with the flow, follow the current, buck the trend, do whatever takes your fancy.

Nurse Ratched watches with a cool detachment as McMurphy whips his supporters into a frenzy. This is what you’ll become, warns Jack, if you conform to mass control; nothing more than an empty, rule-bound shell of a human being. And you should listen to Jack – he got an Oscar for his efforts, after all.

… the fantasy food scene in Hook (1991)
An odd misfire for The Beard, this turgid episode epitomises much of what’s wrong with his saccharine miscarriage of cutesy filmmaking. “You’re doing it,” whispers one of the lost boys. “Doing what?” asks a mystified Robin Williams. “You’re using your imagination, Peter!” Squirm.

We Love… The Bride vs The Crazy 88s in Kill Bill

Wreaking bloody vengeance Tarantino style…

So uproariously claret-soaked that the MPAA demanded a (thematically appropriate) black and white blood blinker, so gloriously funny-yet-poetic-yet-daft-yet-genius that it veers dangerously close to pantomime, so everything-plus-the-kitchen-sink that it risks entirely unhinging the rest of the film, Tarantino’s homage to just about everything burned onto celluloid since the beginning of time is a whirling dervish of a skirmish. “I want it to be to kung fu fights what the Apocalypse Now ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ scene was to battle scenes,” the man himself enthused to Time magazine during shooting. Could we ever doubt him?

The House of Blue Leaves. Bloodied yellow tracksuit stark against the wood furnishings of the restaurant, The Bride stands at the dance floor centre. Her steel blue eyes, caught in claustrophobic close up, appraise O-Ren Ishii’s army – the Crazy 88s, headed by Johnny Mo, all equipped with Kato mask and katana. They encircle her; black sharks sniffing at a single golden prey. Jaw set, The Bride twitches her blade into position. Then lunges. They fly at her. She flips, she leaps, she spins. She dances to a melody of screams and groans, sashaying with all the grace of a ballerina – a ballerina with a nice shiny katana that flashes and gleams as it does its dirty work. Then SQUELCH, she plucks out the right eye of one unlucky assailant, and suddenly everything’s monochrome. Filtered through black and white, The Bride savages and slices as she continues her roaring rampage of revenge. Limbs fly. Blades bite. Blood spews into the air in volcanic eruptions. One fallen fighter picks up his own freshly severed foot and screams – and well he should.

Shot at the Beijing Film Studio, China, the same hallowed building that once housed the very productions it so reveres, Kill Bill Vol. 1’s pivotal scene pitted Uma Thurman against legendary Yuen Woo-Ping’s stunt team for eight mighty weeks – six days a week, 14 hours a day. “That was probably the hardest,” the actress notes, perhaps a little modestly. Dosed up on action flicks, femme fatales and Westerns (Tarantino requested she watch John Woo’s The Killer, Coffy and Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars), Thurman brings an unyielding gravitas to her double-crossed assassin. As she acrobats lethally through the House of Blue Leaves there’s never any doubt that she’s capable of taking on 88 of China’s finest killers. Watching her acquire bloody satisfaction, you can’t help but cheer.

And what blood there is – 450 gallons of the stuff in Kill Bill unified. “I’m really particular about the blood,” muses QT, “you can’t pour this raspberry pancake syrup on a sword and have it look good. You have to have this special kind of blood that you only see in Samurai movies.”

Enriching The Bride’s all-out assault are filmic references galore. This is film geek opium of the purest grade. Notice something familiar about the ‘one versus all’ conceit? Meet Year of the Dragon’s China Palace shootout. Seen those Crazy 88s before? They’re based on the yakuza gang of Black Lizard, their Kato masks last modelled by Bruce Lee in TV show The Green Hornet. Then there’s The Bride’s tracksuit (a direct tribute to Bruce Lee’s final, unfinished film Game of Death), the Crazy 88 who is hacked in half (hello, Ichi the Killer), The Bride fighting in silhouette against a blue-lit backdrop (thanks, Samurai Fiction), the use of the Ironside soundtrack… Like Tarantino’s ambition, the list is limitless. “I set up the sequence so that either it would be the greatest thing anyone’s ever seen as far as this shit’s concerned, or I would hit my head on the ceiling of my talent,” he said. At scene’s end, The Bride surveys the bloody quagmire that once was the House of Blue Leaves. “Those of you lucky enough to have your lives, take them with you,” she condemns. “However, leave the limbs you’ve lost. They belong to me now.” Tarantino, Thurman, we salute you.


… Milla Jovovich’s pouty viper in Ultraviolet (2006)
Swapping class for arse, this shameless Matrix/Kill Bill rip-off succeeds only in (somehow) making Ms Jovovich sporting skin-tight leather bum-clenchingly dull. A hollow copycat with dud effects and sub-par sword play, The Bride would make short work of this tosh.