A few years after starring in The Producers, actors Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder would reunite in a screen adaptation of Rhinoceros.
The 50th anniversary came and went with hardly any celebration. A few weeks after it hit theaters in 1974, Wilder would be seen again in the Mel Brooks classic, Blazing Saddles. Anyway, the 1974 film brings Eugene Ionesco’s play to the screen. After watching Remembering Gene Wilder in late January, I decided to finally give the 2019 Blu-ray a watch. Better late than never, I suppose. My initial thinking is that it is Mostel–reprising his Tony Award-winning performance–and Wilder so what could possibly go wrong?!? I wish I could say that I liked it better but if I’m being honest, my head space wasn’t in the right space on Wednesday night. Perhaps I should give it another chance at a later date.
The gist of the film is that the entire world is turning into rhinos. There is really nothing that anyone can do about it. It’s an absurd idea and is even more absurd in trying to adapt it for the screen. How something plays on a stage might not be the same as how it plays in a theater. How does one respond to a world in which the world is turning into rhinos? John (Zero Mostel) and Stanley (Gene Wilder) are best friends and neighbors. In attempt to avoid this epidemic, Stanley climbs up to the top of his apartment building. Weirdly, we only hear the stampedes but never see any actual rhinos appear on camera, even when John is transforming into one.
According to an interview Edie Laundau on the Blu-ray, the appearing talent took major pay cuts. Most did the job for $25,000. American Film Theatre released a number of films that broad plays to the screen. It’s admirable to try and bring plays to the screen especially for people not able to see them on Broadway. In adapting for the screen, it also allows the adaptations to serve as counterprogramming. Of course, not everything can be a hit. Interestingly, the play has never been revived on Broadway to my knowledge since the final show in 1961.
Mostel and Wilder do what they can with the material but Rhinoceros probably works better as a stage play.
- Interview with director Tom O’Horgan
- Interview with Edie Landau
- Ely Landau: In Front of the Camera, a promotional film for the American Film Theatre
- Gallery of trailers for the American Film Theatre
DIRECTOR: Tom O’Horgan
SCREENWRITER: Julian Barry
CAST: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Karen Black
American Film Theatre released Rhinoceros in theaters on January 21, 2024. Grade: 2.5/5
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