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by Sam Cohen
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday May 14, 2019

Director Tom O'Horgan took on the monumental task of adapting Eugène Ionesco's 1959 play titled "Rhinoceros," which was highly regarded as a play that cut through Fascism and Nazism rhetoric in the events that led up to World War II. The play itself took place in a French village that became overrun with people slowly turning into the creatures the title alludes to. In the 1974 adaptation starring Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, the setting is changed to a large city, not unlike New York City.

The play stands as a kind of microcosm when people were slowly succumbing to fascistic ideals because rebelling against that sort of thing would bring you death in pre-WWII times. Transporting the setting of the three-act play is only one of the many ways Ionesco's text gets mishandled in a film that becomes an unreliable metaphor for things the playwright was trying to get across.

Stanley (Wilder), a drunkard but a genuine human that can't seem to find happiness, is driven crazy as everyone around him starts turning into rhinoceroses. That madness is escalated after his friend John (Mostel), a pompous and condescending man, slowly turns into one of the beasties right in front of him. Running out of booze and trying to stay sane, Stanley's run-down apartment acts as a revolving door of people also trying to resist the tide.

"Rhinoceros" isn't as much a fierce comedy as it is an exhaustive display of two actors at the peak of their powers. The camera is always zooming and panning quickly to meet the action in each scene. The hijinks of Ionesco's play don't port well over to the kind of hijinks that Wilder and Mostel were adept at displaying. Yet, it's never a boring time watching these two performers run wild with the dialogue. In most of the scenes, the dialogue is spat out so fast and the primary motivations of the characters change so fast that it can cause whiplash. What Ionesco planned to be satirical, this renders as a tired barrage of disparate themes.

The audio and visual presentation of "Rhinoceros" on this new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber looks mighty fine, which only strikes this writer as a shame because the movie can't get out of its own way to focus on doing one thing right.

Special features include:

• 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

Kino Lorber Blu-ray

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