Rhinoceros [DVD] [1974]

Tom O'Horgan's screen adaptation of Eugene Ionesco's play Rhinoceros actually had a fair life on television, courtesy of the fact that the director cast Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder -- fresh from The Producers -- in the absurdist comedy. Small-screen programmers who didn't know anything about Ionesco felt safe scheduling a movie with those two actors. The picture never made it onto laserdisc, but has made the jump to DVD thanks to Kino International, which loaded it up with extras. The best of the bonus material is a 24-minute interview with O'Horgan from 2002 in which he recalls the mindset with which he'd approached the project 29 years earlier. His stories of working with Mostel and Wilder are fascinating in their own right and make this supplement valuable for fans far beyond the Ionesco play, although his accounts of trying to score the film and turning to Galt MacDermot is most engaging and enlightening, as well. Also included is an onscreen, frame-by-frame transcript of an interview with Mostel from around the time of this production, which shows off the actor's difficult, almost impossible-to-work-with side. Reading the interview -- and seeing Mostel's torment of his young questioner -- one suspects that this uncooperative side of his personality probably cost him as many plumb roles late in his career as being blacklisted did years earlier. There's also an essay by critic/scholar Michael Feingold about the film, the play, the author, and their importance; this text appears on the insert as well as on the screen, although it's easier to read as a printed document. Also present is the same interview with co-producer Edie Landau (widow of producer Ely Landau) that appears on the other releases in this series, in which she explains the origins of the American Film Theater and the genesis of the project, including some crippling mistakes that could have killed it. As for the movie itself, the transfer is the best that this reviewer has ever seen. It not only restores a good deal of depth to the color (as well as background detail that was missing from syndicated television showings), but also brings out limitations of the production. Some of the edits between takes are pretty obvious here. There is a lot of picture and sound information, but the charm of MacDermot's score is also showcased about as well as it's ever likely to be outside of theatrical presentations. The movie has been transferred in its nonanamorphic aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which frames the image perfectly. The trailer shows a full-screen sampling of the image, and those all look flat and seem flaccid. The 104-minute movie has been given a reasonably generous 15 chapters, which break the material down more than adequately. Given its reputation, what's interesting seeing the movie anew is that so much of its appeal allegedly hangs on the presence of Mostel and Wilder; but there are worthwhile performances given by Karen Black, Percy Rodriguez, and a cast full of such O'Horgan stage stalwarts and New York theater perennials as Joe Silver, Robert Weil, Robert Fields, and Melody Santangelo, as well as a glimpse of a young Anne Ramsey and some engaging music. It all looks and sounds as good as it ever will, and has never seemed more worthwhile. The disc is smoothly programmed with a multi-layer menu that's easy to access and negotiate, and opens up automatically on start-up.
$22.99
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Overview

Special Features

  • Interview with director Tom O'Horgan
  • Theatrical trailer
  • "Eugene Ionesco and Rhinoceros" essay by Village Voice theater critic Michael Feingold
  • Interview with Edie Landau of the American Film Theater
  • AFT Cinebill
  • Stills gallery
  • "Ely Landau: In Front of the Camera" AFT promotional reel
  • American Film Theater trailer gallery
  • Complete list of AFT films
  • American Film Theater scrapbook
  • Enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs

Synopsis

Rhinoceros
Rhinoceros is another American Film Theatre movie recording a notable stage production. The incomparable duo of Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder, whose earlier work in The Producers is now a comedy classic, join forces here to make the surreal comedy of Eugene Ionesco's play come to life. Ionesco was a leading exponent of "theater of the absurd," and realism was the last thing on his mind. For that reason, many people find this comedy rough going. Stanley (Gene Wilder) seems to be the only one who notices that everyone in the world is turning into Rhinoceroses--Everyone. First, they are overcome by a certain indifference to human values, and then POOF! they are on all fours, knocking over buildings and eating vegetation. He confides his concerns to his friend John (Zero Mostel), but even he swiftly begins to develop certain "thickish" tendencies. ~ Clarke Fountain, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Don Calfa
    Don Calfa - Waiter
  • Image coming soon
    Marilyn Chris - Mrs. Bingham
  • Lou Cutell
    Lou Cutell - Cashier
  • Image coming soon
    Robert Fields - Logician
  • Image coming soon
    Percy Rodrigues - Mr. Nicholson
Product images, including color, may differ from actual product appearance.