Rhinoceros (1974)

Article 4037 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-20-2012
Directed by Tom O’Horgan
Featuring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Karen Black
Country: USA / UK / Canada
What it is: Cinematic attempt at theatrical absurdism

A boozing non-conformist finds everyone around him turning into rhinoceroses.

I haven’t read the Eugene Ionesco play on which this movie is based, though a summary of the play on Wikipedia does seem to indicate that the movie keeps fairly close to the original story. However, one of the pitfalls of trying to adapt theatrical absurdity to the screen is that it is often mistaken for and marketed as comedy, and there are moments here where the movie seems to succumb; certainly, the poster on IMDB tries to market it as such. There’s also the problem of avoiding the inherent stage-bound feel of the play, and the movie suffers from that as well; for example, those hoping for anything in the way of human-into-rhino special effects will be very disappointed, as there are none. Acting-wise, I think Wilder comes off best here, but he’s also got a somewhat easier role, in that he’s not required to transform into a rhino; Mostel, who does, gives such an eccentric, over-the-top performance that he starts to become actively obnoxious. The addition of a musical dream sequence with an inappropriate song is a further problem. Still, despite all this, I do get a sense that the original message of the play doesn’t get lost. Overall, it’s interesting, but those expecting a comedy or something more overtly cinematic will be very unhappy with this one.


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