Rhinoceros (1973)

USA, Canada,
Eastmancolor, 1.85:1
mono, English

An American fantasy film directed by Tom O'Horgan.

Plot Summary

A depressed and alcoholic man is startled to find that people around him, including many of his friends and work colleagues, are transforming into .


Director: Tom O'Horgan
© MCMLXXIII [1973] by AFT Distributing Corporation
American Express Films, Inc. and The Ely Landau Organization Inc. present The American Film Theatre. Rhinoceros has been a presentation of American Express Films, Inc. and The Ely Landau Organization Inc. in association with Cinévision Ltée (Canada)
Released by: AFT Distributing Corporation
For The American Film Theatre: Henry T. Weinstein, Mort Abrahams
Executive Producer: Edward Lewis
Producer: Ely Landau
A Motion Picture Based Upon Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros
Screenplay: Julian Barry
Director of Photography: James Crabe
Film Editor: Bud Smith
Music: Galt MacDermot
Sound Mixer: Richard Overton
Costume Design: Noel Taylor
Makeup: Jack Petty
Hairdresser: Dee Dee Petty
Special Effects: Robert Dawson
Production Design: Jack Martin Smith
Casting: Lynn Stalmaster
Filmed at Twentieth Century-Fox Film Studios

Zero Mostel (John)
Gene Wilder (Stanley)
Karen Black (Daisy)
Marilyn Chris (Mrs Bingham)
Lou Cutell (cashier)
Percy Rodrigues (Mr Nicholson)
Melody Santangelo (young woman)
Don Calfa (waiter)
Robert Fields (young man)
Joe Silver (Norman)
Robert Weil (Carl)
Lorna Thayer (restaurant owner)
Manuel Aviles (busboy)
Howard Morton (doctor)
Anne Ramsey (lady with cat)

Alternative Titles

Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros – advertising title
Az orrszarvú – Hungarian title
Il rinoceronte – Italian title
Nosorożec – Polish title
Rinocérosz – Hungarian title
Носорог – Bulgarian, Russian title

See also
Næsehornet (1972)


Variety vol.273 no.11 (23 January 1974) p.14
Eugene lonesco's serio-comic play – farce may be the more correct description – is one of the less stalwart examples of the “theatre of the absurd” movement of roughly two decades ago. When “‘Rhinoceros” bowed on Broadway under Joseph Anthony's direction in early 1961, some serious theatregoers were taken with the play's broad and almost purely comical approach to such subjects as the individual versus the conforming mob, the terrible imminence of totalitarianism in the world and the awful influence of absurdity on our lives. Much has happened since then that demands continued and fuller ation of these themes but not in the crude style lonesco deployed in “Rhinoceros. ” Deliberately separating the audience from the characters, the playwright portrayed cardboard stereotypes, that could readily be subordinated to the play's heavy symbolic requirements. Result is that audience identification with figures shown, with exception of the hero (Gene Wilder) who steadfastly remains human, is minimal. […] This film exhausts basic material quickly leaving the viewer with little to grapple with other than a series of directorial gimmicks. O'Horgan, working from a colloquial script by Julian Barry, paces the pic in frenetic clip emphasizing broad physical movements of the cast […] A Muzak-rock musical score by Galt MacDermot was needlessly added. Sexual undertones have been brought out, and exterior scenes have been added which reinforce the already obvious symbolism of the play's basic plot. Instead of recording the play faithfully on film – as other AFT outings have done with success – or “opening up” the lonesco work, O ‘Horgan says he has tried for something in between. Result is a dull mishmash of compromise. – from a review by Sege

Boxoffice vol.104 no.17 (4 February 1974) p.a7 – review
The theatre of the absurd is brought to the screen in the most cinematic of the AFT presentations. Eugene lonesco's classic play was originally anti-Nazi in its attack on conformity. A new translation by Julian Barry, as directed by Tom O'Horgan and starring Zero Mostel in his Tony-winning role, offers some penetrating views on values along with the black (in this case, far out) comedy. Not once is a rhino actually seen although its presence is felt throughout. The theatre-on-film concept is forsaken, since many events take place out of doors and really couldn't be duplicated on a stage. The marvelous Mostel actually makes the viewer believe he's turning into an armor-plated pachyderm, although his footage is secondary to Gene Wilder. While everyone around him – including best friend Mostel and sweetheart Karen Black – chooses to join the herd, Wilder stands alone in his non-conformity. Taken just on the level of a comedy-fantasy, “Rhinoceros” has a lot of humor.

The Independent Film Journal vol.73 no.5 (4 February 1974) p.11
[T]ackled with the inborn realism of the screen, absurdity is harder to bring off (no matter how many times you hear a character describe his skin changing from pink to grey, the camera – focused on the skin – does nothing more than make a liar out of him). With less chance of securing a commercially viable run than the American Film Theatre's previous filmizations, Rhinoceros has compounded its problems on several fronts, mainly through Julian Barry's updated and radically altered screenplay which is rife with “contemporary” word-plays, sight-gags and basically cheap laugh-getters like ironic portraits of Richard Nixon to hype the lines. Presumably recognizing that calm absurdity would be hard to convey, Barry and director Tom O'Horgan […] have exaggerated the work into a frenetic farce, redundant with slapstick and continual intrusions into the mood and text of the play. Within the silliness, Gene Wilder manages beautifully as a mild-mannered, vaguely alcoholic accountant whose friendship with a fastidious buffoon (Zero Mostel) is strained by Mostel's attempts to bring him down to earth. […] As a parable of group hysteria and the growth of totalitarian mass movements, the play's effectiveness has sorely dated, even in little more than a decade. But to compound the difficulty by “opening up” the play with soft-focused dream sequences and easy, “now” allusions certainly proves far less than helpful. The characters emerge as little more than one-dimensional cartoon figures, although Wilder brings a note of warmth to the proceedings, as much through his own personality as through any of the writing. Mostel's rhinoceritis is convincingly if broadly played for a while, quickly paling through repetition, while Ms. Black manages to at least project a credible sense of wide-eyed lust.

Cinefantastique vol.3 no.3 (Autumn 1974) p.35
Ely Landau's American Film Theatre dips into cinefantastique with its film of Eugene loncsco's “Rhinoceros” and re-joins the team from The Producers, Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. The film is disappointing in many respects; lonesco's precisely world is too easily ground into the humdrum realism of the seventies, and the central action, in which everyone begins to metamorphose into rhinoceri, breaks down too quickly and explicitly into a pat “us vs. them” situation. Whether the play is about Nazism or conformism, I kept thinking of Don Siegal's pods. Thankfully, Tom O'Horgan's childish flamboyance that so dominates his theatre work (“Hair“, “Lenny“, “Jesus Christ, Superstar“) is toned down. Unfortunately, he still does not know enough about making movies. He and scriptwriter Julian Barry make the fatal mistake of modernizing an avant-garde play (published in 1958), which sounds as ludicrous as is, indeed, the product of their endeavors. Zero Mostel nearly smothers the film, as he is wont to with weak directors. If you are a faithful Mostel fan, you may virtually bathe in the loud opulence of the second act – his transformation. If you're not, you may be in a better position to appreciate an absolutely brilliant performance by Gene Wilder. – by David Bartholomew

Sight and Sound vol.14 no.11 (November 2004) p.78
lonesco's absurdist drama is rousingly performed by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder (most famously seen together in Mel Brooks' The Producers). […] O'Horgan successfully opens out the original play for the screen and places it in an American context (complete with images of Richard Nixon on the mantlepiece). – from a review by Geoffrey Macnab


Boxoffice vol.103 no.4 (7 May 1973) p.SW4 – note
Boxoffice vol.104 no.17 (4 February 1974) p.a7 – review
Castle of Frankenstein no.23 p.54
Cinefantastique vol.3 no.3 (Autumn 1974) p.35 – review (by David Bartholomew)
The Hollywood Reporter vol.224 no.47 (2 February 1973) p.12 – credits
The Hollywood Reporter vol.230 no.25 (11 March 1974) pp.3, 14
The Independent Film Journal vol.73 no.5 (4 February 1974) p.11 – credits, review (Buying and booking guide)
Sight and Sound vol.14 no.11 (November 2004) p.78 – DVD review (Rhinoceros by Geoffrey Macnab)
Variety vol.273 no.11 (23 January 1974) p.14 – credits, review (by Sege)