Monsoon-A-Day ‘Rhinoceros’ 1974

Welcome to Monsoon-a-day.
Where I watch and review a movie a day.

Day 45


If you’re a fan of laughing, you’re a fan of Gene Wilder. There’s almost nobody better at the fine art of comedy than Wilder. The man is just made of funny and one of his best comedies is The Producers. Since we’ve already established you’re a fan, there’s no need to tell you what it’s about because you’ve obviously seen it but what you probably didn’t know know is that he re-teamed with his co-star in that for another movie. A movie about a town where all the residents start inexplicably turning into rhinoceroses. You maybe wondering why you’ve never heard of this film because with that cast and that premise, it should be the funniest film of all time and the answer is, in I Love Lucy fashion, “Needs Som’ S’plaining To Do.”

The American Film Theatre was a limited run of stage to screen adaptations that lasted from 1973 to 1975. In those two years, fourteen films were made and shown in 400 cities across the United States. They were meant to be as faithful as humanly possible, meaning the only thing that could be added was stage direction and some minor adjustments. It was an ambitious project but it was subscription based. You didn’t just buy a ticket to one film, you bought one for the entire season, so that’s why almost every film made for this project has faded into obscurity.

That leads us to the film version of the play Rhinoceros. The original play all took place in one room and the main character would either hear what was happening from the radio or look outside his window. There are no rhinoceroses in the play. The film version is a little bit less claustrophobic but a large chunk of it does take place in Wilder’s apartment.

Wilder plays Stanley, a bored accountant that lives in a drunken stupor every weekend. “I hate the taste of alcohol, but if I don’t drink, I feel awful.” Zero Mostel plays his best friend John. They meet at the same diner every Sunday to talk about his terrible life choices. John disapproves, Stanley doesn’t care.

One luncheon is interrupted by the sight of stampeding rhinoceroses (I feel like that’s not the correct plural-ization of that word and now I’m trying to find the plural of plural because I know Goddamn well plural-ization isn’t a word but Google is jerking me around and I can’t figure it out) and it’s at this point you realize the film is probably not going to show any rhinos. And you’d be correct.

There. Are. No. Rhinos. In. This. Film.

I don’t know if this decision was made to be faithful to the source material or a budgetary concern but it’s extremely disappointing. I’m all for absurdism. I’m all for surrealism. I don’t mind crazy, illogical shit happening in my movies but I do have a problem with being denied the absurd. You can’t tell me the town is suddenly filled with rhinos without showing me the fucking rhinos.

They don’t even have to be real. Make em out of papier-mâché, I don’t care. Just show me something. If the point of the play is to depict the frustrations of a hive mind mentality and the allure of conformity, it’s kind of a success. Because I’m so desperate to see just a glimpse of a F’N rhino, that I’m rooting for Wilder to just turn into one already.

If you like playwrights like Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, or Jean Genet, you might dig this film. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some slap stick moments and an incredibly believable performance by Wilder but I want some Goddamn rhinos.

This film is like trying to put a condom on a flaccid penis. It’s frustrating, nothing happens but probably humorous in retrospect.