Rhinoceros (film)

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Poster of Rhinoceros (film).jpg
DVD cover art (2003)
Directed by Tom O'Horgan
Produced by Ely Landau
Written by Julian Barry
Eugène Ionesco (play)
Starring Gene Wilder
Zero Mostel
Karen Black
Music by Galt MacDermot
Cinematography Jim Crabe
Edited by Bud Smith
Distributed by American Film Theatre
Release date
January 21, 1974 (US)
Running time
101 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Rhinoceros is a 1974 American comedy film based on the play Rhinocéros by Eugène Ionesco. The film was produced by Ely Landau for the American Film Theatre, which presented thirteen film adaptations of plays in the United States from 1973 to 1975.[1]


The residents of a large town are inexplicably turning into rhinoceroses. Stanley (Gene Wilder), a mild-mannered office clerk, watches the bizarre transformations from a bemused distance. But soon the strange occurrences invade his personal space, as his neighbor and best friend John (Zero Mostel) and his girlfriend Daisy (Karen Black) become part of the human-into-rhinoceros metamorphosis that is taking place. Eventually, Stanley realizes he will be the only human left.[2]


In adapting Ionesco’s play, several changes were made to the original text. The setting was switched from France to a then-contemporary United States, complete with a photograph of President Richard Nixon that was comically venerated, and the lead characters Bérenger and Jean were renamed Stanley and John.[3] A new music score by Galt MacDermot was created for the film and a dream sequence was added to the story.[2]

Tom O'Horgan, a theater director best known for his staging of the original Broadway production of the musical Hair, directed Rhinoceros.[4] Zero Mostel, who starred in the 1961 Broadway production of the play, recreated his role as the man who turns into a Rhinoceros. Mostel created a minor brouhaha during the production when he refused to smash any props during the rehearsal of his transformation scene – the actor claimed he had an aversion to destroying property.[5]

Although O'Horgan considered using a live animal to dramatize the transformation, no rhinoceros is ever seen on camera during the film – shadows and POV camera angles are used to suggest the presence of the animals.[3]

Mostel and Wilder appeared together previously in The Producers (1968).


Rhinoceros was poorly received when it had its theatrical release as part of the American Film Theatre series. Jay Cocks, reviewing Rhinoceros for Time magazine, faulted it for its “upbeat, frantic vulgarization” of the Ionesco text, arguing that O’Horgan “removed not only the politics but the resonance as well. What remains is a squeaky sermon on the virtues of nonconformity.”[6] Vincent Canby, writing in The New York Times, dismissed the film as “an unreliable mouthpiece in an unreliable metaphor so grossly overdirected by Tom O'Horgan that you might get the idea Mr. O'Horgan thought he was making a movie for an audience made up entirely of rhinoceroses instead of people.”

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