The American Film Theatre - DVD Box 1 (DVD)
Reunited for the only time after their triumph in Mel Brooks' The Producers, Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel catapult their shared genius for elegant slapstick, manic wit, and sly satire to a level of fearless absurdity that virtually no other comedy team would dare approach. Director Tom O'Horgan, originator of the Broadway smash hit Hair, transforms playwright Eugene Ionesco's "Theater of the Absurd" curio Rhinoceros into a fluid, character-rich screen comedy that The Hollywood Reporter dubbed, "an excellent film."
In the face of a modern urban life devoid of anything but an uninterrupted parade of dehumanizing compromise and disappointment, Stanley (Wilder) tenuously guards his fragile individuality in between gulps of booze. The only solace he enjoys is commiseration with his self-consciously sophisticated neighbor John (Mostel), and his unspoken adoration of a warmly sympathetic co-worker Daisy (70s cult object Karen Black). But as a surreal comic apocalypse begins to transform, one by one, everyone into a rhinoceros, the non-conformism that seemed like Stanley's downfall may be his only salvation.
Re-creating the role he originated on stage, Mostel delivers the most jaw-droppingly bravura performance of his career, playing off both Wilder's and his own incredulous terror as the fussy, prissy John metamorphoses (entirely without make-up or camera tricks) into a bellowing rhinoceros. Mostel, Wilder, and Black's generous characterizations and pitch-perfect comic timing streamline Rhinoceros's convulsive outrageousness into an ardent valentine to both knockabout screen comedy and Ionesco's experimental and timely satire.
Jean Genet, one of the most celebrated creative minds of the 20th century, receives an unbridled, expertly cinematic rendering in this long unseen film based on his perverse play. The Maids' volatile mixture of class confrontation, Freudian passion and criminal mischief frames an acid-etched portrait of two sisters whose hatred and desire twist their tortured lives together into a relentless downward spiral of guilt, degradation, and freedom at any cost.
Glenda Jackson (A Touch of Class) and Susannah York (A Man For All Seasons) play Solange and Claire, Paris maids who tend to cruel socialite Madame's (Vivien Merchant) unending domestic needs. Whenever Madame is away, the sisters obsessively act out a complex role-playing psychodrama of domination and control that feeds their powerful lust for revenge upon the haughty, disdainful mistress they serve. But after falsely denouncing Madame's lover to the police, Solange and Claire's shared terror of arrest and the unchecked aggression with which they increasingly infuse their "ceremony" threaten to destroy them even as they perch on the threshold of ecstatic release.
Director Christopher Miles (A Time For Loving) and legendary cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (Julia, Raiders of the Lost Ark) focus Genet's heady theatricallity into a riveting and dynamic cinematic experience. In a world where the lines are drawn between mistress, servant, confession, accusation, degradation, redemption, murder, and suicide become as fragile as French lace, the fatal truth remains that, "naturally, maids are guilty when madams are innocent."
Stacy Keach, as German cleric Martin Luther, miraculously breathes life and intimacy into one of the most famous social revolutionaries and theological firebrands in world history. Directed by former cinematographer Guy Green, Luther's graceful camerawork explodes the restricting theatrical proscenium without violating the unity of John Osbourne's (Look Back in Anger) original play.
Luther compresses nearly two decades into a provocative character study that parallels Martin Luther's deepening religious dilemmas with the irresolvable earthly anxieties that shaped his beliefs and his rebellious search for truth. We're introduced to Luther as a young monk in 1506, as he defends his vows to his jealous and disapproving father (Patrick McGee). But as Luther's religious commitment deepens, his faith in an increasingly commercialized, politicized, and spiritually empty Papacy atrophies until, having preached against the medieval Catholic Church's hypocrisy, he is called to account by the very bishops he must denounce.
Keach's Luther is backed by a powerful supporting cast, including Kubrick stalwart Leonard Rossiter, and Dame Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, Chocolat) as the nun Luther takes for his wife. In Luther, Martin Luther's condemnation of the Catholic Church and incitement fo the Protestant reformation become the last desperate acts of a brilliant but deeply troubled man of conscience who has run out of options.
On any given day Ben Butley, a self-made train wreck of an English Literature professor at a London university, can shrug off everyone and everything with equal ease. But today, the disaster of Butley's proudly misspent life threatens to dwarf even his cynically fatalistic non-expectations. Arriving at his cramped cave of an office, Butley is informed that his adored Joey is moving in with another man, his estranged wife is re-marrying, and his seemingly untalented colleague has been published ahead of him.
As embodied by Alan Bates, Butley falls back on the surgically precise wit and savage eloquence that helped put him in his current circumstances in the first place. The blitzkrieg of vitriolic commentary with which Butley engages lovers, students, rivals, and allies, all with equal ferocity, becomes a glass bottom boat illuminating the churning depths of his bankrupted soul. Acclaimed playwright Harold Pinter, in what Time Magazine hailed as "a quite superior directorial debut," turns author Simon Gray's single-set, dialogue driven stage play into an irresistible dynamic visual experience that tracks Bates' hilarious and fearless performance with cunning precision.
Bates and an expert supporting cast, including OscarÃ‚Â® winner Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy), joust with a sly, self-referencing wit and an unselfconscious exuberance that is breathtaking. With every verbal parry and valedictory flourish of wordplay, Butley's life becomes more of an inescapable bear trap of thwarted ambition, clandestine affection, and squandered brilliance.
The brainchild of producer Ely Landau, The American Film Theatre was a bold and revolutionary enterprise dedicated to the belief that a great segment of the movie audience do not want "to escape into sex and violence but want to think and feel."
The great talents of Broadway and Hollywood were enticed to join him and the result was fourteen magnificently crafted film productions based on the best plays of the 20th century. They represent a treasure trove of provocative stories, brilliant cinematography, and towering performances from the most important film directors and biggest stars of the period.
Long unavailable, all fourteen American Film Theatre productions have now been rediscovered, restored, and are ready for a new generation of theatre and film lovers.
- Tom O'Horgan - Director
- Eugene Ionesco - Writer
- Karen Black - Actor
- Zero Mostel - Actor
- Gene Wilder - Actor
- Ely Landau - Producer
- Christopher Miles - Director
- Vivien Merchant - Actor
- Susannah York - Actor
- Glenda Jackson - Actor
- Douglas Slocombe - Cinematographer
- Guy Green - Director
- Patrick Magee - Actor
- Hugh Griffith - Actor
- Judi Dench - Actor
- Alan Badel - Actor
- Stacy Keach - Actor
- Freddie Young - Cinematographer
- Ely Landau - Producer
- Harold Pinter - Director
- Jessica Tandy - Actor
- Alan Bates - Actor
"Rhinoceros is a fast paced, inventively realized film. Wilder and Mostel portray true feeling for each other better than any comedy team I've ever seen." - David Rosenbaum, The Boston Phoenix
"One of the best pictures of the year." - The Denver Post