A mysterious traveling circus unleashes a torrent of magic and mysticism in a dusty Arizona town. "In what may be the finest performance in a fantasy film" (Guide for the Film Fanatic), Tony Randall charms and spellbinds ... more »as ringmaster Dr. Lao and his multitude of faces, a virtuoso turn that earned a special Oscar for Outstanding Makeup Achievement. Step inside the tent...and marvel.« less
Bruce Gray | Shenandoah Valley, VA, USA | 12/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My favorite thing about this movie is - NOTHING is exactly as it seems.
For instance, although entitled "The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao", Tony Randall plays =eight= roles - and himself as well. Another example - nobody in town, not even Mike, the little confused boy, calls Dr. Lao by Lao's own pronunciation of his name. Most people say "La-Oh" when Lao himself uses "Low". Again, although Dr. Lao rides in on a small donkey, alone, the circus tent is gigantic and has many other characters in it.
My favorite scene no one else has mentioned so far is when the crooked businessman goes into the tent of The Serpent. The Serpent, possibly even the Serpent which tempted Adam and Eve, tells the businessman he knows the secret - a railroad will soon come thru this tiny western town, making it a destination point rather than the departure point it is now. But is this just a condemnation of the businessman (saying, in essence, he is a "snake" for not telling the residents about the railroad), or is it a subtler jab at all crooked businessmen? Or both? Or more? Only Dr. Lao knows - and he isn't telling. Watch the Serpent begin to look more and more like the crooked businessman as the scene progresses.
Based on the "fact" that every other creature in Lao's circus is virtually world-famous, it wouldn't surprise me if Dr. Lao is really Lao-Tze, one of China's greatest philosophers. This role of Tony Randall's will soon have you totally forgetting his role in "The Odd Couple". As far as I'm concerned, this is Randall's greatest moment. Ever. Watch his face carefully during the scene where he portrays Apollonius of Tyana and see what I mean.
How many faces of Dr. Lao? 1) Dr. Lao 2) Apollonius of Tyana 3) The Medusa 4) The Abominable Snowman 5) Pan 6) The Serpent 7) Merlin 8) The Loch Ness Monster 9) Himself (Tony Randall)
Based on the Charles Finney classic "The Circus of Dr Lao", George Pal, the director of this film, brings his knowledge of science fiction and fantasy ("The Time Machine" and "The War of the Worlds" among many others) to this marvelous blend of Western, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Mysticism, and even Religion to one of its greatest achievements. Watch for the end of the circus when all of the characters parade into the center ring to say goodbye. In the crowd, Tony Randall sits, as himself, shaking his head about the absurdity of it all, when everyone else is applauding and laughing. Watch also for the townspeople's reactions to the circus performers they have met.
At the end of the movie, Mike wants to go travelling with Dr. Lao. This is one of the rare times Dr. Lao does not speak in a very stereotypical fake Chinese accent. He says: "Mike, the whole world is a circus if you look at it the right way. Every time you pick up a handful of dust, and see not the dust, but a mystery, a marvel, there in your hand - every time you stop and think, 'I'm alive, and being alive is fantastic!' - every time such a thing happens, Mike, you are part of the Circus of Dr. Lao."
You can be part of the Circus of Dr. Lao too, when you decide to have this movie work its magic on you. One of my very highest recommendations."
happydogpotatohead | New Orleans, LA USA | 05/21/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The day after Tony Randall passed, I pulled out my DVD of "The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao," one of the oddest movies in Randall's long career. It's also one of my very favorite movies of all time.The plot is pretty simple. Dr. Lao, a strange Chinese gent, comes riding into the dying town of Abalone, Arizona on a yellow donkey. A catfish in a bowl rides behind him. He comes into town to stage his circus. His arrival comes at an interesting time. Clinton Stark, the town entrepreneur, is at loggerheads with newspaper publisher Ed Cunningham. Stark has just made an offer at a town meeting to buy out all the property in town stating that the water main is collapsing and the town doesn't have enough money to repair it. However, Stark's real motive is that the railroad will be coming through town and he can turn a mighty profit on selling the land to the railroad. The townsfolk are just about ready to sell out; Stark's offer sounds good and Abalone is in the middle of nowhere. Editor Cunningham is suspicious, and so is Angela Benedict, the town librarian. Ed's in love with Angela, but she's still wearing her widow's weeds for a husband eight years dead. Into all this rides Dr. Lao, who sets up his circus...a circus of the mind where no one who walks through the tent flap remains unchanged.I will tell you this: this is a corny movie, and everything does turn out all right in the end. The special effects won an Academy Award in 1964, but they are stop-motion effects (from director George Pal) and the makeup and effects are limited by time and place.And yes, there's a kid and even a dog. Don't hold that against this film. In its defense I will say thatit was written by Charles Beaumont, the writer responsible for a number of classic Twilight Zone episodes. And there are more than a few edgy and even frightening moments here, far more than anyone should expect from a "family" movie in 1964.For example, the completely frivolous Mrs. Cassin goes to visit the seer Apollonius of Tyana to get her fortune read. Mrs. Cassin's character is that of a beauty past her bloom, a snobbish, gossipy and silly old lady who still fancies herself the belle of a long-forgotten ball. Having her fortune read is a lark to her. She ventures into Apollonius' tent.The first time you see Tony Randall as Apollonius, you think, "Oh jeez, Tony Randall in a blonde wig, mustache and beard." Yes. True. But his face. Randall's Apollonius looks infinitely old, infinitely tired. In essence the corny-ness of the makeup is destroyed by the way Randall holds himself and speaks. In spite of yourself, you find yourself believing that this is an infinitely old and sad man who sees the future, and maybe doesn't want to.Mrs. Cassin, flustered by Apollonius' faraway attitude, eventually ends up taunting him. Her true nastiness emerges as she finally says, "I paid you! go on then, tell my fortune!"In one of the most chilling moments in the movies (and I will defend that statement), Apollonius tells her:"Tomorrow will be like today, and the day after tomorrow will be like the day before yesterday. I see your remaining days as a tedious collection of hours full of useless vanities. You will think no new thoughts. You will forget what little you have known. Older you will become, but not wiser. Stiffer, but not more dignified. Childless you are, and childless you will remain. Of that suppleness you once commanded in your youth, of that strange simplicity which once attracted men to you, neither endures, nor shall you recapture them...When you die, you will be buried and forgotten, and that is all. And for all the good or evil, creation or destruction, your living might have accomplished, you might just as well never have lived at all." Randall says this without judgment or malice, in an infinitely sad and infinitely empty tone. If you do not feel the icy wind of fear across your soul when you watch this, you're not paying attention. Mrs. Cassin rushes out of the tent weeping. When Angela Benedict, the Librarian, finds her, Mrs. Cassin's face snaps back to its usual phony cheerfulness, and she chirps, "Oh, it was quite interesting. Do you know, he told me that I shall marry Mr. Stark!"Ah, Angela Benedict. Angela is played by Barbara Eden. A young and quite luscious, brunette, Barbara Eden. Before Jeannie. Benedict is clinging to her widow's weeds to avoid the attentions of Ed Cunningham, to avoid rejoining life. And Angela Benedict ventures into the tent of Pan.Yes, Pan. the Great God Pan. Once again the shortcomings of the makeup(according to our modern technology) are overcome. Pan begins to play his pipes and dance around Angela. She loses her balance. The music gets wilder. The tent is gone; we are in a forest. She loses her focus. Her schoolmarm's dress becomes undone at the neck. She sweats. Her hair falls out of its bun. Pan's likeness changes; he looks like Ed Cunningham, but Ed Cunningham with horns and hooves, half-naked, powerful, laughing, taunting her, enticing her. There's no sex, not even a kiss at the end of this scene; only a very young and very, very beautiful Barbara Eden clinging to a convenient tent pole, or is it a tree in the forest? coming undone, sweating, gasping, and completely under the spell of Pan. And again, if you don't find this scene intensely erotic, you're not paying attention.In short, folks, even though this film is corny and has technical flaws according to our 21st Century standards, it is far outside the boundaries of 1964, and touches on things that no other movie has. Suspend your disbelief and see this movie.I will leave you with this, from a scene where Dr. Lao is talking to Mike, who is Angela Benedict's son."Mike, the whole world is a circus if you look at it the right way. Every time you pick up a handful of dust, and see not the dust, but a mystery, a marvel, there in your hand - every time you stop and think, 'I'm alive, and being alive is fantastic!' - every time such a thing happens, Mike, you are part of the Circus of Dr. Lao.""
Strange, wonderful, uplifting
R. Wallace | St. Louis, Mo USA | 02/04/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this film over 25 years ago. It made a permanent imprint on me. I had never seen anything like it (and haven't, since). It's a western, and a fantasy (but not science fiction). It's also mythological and even a bit religious. It's also a wonderful, life-affirming film. I've never been a fan of Tony Randall, who I always remember as the prissy little neurotic in "The Odd Couple," but I have to give him the greatest credit in this movie (he plays six parts!) The special effects are Ray Harryhausen stop-motion (and obviously fake) but that is part of the enormous charm of this movie--as exemplified by the amusing-looking snake in the cage with a man's face on it, and the goldfish-bowl-dwelling monster than attempts to snack on Dr. Lao. In some ways this movie reminds me of Ray Bradbury's _Something Wicked This Way Comes,_ but this is a far superior film. In fact, I'd have to call it a classic."
Experience 7 Faces of Dr Lao! ............or die deprived..
Harvey Nix | Lebec, CA | 01/12/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Tears well in my eyes and something catches in my throat at every viewing. I helplessly and enthusiastically recommend it to anyone and everyone I care about. I've subjected my summer school classes and my sons to this special treat of the cinema shamelessly wiping away the tears as I watch the magic capture another devotee. A completely uncommon western. Food for the soul. Lessons for life at all ages. Tony Randall capturing your imagination in a role...roles! as he never did before or since. Barbara Eden early in her film career irrestibly charming. And a kid who will touch you as deeply as Jackie Cooper in The Champ or Shirley Temple ever did. All of this and more delivered by the golden age master of cinematic fantasy, George Pal.Well, what more could you want? Don't die, never having seen it. The sooner you see it, the sooner you can look forward to seeing it again and sharing it with your friends. YES! YES! YES!"
A well told morality tale
SheLikesDvds.com | Cincinnati | 04/03/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"7 Faces of Dr. Lao can be looked at in two different ways. The movie, released in 1964, can be seen as a morality lesson. It is the story of the small Arizona town of Abalone full of citizens who suffer from greed, vanity, loneliness, and pettiness. When Dr. Lao brings his mystical circus to town, the townsfolk get a good look at themselves and don't always like what they see. For today's audience the movie is a bit slow and ponderous. The film is highly predictable and you know by the end of the film that everyone gets exactly what they deserve and once the errors in their ways are pointed out to them then they will miraculously change for the better and everyone will live happily ever after.
The second, and more enjoyable, is to focus on the performance of Tony Randall. Randall is amazing as the Chinese impresario Dr. Lao. Tony Randall portrays all seven inhabitants of Dr. Lao's circus: Dr. Lao, Merlin the Magician, Medusa, The Abominable Snowman, Pan, the serpent, and Apollonius of Tyana, he also makes a brief appearance as Tony Randall. As you are watching the film you forget that it is the same man playing all those parts, and it is widely considered one of Randall's most impressive performances. William Tuttle, who won an honorary Academy Award for his astounding make-up work, flawlessly transforms Randall from one character to the next. The film also comes from Director George Pal, who is also known for directing such classics as Time Machine and War of the Worlds, brings his distinctive blending of reality and fantasy to this film. Randall's performance, along with the incredible make-up work of William Tuttle and fine direction by George Pal make this a must see film..."