|7 Faces of Dr. Lao|
Theatrical release poster by Joseph Smith
|Directed by||George Pal|
|Produced by||George Pal|
|Based on||The Circus of Dr. Lao|
by Charles G. Finney
|Music by||Leigh Harline|
|Cinematography||Robert J. Bronner|
|Edited by||George Tomasini|
|Box office||$1.25 million (US/ Canada)|
7 Faces of Dr. Lao is a 1964 American Metrocolor fantasy-comedy film directed by George Pal (his final directorial effort) and starring Tony Randall. It is an adaptation of the 1935 fantasy novel The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney. It details the visit of a magical circus to a small town in the southwest United States, and the effects that visit has on the people of the town. The novel was adapted by Charles Beaumont.
Dr. Lao (Randall) rides a golden donkey into the small town of Abalone, Arizona and visits Edward Cunningham's newspaper to place a large ad for his traveling circus, which will play for two nights only.
Though quiet, Abalone is not peaceful. Wealthy rancher Clinton Stark (Arthur O'Connell) has inside information that a railroad is coming to town and plans to buy the entire township while the land is cheap. Stark arrives at the newspaper offices to smugly confront Cunningham over a recent editorial in opposition to Stark's plan. Lao, patiently waiting to place his ad, silently listens to the meeting.
Another of Stark's opponents is Angela Benedict (Eden), a local widow who serves as librarian and schoolteacher. Cunningham is open about his affection for her, embarrassing her in a visit to the library to research Lao's background; she suppresses her reciprocal feelings.
That night, a town hall meeting is held in the library. Before the meeting, Stark quietly complains to the mayor that "every time I bet on weakness, corruption and fallibility, I want to lose . . .but I always win." As the meeting progresses, Stark announces that its 16-mile long water supply pipe is decaying and would be too expensive to replace. He then offers to buy the entire town. Arguing against the offer, Cunningham introduces everyone to George G. George, a Navajo Indian who lives in "another city, close to our own", and points out that the lives of its residents depend on Abalone's continued existence.
Stark reluctantly allows the townspeople to ponder their choice "until Friday night" and the meeting is adjourned.
The next day, Cunningham visits the circus site, encountering the Abominable Snowman and Merlin, the fabled magician. Cunningham confronts Lao with the fact that Lao's alleged hometown vanished centuries before. Lao deflects Cunningham's questions, about himself and the large circus, which arrived without wagons and announces that he is "a major mystery!" The newspaperman "leaves in a cloud of befuddlement," but accepting that Lao is "a nice guy."
Later, as Lao puts up posters advertising his circus, Angela's young son Mike learns that the mysterious wanderer is 7,321 years old. Mike takes this statement, as well as Lao's displays of extra-human capabilities, without doubt.
The circus opens and is attended by the entire town. Lao uses his many faces to offer his wisdom to the visitors, only some of whom heed the advice. Angela Benedict is fascinated by a sensuous and seductive dance of Pan, the God of Joy, who wears the face of Cunningham. Stark visits The Great Serpent, who points out that Stark is himself in a form of "cage." Medusa turns the disbelieving Kate Lindquist to stone; her long-suffering husband excuses this by claiming it to be an "arthritis attack . . .she's had them before." Lao calls an end to the proceedings as the guests flee, then Merlin appears, restoring the woman to life, her experience causing a much-needed reformation in her character.
Later that night, Mike visits Lao and tries to get a job, displaying his novice juggling and conjuring skills. Lao instead offers some advice and observations about the world, which Mike doesn't understand, and Lao claims to not understand either.
During the evening's presentation, Stark's henchmen had destroyed the newspaper office; this is discovered by Cunningham and his assistant, who go off to become drunk, as Lao stands in the nearby shadows.
Angela is kept awake that night, plagued by the music that Pan had played, while nobody else can hear it.
At dawn, intoxicated, the newspapermen are astonished to discover that their office has been fully restored and the press is operating. Attributing it to Lao, they rush to produce a short edition of the paper, which Cunningham personally delivers to Stark in the morning. When he visits the circus site, Lao offers encouragement and calls on Cunningham to keep faith.
That evening, Lao stages his grand finale, a magic lantern show in which the mythical city of "Woldercan," populated by doubles of the townfolk, is destroyed when it succumbs to temptation. The show ends in explosions and darkness and the townsfolk find themselves again in the library and in a town meeting. The vote is called on Stark's proposal, and to the surprise of Cunningham, Benedict and Stark it is rejected unanimously. A redeemed Stark tells them about the coming railroad. Angela confesses her love to Cunningham, to the delight of her mother-in-law.
Stark's henchmen are confused by their boss' apparent change of character and decide to trash Lao's circus in a drunken spree, during which they break Lao's fishbowl. The inhabitant is revealed to be the Loch Ness Monster, which balloons to enormous size when exposed to the open air. After it chases the two thugs away (and temporarily grows seven heads to resemble the seven faces of the inhabitants of the circus), Mike alerts Dr. Lao and then helps conjure up a cloudburst to wet and shrink the beast back to its original size.
Morning comes and the circus is gone, leaving a red-colored circle on the desert floor where the tent had been. Mike's reports of the night before are initially disbelieved, until Stark finds the hat belonging to one of the henchmen. As Stark, Cunningham and Benedict wonder about the events, Mike chases after a dust plume, which he thinks is made by Lao. He only finds three wooden balls, which he expertly juggles, while calling on the absent Lao to see.
The closing scene shows the disappearing Dr. Lao riding his donkey over a nearby rise as his voice-over repeats his advice to Mike from two nights earlier, reminding Mike that the Circus of Dr. Lao is life itself, and everything in it is a wonder.
* Randall voices the Serpent, a stop-motion animated snake which has the face of O'Connell.
** While Randall is credited as the Abominable Snowman, bodybuilder Péter Pál (son of the film's director) was the (uncredited) body double. Randall also has a cameo appearance, wearing his own face, as a silent audience member.
This section does not cite any sources. (March 2015) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
The trailer shows date of the picture, in Roman numerals, as 1963 rather than 1964.
According to notes on the Leigh Harline soundtrack CD released by Film Score Monthly, Pal's first choice for the role was Peter Sellers who was strongly interested in the role. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided that they wished an American in the lead role.
William Tuttle received an honorary Oscar for his makeup work on this film. It was the first of only two honorary Oscars awarded for makeup; the other went to John Chambers in 1968 for Planet of the Apes. As part of Tuttle's work, Randall had his head shaved, not only to play the bald Dr. Lao, but also to make it convenient for the "appliances" he had to wear. Randall later said, "It gave me an unborn look." The studio publicity department arrived at the barber too late to photograph the process, so they had a make-up artist glue hair back on Randall's head and the barber once again removed it, this time for the cameras. Randall makes a cameo appearance in the film, sans makeup, during the parade of cast members before the Woldercan sequence, sitting in the audience. Since his head was already shaved, makeup artist Tuttle applied a hairpiece to him. Randall later said in an interview, "Gene Kelly's old toupee came in handy."
Jim Danforth's model animation of the Loch Ness Monster, the Giant Serpent, Medusa's snake hair were nominated for an Academy Award.
The "Woldercan spectacular" that Dr. Lao presents as the grand finale of his circus contains much footage from an earlier George Pal production, 1961's Atlantis, the Lost Continent as well as some footage of flowing lava from The Time Machine and stock footage of destruction from MGM's 1951 production of Quo Vadis.
The crystal ball and large hourglass used by the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939's The Wizard of Oz can both be spotted in the film. Also, in the scene where Mike visits Lao at night, a two-headed tortoise can be seen; this made a few later appearances in the television series The Addams Family.
7 Faces of Dr. Lao was released on a region-free DVD as part of the Warner Bros. Archive Collection in November 2011.
7 Faces of Dr. Lao garnered positive reception from multiple movie critics. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 100% of six surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 7/10. Howard Thompson of The New York Times called the film "heavy, thick, pint-sized fantasy, laid on with an anvil".