7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)

7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964)
Article 2211 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 4-5-2007
Posting Date: 9-1-2007
Directed by George Pal
Featuring Tony Randall, Barbara Eden, Arthur O’Connell

The residents of a small western town are about to sell out to an unscrupulous land speculator when they are visited by a mysterious Oriental character known as Dr. Lao, who invites them to enjoy his circus.

This is one of the most charming fantasies I’ve ever seen, and it is one of my favorite George Pal films. For some odd reason, I don’t think the movie should work; with its shifting moods, I sense it should come across as unfocused, but this is not the case. For what seems on the surface to be a light-hearted movie, it occasionally shows a power and a darkness that is devastating; the scene where the vain middle-aged woman visits the fortune teller only to be told the naked truth about herself is so sad it’s hard to take, and the scene where the librarian encounters Pan is so overwhelmingly (but not explicitly) sexual that it’s hard to believe that it’s in a movie that is fit for children. Part of the reason it works so well is the excellent performance from Tony Randall, who plays most of the circus characters and whose accent changes with the situation; he’s breathtakingly energetic and a joy to watch. The movie is filled with other memorable performances from such familiar names as John Ericson, Noah Beery Jr., Minerval Urecal, John Qualen, and Royal Dano. The movie has a real magic to it, and sometimes the way events transpire is amazing; I love the scene where the audience is terrified by the parable of the story of a town that is destroyed by its own greed and then suddenly find themselves sitting at a town meeting in the library where they themselves must vote on the fate of their own town. Great special effects also help, some of which are the work of Jim Danforth. I do wonder about one thing in the story; each of the members of Dr. Lao’s circus has a strong effect on at least one of the townspeople, with the sole exception of the Abominable Snowman, who only appears in snatches. This makes me want to read the Charles Finney novel on which the movie is based to find out if something involving the Snowman was cut from the movie version of the story. At any rate, I consider this one of George Pal’s finest moments.

 

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