Movie of the Day #1 – The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

Original theatrical One Sheet

Here’s my first entry for my Movie of the Day. From time to time, I’ll recommend one of my favorite movies. If you check it out, let me know if you do, and what you think.

The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) Family fare sees the late, great Tony Randall (better known to some as Felix Unger from TV’s Odd Couple) playing 7 different characters (6 physical portrayals and 1 voice): The Abominable Snowman, Merlin the Magician, the blind oracle Apollonius of Tyana,  the satyr-god, Pan, Medusa (a female role, at that), the cunning Great Serpent (a puppet with the facial features of ‘villain’ Arthur O’Connell & voiced by Randall) and the mysterious curator of this menagerie Dr. Lao.

The dreary western town of Abalone, AZ is in the midst of a town vote of selling their land to developer Clinton Stark (Arthur O’Connell), who has told them their water supply is due to run out any time. Is he truly this generous or does he have a more sinister reason, as newspaper editor Ed Cunningham (John Ericson) contends? Enter Dr. Lao, a mysterious traveler who promises a grand circus of wonders, though the only things he seemingly enters town with is a small catfish in a fishbowl mounted on a golden donkey.

Through the exhibits and acts of his circus, Dr. Lao tries to teach lessons to the townspeople from being a nicer person to being able to open hearts to new love, and how they have a real choice to save their town. I don’t want to go into too much detail, as I think you’ll enjoy it for yourself, especially with the lesser offering of ‘real’ family entertainment these days.

Made by George Pal, a master of the fantasy film in the 50’s & 60’s, this is one of my all-time favorite films, even though I discovered it in the late 80’s after seeing a documentary on Pal’s films. The stop motion used for the Loch Ness Monster and Merlin’s magic flowers is simplistic, taking into account the year it was made and that it was a family film but effective.

Pal made his initial mark in the film industry with his Puppetoons – 5-10 minute long cartoons of nursery ryhmes, folk tales or fairy tales and he used these skills to build from into feature films such as The Time Machine, Tom Thumb and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm.

Sadly, the film is often cited in diatribes of parts being played by actors of a race other than the character’s. I think this is the exception though, as Randall plays multiple parts, which is the PREMISE of the film. Even though he starts out as a seeming stereotype, Dr. Lao soon shows appearances can be deceiving.

I give this 5 out of 5 “Jaggies”



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