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7 Faces of Dr. Lao

Warner Archive // Unrated // September 27, 2011
List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Wbshop]

Review by John Sinnott | posted November 13, 2011 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
I have a pretty large DVD collection, but one of the discs that I never got around to purchasing was the 1964 George Pal fantasy/western The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.  I figured I'd get it one day, but before I could snag a copy it went OOP and the price of disc soared to over $50.  Too rich for my blood.  But Warner Archives has come to the rescue, rereleasing this great Tony Randal film at a very reasonable price.  They even ported over all of the extras from the original release.  Needless to say I snagged a copy as soon as I could and I'm happy to say it's just as fun and enjoyable as I remember it being.

The plot is pretty simple.  In the very small town of Abalone, Arizona, back in the old west, a local businessman, Clint Stark, is trying to buy the entire town for a cheap price.  The pipe that carried the town's water is in poor repair and it'll give out altogether in six months unless repairs are made and that will cost over a quarter of a million dollars, much more than the town can comfortably come up with.  The local newspaper editor doesn't trust Stark however, and has been writing editorials urging the townspeople not to sell.
Into this drama drifts a Chinaman, Dr. Lao (pronounced "Low" played by Tony Randall).  He rides into town on a donkey with a bowl strapped to the saddle containing his pet fish, and seemingly nothing else.  He buys a full page ad in the paper for two days, paying in cash.

The circus coming to town is big news, of course, and Dr. Lao's, billed as "the greatest show on this or any other planet" has the whole town talking. Everyone goes out to see the tent that's set up outside of town.  There they encounter a wide variety of curious creatures (all played by Tony Randall):  The snake-haired Medusa, Merlin the Magician, the Roman god Pan, Apollonius of Tyana, the blind man who was gifted with seeing the future, but cursed with having to tell the absolute truth, the Abominable Snowman, a giant serpent, and his pet, the Loch Ness Monster.
Most of the movie takes place at the circus, where the townspeople interact with the mythical beings and often learn a little about themselves in the process.  Everyone comes back on the second night for the grand finale, where Dr. Lau amazes the audience with the tale of an ancient city that was corrupted by greed, a story that hits more than a little close to home.

While the movie has a simple plot, it's filled with a sense of magic and wonder.  Penned by SF writer Charles Beaumont who wrote several classic episodes of The Twilight Zone (based on a book by Charles Finney), and directed by George Pal, the film has one foot planted firmly in the world of fantasy and the other in reality.  It's this mixture of make believe and truth that gives the film its charm and impact.  How can you not feel sorry for the pompous Mrs. Cassin when she goes to the fortune-teller to see if she'll get rich and if a man will come into her life and is told "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 course Tony Randall really makes the film.  He really has to do a lot of acting in this film, playing seven roles, and he does a magnificent job.  His Dr. Lau is hilarious but touching too.  He has the old fakir jump in and out of accents rapidly, sometimes going through several in the same conversation, and it works wonderfully.  He brings Apollonius to life, sad and defeated, as well as the lusty Pan.

Randall's makeup was crafted by William Tuttle who won a special Oscar for his work on the film.  It was simply amazing.  As the screen caps included with this review can attest, Tony Randall is almost unrecognizable in the various roles.  If you didn't know it was him, you'd never be able to tell.
The DVD:

The Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track sounds good.  There the dialog is clean and clear.  Nothing to complain about here. There are subtitles in English and French.
I was very impressed with the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image.  The colors are solid and bright, and the level of detail is excellent.  The picture was excellent overall, only marred by some minor print damage, main some specks and dirt that popped up occasionally. 
I'm happy to report that the extras from the original release have all been ported over to this MOD disc.  There's an 8 minute look at makeup artist William Tuttle who crafted the excellent disguises for Tony Randall in this film, a trailer, and a text piece on George Pal and star Tony Randall.
Final Thoughts:

The last film that fantasist George Pal directed, The Circus of Dr. Lao is a minor masterpiece.  Tony Randall gives a performance that will surprise most viewers and the whole production is a wonderful, fantastic tale.  This Warner Archives release ports over the extras from the original DVD and has a great looking picture.  Go ahead and snag a copy.  Highly Recommended.






Highly Recommended

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