Schooldaze RS: guitar, harmonica & vocals; TomP: production
The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964 MGM) is based on the Circus of Dr. Lao, a 1935 fantasy novel by Charles G. Finney.
Dr. Lao (Tony Randall) is a Chinese philosophical acrobat, who will be 7322 years old this October–his speciality is wisdom.
He can walk a tightrope if necessary, and does so repeatedly.
This film is a tour-du-force performance by Randall, playing Dr. Lao as well as the various circus performers.
The 1964 best actor Oscar winner was Rex Harrison as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady. Randall wasn’t even nominated.
The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao won one Oscar for Makeup; it was an Honorary Award – the first film to receive this award. The makeup artist was William Tuttle.
The mysterious Dr. Lao travels on a jackass carrying only himself & a fish bowl with a baby catfish.
Dr. Lao visits the town newspaper to advertise his 2-day circus to be held at the edge of town.
The conflict of the story starts with local tycoon Clinton Stark (Arthur O’Connell) pitching the townspeople the idea of their land being worthless.
The cynically pragmatic Stark has inside information, and is ready to buy every home & building in Abalone, Arizona.
Ed Cunningham (John Ericson), editor-in-chief of the Abalone Daily Star, counters Stark’s capitalist scheming by pointing out that, “Any place people work & live together is something–something very important.”
Town librarian Angela Benedict (Barbara Eden) questions Stark on his specific reasons for buying “worthless” property.
After mumbling a reply, her follow-up enquiry to Stark is shouted down by the befuddled, hateful, and intoxicated masses. A final vote is set for a few days.
The entire town comes out to Dr. Lao’s Circus, which is acts a mirror for its attendees. Those seeking a fortune teller, receive the absolute truth from the sight-blind Apollonius of Tyana.
The Greek gorgon Medusa is viewed in her mirrored reflection, as a direct gaze causes any mortal to turn to stone. Merlin, the greatest magician the world has ever known, is forgetful in his old age. He is mostly unappreciated & unnoticed, even when he restores life to a woman who is transformed into a statue through her obstinate defiance in looking at the Medusa.
Jim Danforth’s model animation of the Loch Ness Monster, the Giant Serpent, and Medusa’s snake hair were also nominated for an Academy Award. These effects are 1960’s Godzilla/Gamera Japanimation equivalent.
The special effects (though dated) work well enough, and their use is kept to a minimum by director George Pal, whose footage from earlier sci-fi films appears in Dr. Lao’s climactic “Woldercan” apocalypse sequence.
This film has many beautiful lessons including; the power of love, music, sharing, and simply the marvel of our existence.
Tony Randall moves in & out of characters brilliantly, showing off his Broadway acting talents in ways that simultaneously delight & amaze.
Randall’s summary monologue, which is incomprehensible to the 8-year-old boy, is quoted by Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgeson) as he’s exiting the Satellite of Love in MST3K— leaving the series he created.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 is famous for punning bad movies, but it is really much more. MST3K is about a deeper understanding of life, and part of that is saying “No!” to the garbage that Hollywood keeps trying to feed us. It is possibly the most brilliant & hilarious television show ever produced; running for ten seasons from 1989-99– mostly on the Comedy Channel.
It is no longer syndicated due to copyright issues, but many of its episodes can be viewed here.
The Circus of Dr. Lao as well as Mystery Science Theater 3000 are both classics which deserve to be experienced, as their universal themes remain relevant to all film-loving audiences.