7 Faces of Dr. Lao
is a 1964 fantasy film from MGM
, based on
the 1935 novel The Circus of Doctor Lao
by Charles G. Finney, directed by George Pal, and starring Barbara Eden, Arthur O'Connell, John Ericson, Kevin Tate, and Tony Randall in a tour de force performance
as the eponymous Chinese showman, the Abominable Snowman
, Apollonius of Tyana
, the Giant Serpent, Medusa
, Merlin the Magician
, and an unmade-up, anonymous, and silent member
of his own audience.
The film greatly altered the plot and softened the mordant tone of the original novel, opting rather for a sense of whimsy and wonder, reflected in the score by Leigh Harline, best known for scoring Disney
's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
. Unfortunately, despite an extraordinary performance by Randall and some (though not all) of the other cast (Kevin Tate as Mike is a stand-out), and the admirable visual effects — for which SFX artist Jim Danforth received an Academy Award
nomination and makeup artist William Tuttle an Honorary Oscar
— the film has something of the feel of a made-for-TV movie, exacerbated by the use of stock footage from Atlantis, the Lost Continent
and The Time Machine
, with unconvincing interspersed shots of the cast in ancient costume. It did not do well when it came out, but as the years have gone by, it has come into its own, and is now widely regarded as a fantasy classic.
Tropes Employed In 7 Faces of Dr. Lao Include:
- All Myths Are True
- The Barnum: Oddly enough, not so much the showman Lao as Stark.
- Bigfoot, Sasquatch and Yeti: The Abominable Snowman.
- Bigger on the Inside: The circus tent is rather modestly sized when viewed from without, but those who step inside find that it contains many large exhibit rooms as well as an arena with enough seating for the entire population of the town.
- Blind Seer: Apollonius of Tyana.
- Blithe Spirit: Dr. Lao, who opens the eyes of the people of Abalone.
- Broken Bird: Angela Benedict
- Cassandra Truth: As Apollonius of Tyana says, "You see, it is my curse to tell the absolute truth." Neither do his hearers seem to act on what he tells them.
- Circus of Fear: Many of the exhibits, and particularly "The Fall of the City," are distinctly disturbing.
- Crappy Carnival: The outward appearance of Lao's circus, which seems much Bigger on the Inside.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Angela, again.
- Double Take: Cunningham when he sees that Angela is suddenly lusting after him (thanks to Pan).
- Double Vision: Lampshaded by the film when the heads of Dr. Lao's various personŠ all sprout at once from from the neck of the Loch Ness monster.
- Eccentric Townsfolk: The townsfolk of Abalone, to be exact.
- Everything's Louder With Bagpipes: The soundtrack begins to skirl with these when the Loch Ness monster is released from its fish-bowl and balloons into an eight-headed dragon-fish-thing.
- Flying Dutchman: Dr. Lao seems fated to travel from place to place to save people from their own folly.
- Fauns and Satyrs: Pan, the God of Joy.
- Finger Snap Lighter
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Stoned again, eh?"
- Grumpy Bear: In his youth, Stark was a Wide-Eyed Idealist, but first-hand experience with human nature drove him to the opposite (yet equally wrong) end of the spectrum.
- Henpecked Husband: Mr. Lindquist; happily, his wife appears to take Dr. Lao's lesson to heart.
- Hot Librarian: Angela
- Hobbes Was Right / Rousseau Was Right: The central debate of the story. Stark champions the former, while Lao argues persuasively for the latter.
- Humans Are Bastards: Stark and most of the townfolk seem to revel in most sins - greed, vanity, anger - and it's up to Dr. Lao with the help of Mike, Angela and Cunningham to remind the town they can be better than that.
- Interchangeable Asian Cultures: As emphasized thus:
Fat Cowboy: ... Looks like a Jap to me.
Toothless Cowboy: Naaaw. He's Chinese.
Fat Cowboy: How do you know?
Toothless Cowboy: 'Cause I ain't stupid!
- Intrepid Reporter: Crusading Editor Ed Cunningham.
- It's Pronounced Tro-Pay: It's pronounced "Low — Doctor Low."
- Koan: As in this dialogue:
Dr. Lao: Do you know what wisdom is?
Mike: No, sir.
Dr. Lao: Wise answer.
- Loads and Loads of Roles
- Magical Flautist: Pan and his pipes.
- Mythical Motifs: Many of the characters are figures of mythology.
- Nietzsche Wannabe: Stark, who tells Cunningham, "There's no such thing as the dignity of man. Man is a base, pathetic, vulgar animal."
- Not That Kind of Doctor: As Lao tells Mike, "My specialty is wisdom."
- Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Lampshaded; Cunningham notes that Dr. Lao suddenly switches from a heavy, stereotypical Chinese accent to perfect English. Dr. Lao replies, "Oh, it comes and goes. Whatever dialect the mood requires."
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Stark's mooks demonstrate how stupid and rotten they are by harassing the local
Indian Native American, George C. George (Eddie Little Sky).
- Really 700 Years Old: Actually, seven thousand, three hundred, and twenty-two, next October.
- Romancing the Widow: Angela is still grieving the loss of her husband, and doesn't notice (or doesn't want to) the interest Cunningham has for her.
- Shout-Out: Dr. Lao refers to his "yellow jackass" as the "Golden Ass of Apuleius."
- Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: Apollonius, to Stark.
- Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Stark, to Cunningham.
- Stock Ness Monster: Dr. Lao keeps the Loch Ness Monster in a fishbowl. As long as it's in the fishbowl, it stays tiny. Don't let it out.
- Surrounded by Idiots: Stark has a pair of cowboy mooks; he orders one to read a newspaper article, starting at the third paragraph. "Third what?"
- Taken for Granite: Despite warnings, the shrewish Mrs. Lindquist looks at the Gorgon head-on. She gets stoned.
- Talking Animal: The Giant Serpent, which looks and sounds remarkably like Stark. (Especially remarkable when one considers it was voiced by Randall, not O'Connell.)
- Walking the Earth: Dr. Lao.
- The World Is Just Awesome: The biggest lesson Dr. Lao teaches us.
Dr. Lao: Mike, the whole world is a circus if you look at it the right way. Every time you pick up a handful of dust, and see not the dust, but a mystery, a marvel, there in your hand, every time you stop and think, "I'm alive, and being alive is fantastic!" Every time such a thing happens, Mike, you are part of the Circus of Dr. Lao.
- Yellowface: But then, Lao can wear whatever face suits his fancy.
- You No Take Candle: Dr. Lao, him speak dis way some time, yes — however, not upon every occasion.