The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao

Saturday, May 03, 2008

I'm guessing that many of you haven't seen The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. But I'm also quite sure that some have seen it. And I bet that those that have hold it in a very special place in their hearts.

The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao is one of those movies that when you mention it to knowing parties, a certain look comes over them. A brightness; a glint of youthful delight. Magic.

I'll never understand why Dr. Lao never got the recognition that it deserved. Why it's not another Wizard of Oz. A much lower budget might be part of it, but I feel that The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao has a deeper emotional resonance than The Wizard of Oz. Plus it's funnier and I think it has more insight into our species than most other films of its kind.

Based on the fantasy novel by Charles (no relation to Jack) Finney, The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao is fairly faithful to the source, but I think that budgetary restraints prevented the spectacular end of the novel to be properly duplicated. But screenwriter Charles Beaumont does an admirable job in keeping the essence of the book, as well as adding his own particular imaginative stamp on the material.

The story deals with an old Chinese fakir named Dr. Lao that takes his circus to the dying Depression-era town called Abalone. A Capitalistic rancher is trying to buy the town away from its inhabitants, who are unaware that a railroad is being planned to come by it. Lao's magical circus acts give powerful lessons to the townfolk, who decide to keep their homes. It's that simple.

Tony Randall, perennial milquetoast character actor and half of The Odd Couple TV show, plays seven different roles in the film: the titular Doc, Medusa, Merlin the Magician, The Abominable Snowman, Pan, a Serpent and Apollonius of Tyana. He's absolutely marvelous and any sensible actor should be envious at his ease and command of the parts.

The entire film is full of wit and joy and pathos and it's one that marks the viewer for life. I've seen it more times than I can count and it's one that I proudly shared with my children, who loved it as well. And it was my brother's favorite movie.

The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao is available on DVD and I hope that you buy it. Then you, like me, can live by these sacred words:

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, you are part of the Circus of Dr. Lao.


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