7 Faces of Dr. Lao

7 Faces of Dr. Lao is a 1964 American Metrocolor fantasy-comedy film directed by George Pal (his final directorial effort) and starring Tony Randall. It is an adaptation of the 1935 fantasy novel The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney. It details the visit of a magical circus to a small town in the southwest United States, and the effects that visit has on the people of the town. The novel was adapted by Charles Beaumont.

7 Faces of Dr. Lao
7 Faces of Doctor Lao
Directed byGeorge Pal
Produced byGeorge Pal
Screenplay by
Based onThe Circus of Dr. Lao
by Charles G. Finney
Music byLeigh Harline
CinematographyRobert J. Bronner
Edited byGeorge Tomasini
Distributed byMetro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date
  • March 18, 1964
Running time
100 min
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.25 million (US/ Canada)[1]


It is the dawn of the 20th century, and an elderly Chinese man rides a jackass into Abalone, Arizona, his only visible possession a fishbowl occupied by an innocuous-looking fish. This magical visitor, Dr. Lao (Tony Randall), visits Edward Cunningham's (John Ericson) newspaper and places a large ad for his traveling circus, which will play in Abalone for two nights only.

Though quiet, Abalone is not peaceful. Wealthy rancher Clinton Stark (Arthur O'Connell) has inside information that a railroad is coming to town and is scheming to buy up the place while the land is cheap. Cunningham, who is also romantically pursuing the town's librarian, Angela Benedict (Barbara Eden), a beautiful young widow still grieving the death of her husband, opposes Stark's power grab.

After doing some research, Cunningham visits the circus site that has sprung up at the edge of town and confronts Lao with the fact that Lao's alleged hometown vanished centuries before. Lao deflects Cunningham's questions and he "leaves in a cloud of befuddlement".

That night there is a town hall meeting to discuss the proposition to sell all of the town to Stark. It becomes apparent, largely through the obsequious deference paid to Stark by Mayor Sargent (Frank Cady), and the objection of old maid Mrs. Cassan to questions from Cunningham and his love-interest, Angela Benedict (sitting nowhere near him), that greed has possessed most of the town's citizens and they are just one step away from selling out.

Mr. Stark's premise for selling the town is that its 16-mile long water supply pipe from a neighboring town is decaying and would be too expensive to replace. His answer to Angela's inquiry as to why he's interested in the town, then, uses the analogy of her ability to turn a bad child into a good one; he is a businessman and knows how to turn a bad venture into good. More detail he does not give.

Cunningham introduces everyone to George C. George, a Navajo Indian who lives in "another city, close to our own", and points out that the lives of its residents depend on Abalone's continued existence.

Stark reluctantly allows the townspeople to ponder their choice "until Friday night" and the meeting is adjourned.

After the meeting, Stark's henchmen assault George C. George, and Dr. Lao uses his magic to rescue him.

The next morning, as Lao puts up posters around town advertising his circus, he is assisted by Angela's young son Mike (Kevin Tate), who learns that the mysterious wanderer is 7,322 years old.

The circus opens. Along with the main cast, the gawkers include Luther Lindquist and his shrewish wife Kate, and Mrs. Cassan, a foolish widow who clings to her self-image of a young beauty. Lao uses his many faces to offer his wisdom to the visitors, only some of whom heed the advice. Mrs. Cassan has, to her dismay, her dark future pretold by Apollonius of Tyana, a blind prophet who is cursed to tell the absolute truth, no matter how cruel and shocking it may be. Apollonius tells her she will never be married and will live a lonely, meaningless existence, having accomplished so little she might as well have never lived at all. Stark has a disquieting meeting with the Great Serpent, Mike befriends the pathetic Merlin, and Angela is aroused from her emotional repression by Pan's intoxicating music. After Medusa turns the disbelieving Kate Lindquist to stone, Lao calls an end to the proceedings as the guests flee. Merlin appears, restoring the woman to life, her experience causing a much-needed reformation in her character.

Later that night, Mike visits Lao and tries to get a job, displaying his novice juggling and conjuring skills. Lao instead offers some advice and observations about the world ("... the whole world is a circus, if you know how to look at it ..."), which Mike doesn't understand, and Lao claims to not understand either.

Meanwhile, during the show, Stark's two henchmen have destroyed the newspaper office. Cunningham and his pressman discover the devastation, go drown their sorrows, then stagger back to learn that the damage has been magically repaired by Lao. They rush out an abbreviated edition of the paper, which Cunningham delivers in person to Stark.

The next night (in the tent which Angela describes as being bigger on the inside than on the outside), Lao stages his grand finale, a magic lantern show in which the mythical city of "Woldercan," populated by doubles of the townfolk, is destroyed when it succumbs to temptation personified by Stark (as a sort of devilish tempter). The show ends in explosions and darkness, but as the house lights gradually come back up, the townsfolk find themselves now in a town meeting, voting on Stark's proposal. They reject it, and a redeemed Stark tells them about the coming railroad while noting that they owe a debt of gratitude to Lao. A dust-storm blows up, and as the townsfolk scatter, Angela opens up to Ed, finally admitting that she is in love with him.

Stark's henchmen are confused by their boss' apparent change of character and decide to trash Lao's circus in a drunken spree, during which they break Lao's fishbowl. The inhabitant is revealed (to the accompanying sound of bagpipes) to be the Loch Ness Monster, which balloons to enormous size when exposed to the open air. After it chases the two thugs into the storm (and temporarily grows seven heads to resemble the seven faces of the inhabitants of the circus), Mike alerts Dr. Lao and then helps conjure up a cloudburst to wet and shrink the beast back to its original size.

Morning comes and the circus is gone, leaving a red-colored circle on the desert floor. Mike chases after a dust plume, which he thinks is made by Lao, but only finds three wooden balls. He is able to juggle them expertly. The closing scene shows the disappearing Dr. Lao riding his donkey over a nearby rise as his voice-over repeats his advice to Mike from two nights earlier, reminding Mike that the Circus of Dr. Lao is life itself, and everything in it is a wonder.


* Randall voices the Serpent, a stop-motion animated snake which has the face of O'Connell.

** While Randall is credited as the Abominable Snowman, bodybuilder Péter Pál (son of the film's director) was the (uncredited) body double. Randall also has a cameo appearance, wearing his own face, as a silent audience member.


The trailer shows date of the picture, in Roman numerals, as 1963 rather than 1964.

According to notes on the Leigh Harline soundtrack CD released by Film Score Monthly, Pal's first choice for the role was Peter Sellers who was strongly interested in the role. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided that they wished an American in the lead role.

William Tuttle received an honorary Oscar for his makeup work on this film. It was the first of only two honorary Oscars awarded for makeup; the other went to John Chambers in 1968 for Planet of the Apes. As part of Tuttle's work, Randall had his head shaved, not only to play the bald Dr. Lao, but also to make it convenient for the "appliances" he had to wear. Randall later said, "It gave me an unborn look." The studio publicity department arrived at the barber too late to photograph the process, so they had a make-up artist glue hair back on Randall's head and the barber once again removed it, this time for the cameras. Randall makes a cameo appearance in the film, sans makeup, during the parade of cast members before the Woldercan sequence, sitting in the audience. Since his head was already shaved, makeup artist Tuttle applied a hairpiece to him. Randall later said in an interview, "Gene Kelly's old toupee came in handy."

Jim Danforth's model animation of the Loch Ness Monster, the Giant Serpent, Medusa's snake hair were nominated for an Academy Award.

The "Woldercan spectacular" that Dr. Lao presents as the grand finale of his circus contains much footage from an earlier George Pal production, 1961's Atlantis, the Lost Continent as well as some footage of flowing lava from The Time Machine and stock footage of destruction from MGM's 1951 production of Quo Vadis.

The crystal ball and large hourglass used by the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939's The Wizard of Oz can both be spotted in the film. Also, in the scene where Mike visits Lao at night, a two-headed tortoise can be seen; this made a few later appearances in the television series The Addams Family.

Home media

7 Faces of Dr. Lao was released on a region-free DVD as part of the Warner Bros. Archive Collection in November 2011.[2]


7 Faces of Dr. Lao garnered positive reception from multiple movie critics. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 100% of six surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 7/10.[3] Howard Thompson of The New York Times called the film "heavy, thick, pint-sized fantasy, laid on with an anvil".[4]

See also


  1. ^ "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  2. ^ "7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2012-11-24.
  3. ^ "Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2015-03-04.
  4. ^ Thompson, Howard (1964-07-23). "The 7 Faces of Dr Lao (1963)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-03-04.

External links

35th Berlin International Film Festival

The 35th annual Berlin International Film Festival was held from 15 to 26 February 1985. The Golden Bear was awarded to German film Die Frau und der Fremde directed by Rainer Simon and British film Wetherby directed by David Hare. The retrospective dedicated to Special effects was shown at the festival.

37th Academy Awards

The 37th Academy Awards honored film achievements of 1964. For the first time, an award was presented in the field of makeup.

The Best Picture winner of 1964, director George Cukor's My Fair Lady, was about the transformative training of a rough-speaking flower girl into a lady. The musical had run for many years on the stage in both NYC and London. Audrey Hepburn, the female lead of the film, was controversially not nominated for Best Actress. The unpopularity of her replacing Julie Andrews – who had originated the role on Broadway and, coincidentally, the Best Actress winner of the year for Mary Poppins – as well as the revelation that the majority of her singing was dubbed by Marni Nixon (which wasn't approved by Hepburn herself) were seen as the main reasons for the snub.

The ceremony was produced by MGM's Joe Pasternak and hosted, for the 14th time, by Bob Hope. The awards show was a star-studded one, including an appearance by Judy Garland, who sang a medley of Cole Porter songs in tribute to the composer, who had died in October 1964.

This year was the only time in Oscar history where three films got twelve or more nominations: Becket and My Fair Lady each received twelve, while Mary Poppins received thirteen. It was also the first year since the inception of the Supporting Actor and Actress categories wherein all four acting Oscars were won by non-American performers; this would be repeated at the 80th Academy Awards.

Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling

The Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling is the Academy Award given to the best achievement in makeup and hairstyling for film. Usually, only three films are nominated each year rather than five as in most categories. The exception is in the early 1980s as well as 2002, when there were only two nominees; and in 1999, when there were four nominees.

The competitive category was created in 1981 as the Academy Award for Best Makeup, after the Academy received complaints that the makeup work in The Elephant Man (1980) was not going to be honored. Although no award was given to The Elephant Man, an entire category dedicated to honoring makeup effects in film was created for subsequent ceremonies. Previously, makeup artists were only eligible for special achievement awards for their work.

This is one of the categories with different stages of nominating. A shortlist of titles is chosen by the makeup branch's executive committee and clips are screened by the members of the branch at an annual "bake-off" where nominees are determined. After only two films were shortlisted in 2002, rules were installed requiring that seven finalists be chosen each year.

In 2012, the category was given its current name for use in the 85th Academy Awards and onward. Makeup artist Rick Baker holds the record for both most wins (7) and most nominations (11) for this award.

Arthur O'Connell

Arthur Joseph O'Connell (March 29, 1908 – May 18, 1981) was an American stage and film actor. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for both Picnic (1955) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959). He made his final film appearance in The Hiding Place (1975), portraying a watch-maker who hides Jews during World War II.

Barbara Eden

Barbara Eden (born Barbara Jean Morehead, August 23, 1931) is an American film, stage, and television actress, and singer, best known for her starring role of "Jeannie" in the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie.

Charles Beaumont

Charles Beaumont (January 2, 1929 – February 21, 1967) was an American author of speculative fiction, including short stories in the horror and science fiction subgenres. He is remembered as a writer of classic Twilight Zone episodes, such as "The Howling Man", "Miniature", "Printer's Devil", and "Number Twelve Looks Just Like You", but also penned the screenplays for several films, among them 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, The Intruder, and The Masque of the Red Death. Novelist Dean Koontz has said, "Charles Beaumont was one of the seminal influences on writers of the fantastic and macabre." Beaumont is also the subject of the documentary, Charles Beaumont: The Short Life of Twilight Zone's Magic Man, by Jason V Brock.

Edward Cunningham

Edward or Ed Cunningham may refer to:

Edward Francis Cunningham (c. 1742–1795), Scottish painter

Edward Cunningham (cricketer) (born 1962), English cricketer

Eddie Cunningham, rugby player

Ed Cunningham (born 1969), American sports announcer and former American football player

Ed Cunningham (executive), American lawyer and CEO

Ed Cunningham, character in the 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

Ted Cunningham (born 1937), Australian politician

Frank Cady

Frank Randolph Cady (September 8, 1915 – June 8, 2012) was an American actor best known for his role as storekeeper Sam Drucker in three American television series during the 1960s – Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and The Beverly Hillbillies – and his earlier role as Doc Williams on The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

Gabriel Scognamillo

Gabriel Scognamillo (27 October 1906 – 31 May 1974) was an Italian art director. One of the first films he worked on was Jean Renoir's provocative 1931 film "La Chienne". Two years later he had moved to Hollywood where one of his first films there was MGM's production of "The Merry Widow" (1934) with Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald.

Scognamillo also worked on several in the Andy Hardy, Maisie and Dr. Kildare series of films. Some of his efforts in the 1950s include "The Great Caruso" (1951), "The Story of Three Loves" (1953), for which he received an Academy Award nomination, and the children's science fiction film Tobor the Great (1954).

One of his final films was the imaginative George Pal fantasy, "7 Faces of Dr. Lao" (1964).

Gene Warren

Gene Warren Sr. (12 August 1916 – 17 July 1997) was born in Denver, Colorado, and won an Academy Award for the special effects on George Pal's The Time Machine in 1960. He also contributed to such projects as The Way of Peace (1947), Land of the Lost (1974), Man from Atlantis, and The Crow: City of Angels.

He operated several visual effects companies in Hollywood over the years: Excelsior Productions and Centaur Productions; the latter teaming with fellow effects artist Wah Ming Chang. Gene died of cancer on 17 July 1997 in Los Angeles.

His son, Gene Warren Jr., owns Fantasy II Film Effects and won an Academy Award for visual effects on Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

Jim Danforth

Jim Danforth (born 1940) is a stop-motion animator, known for model-animation and matte painting. Danforth is known for his work on When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970), a sequel of sorts to Ray Harryhausen's One Million Years B.C. (1967). Danforth later went on to work with Harryhausen on the film Clash of the Titans (1981), in which he was mainly responsible for the animation of the winged-horse Pegasus.

Danforth has been twice nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects for George Pal's 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), and for When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970).

John Doucette

John Arthur Doucette (January 21, 1921 – August 16, 1994) was an American character actor who performed in more than 280 film and television productions between 1941 and 1987. A man of stocky build who possessed a deep, rich voice, he proved equally adept at portraying characters in Shakespearean plays as well as in Westerns and in modern crime dramas. He is perhaps best remembered, however, for his villainous roles as a movie and television "tough guy".

Leigh Harline

Leigh Adrian Harline (March 26, 1907 – December 10, 1969) was an American film composer and songwriter. He was known for his "musical sophistication that was uniquely 'Harline-esque' by weaving rich tapestries of mood-setting underscores and penning memorable melodies for animated shorts and features."

List of fantasy films of the 1960s

A list of fantasy films released in the 1960s.

Michael Benedict

Michael Benedict may refer to:

Michael Les Benedict, historian

Michael Benedict, character in Lost in the Garden

Mike Benedict, character in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao

Pan in popular culture

Pan, the Greek deity, is often portrayed in cinema, literature, music, and stage productions, as a symbolic or cultural reference.

Royal Dano

Royal Edward Dano Sr. (November 16, 1922 – May 15, 1994) was an American film and television character actor.

Tim Baar

Tim Baar (December 27, 1912 – March 9, 1977) was an American special effects artist who won at the 33rd Academy Awards for Best Special Effects for the film The Time Machine. His Oscar was shared with Gene Warren.He also did special effects on the TV show H.R. Pufnstuf.

William J. Tuttle

William J. Tuttle (April 13, 1912 – July 27, 2007) was an American make-up artist. Born in Jacksonville, Florida, at a young age he was forced to leave school to support his mother and younger brother. After a series of odd-jobs and a brief stint in his own band, Tuttle moved to Los Angeles in 1930 and began taking art classes at the University of Southern California where he would meet his future collaborator Charles Schram. Around the same time, he began working as a page at Fox Studios. He went on to work under makeup artist Jack Dawn at Twentieth Century Pictures.

In 1934, Tuttle and Dawn moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Working as Dawn's assistant, Tuttle supervised the makeup work in such movies as The Wizard of Oz and Father of the Bride.

Tuttle created makeup for many of Hollywood’s biggest stars, among them Judy Garland (“Summer Stock”, 1950); Gene Kelly (“Singin’ in the Rain”, 1952); Katharine Hepburn (“Pat and Mike”, 1952) and Esther Williams (“Million Dollar Mermaid”, 1952). Eventually he worked his way up to head of the studio's makeup department,

In the 1950s he would be responsible for the makeup in Singin' in the Rain, Forbidden Planet, North by Northwest and The Time Machine. He reused pieces he first created for The Time Machine in The Eye of the Beholder, one of his many Twilight Zone contributions.

In 1965, Tuttle received a special Academy Award for his work on George Pal's 7 Faces of Dr. Lao; this was 17 years before makeup became an official Oscar category. Later work included Logan's Run and Young Frankenstein. Tuttle is the subject of the 1968 MGM short The King of the Duplicators where he demonstrated some of his work. He also appeared as himself in the documentary film The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal (1985), produced and directed by Arnold Leibovit.

Later in life, Tuttle managed his company known as Custom Color Cosmetics.William Tuttle died, aged 95, from natural causes at his home in Pacific Palisades, California, survived by his wife, Anita and his daughter, Teresa.His remains were placed in Minneapolis, Minnesota's Lakewood Cemetery.

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