In the film, the mysterious Dr. Lao comes riding into the town of Abalone, Arizona to set up his circus. The town is experiencing hard times and many residents have been selling their land to the wealthy Clinton Stark, played by Arthur O’Connell, and getting out of town. Unknown to the townsfolk, Stark is in on plans for the railroad to come through town, making him a big profit on the land he bought cheaply from the residents. Only a local newspaper man, played by Jon Ericson, suspects that Stark is up to something.
Despite the looming decision the townsfolk face, many decide to attend Lao’s circus. There they are met by a strange collection of characters…Merlin the magician (yes “the” Merlin), Medusa, The abominable Snowman, the satyr Pan, and fortune tell Apollonius of Tyana…all of whom are played by Randall. To say the citizens of Abalone have some unique encounters with these sideshow attractions would be an understatement. Stark has a chat with a talking serpent (a puppet this time, not Randall) who’s face resembles his right down to the moustache, and Barabara Eden as the local librarian literally gets all hot an bothered when watching Pan, who takes a form resembling O’Connell’s character as he plays his flute.
It’s a scene that is a wee bit uncomfortable to watch in a movie that is supposedly a family film. As a matter of fact, something in the back of my head tells me that I saw part of this on the Family Classics program on Chicago’s channel 9 as a kid…and being scared to death by the scene where Medusa turns a woman to stone.
George Pal was well known for his work in the fantasy film genre. Films like “When World’s Collide,” “The War of the Worlds,” and “The Time Machine” make up Pal’s resume…not to mention his series of stop motion animation Puppetoon shorts. He was no stranger to the world of visual effects. Though there are a few effects sequences here, this film is driven much more by Randall’s performances.
Overall, Randall is quite good. His best performance is as Apollonius, a character he plays without any emotion, which fits a man who is doomed to know every misfortune the people he talks to will face. The Merlin character didn’t quite work for me, though, coming across as more drunk than eccentric. But his performance as Dr. Lao is hard to describe. As the movie begins, you think that Lao is going to be played as the stereotypical “oh, me so solly” type of Asian character. But As the movie progresses, Lao’s voice changes. Sometimes he speaks with no accent at all, sometimes he takes on the voice of a carnival barker or of other ethnicities all together. Many viewers will probably feel, as I did, that all the characters in the circus are actually Lao taking on different forms.On a whole, “7 Face of Dr. Lao” is a good family film, though it does get a bit too talky in a few scenes where it tries too hard to be “deep.”
The makeup effects are great, well deserving of the honorary Oscar makeup artist William Tuttle received…the first ever makeup Oscar, predating even “Planet of the Apes.” But like all film’s with big time makeup effects, the performance of a skilled actor is needed to make it work. Randall is more than up to the task.
Images: Marcus Brooks