Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
7 Faces of Dr Lao

US movie (1964). MGM. Pr George Pal. Dir Pal. Vfx Paul B Byrd, Wah Chang, Jim Danforth, Robert R Hong, Ralph Rodine. Mufx William Tuttle. Magic advisor George L Boston. Screenplay Charles Beaumont. Based on The Circus of Dr Lao (1935) by Charles G Finney. Starring Barbara Eden (Angela Benedict), John Ericson (Ed Cunningham), Arthur O'Connell (Clint Stark), Tony Randall (Dr Lao/Apollonius of Tyana/Medusa/Merlin/Pan/Snowman). Voice actor Randall (Giant Serpent). 100 mins. Colour.

The small Midwest town of Abalone is on the skids. Cynical magnate Stark hopes to buy out the entire town, knowing the railroad will soon be built through it. Newcomer Cunningham, editor of the Abalone Daily Star, campaigns against him, but is supported by few except young widowed librarian Benedict – who brusquely rejects his romantic advances. To Abalone comes, alone on a jackass, the Trickster Dr Lao, proclaiming his travelling Circus. In fact, it is more of a Carnival, with acts including Apollonius of Tyana, Merlin, Medusa, Pan, the Abominable Snowman, a giant Serpent and a catfish in a goldfish bowl; his claim that this is a Loch Ness Monster (> Sea Monsters) is widely derided. Dr Lao – ostensibly Chinese though displaying characteristics (and accents) of many races – is a sort of Wandering-Jew figure: he is "7322 years old next autumn", but seems immortal (> Immortality). He immediately pitches in on the side of the goodies; early on he befriends Benedict's young son Mike (the part goes uncredited – weirdly, since the role is central, and superbly played). On the first night Lao in his varying guises reveals unwelcome truths to various of the town's citizens. On the second (and last) night Lao displays to the assembled citizens the fall of a mythic city, which met its fate because of its citizens' greed. Abalone's citizens decide not to sell out to Stark, who thanks them for saving him from himself. Whenever you see the marvellous in life, Lao's voice-over reminds us in the finale, you become a part of the Circus of Dr Lao.

7FODL has many flaws, yet remains one of the core movies of fantastic Cinema. Randall played at least seven parts and was unlucky not to receive an Oscar; one did go to Tuttle for the mufx. Nevertheless, 7FODL was largely a forgotten movie outside fantasy fandom until quite recently, when it became realized that its considerable strengths far outweighed its weaknesses. [JG]


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.