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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 .jpg
Theatrical release poster by Joseph Smith
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 (1964-03-18)
Running time
100 min
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.25 million (US/ Canada)[1]



Dr. Lao rides a donkey into Abalone, Arizona and visits Edward Cunningham's newspaper to place a large ad for his traveling circus, which will play 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 plans to buy the entire township while the land is cheap.

After doing some research, Cunningham visits the circus site 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 the town to Stark. 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.

Cunningham introduces everyone to George G. 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.

The next morning, as Lao puts up posters advertising his circus, Angela's young son Mike learns that the mysterious wanderer is 7,322 years old.

The circus opens and is attended by the entire town. Lao uses his many faces to offer his wisdom to the visitors, only some of whom heed the advice. 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, which Mike doesn't understand, and Lao claims to not understand either.

The next night, 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. The show ends in explosions and darkness and the townsfolk find themselves in a town meeting, voting again on Stark's proposal. They reject it, and a redeemed Stark tells them about the coming railroad.

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 be the Loch Ness Monster, which balloons to enormous size when exposed to the open air. After it chases the two thugs away (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. 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 mediaEdit

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 alsoEdit


  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)". 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 linksEdit