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Junior Mintz fawns over THE 7 FACES OF DR LAO dvd!!!

Hey folks, Harry here... And ya know, how hot is the chick that'd send in a report about the 7 FACES OF DR LAO? I mean, this is the gal to father children with. She gets it! Problem with Junior Mintz though... She'd rule you with an iron fist. Junior is that perfect geek goddess, even dresses all sharp and sweet... but ya lay a finger on that left virginal buttock... and CRUNCH, the weight of a metal flashlight crashes upon your head! Shucks. Anyway, this is a great film... one of the ones I have lined up for some point in the future for THE SATURDAY MORNING FUN CLUB that I host once a month here in Austin for kids.... BUT there's a disk I'd like to tell ya about as well... I just got in the mail, my disk for George Pal's THE TIME MACHINE... one of the greatest films ever made. So... pick up both and Pal-out!!!

Hurry, hurry! Step right up, ladies and gentlegeeks! The DVD release of George Pal's 1963 classic 7 FACES OF DR. LAO makes its appearance this week and it's a beaut. For those of you unfamiliar with this mish-mash of a masterpiece, the story centers on a mysterious 7,322 year old Chinese showman and the bizarre effects his circus of mythological creatures has on the residents of a sleepy Arizona town circa 1900. A mixture of fantasy, comedy, western and romance, the film is one of the damnedest things ever thrust out to the moviegoing public under the staggeringly simple misnomer of "kiddie movie."

7 FACES is based on the short novel "The Circus of Dr. Lao" written by Arizona author Charles G. Finney in 1935. A brash and cheerfully caustic work of fantasy, Finney's original story was a slap at stolid southwestern types who wouldn't know a miracle if it slashed them across the shins, as Lao's tame chimera does to one disbeliever. The people of the depression-era town of Abalone were rural dullards who went to Lao's circus expecting to see tigers and acrobats, and were disappointed to find only monsters of antiquity and true miracle-working sorcerers. In his novel Finney presented a mythic menagerie only hinted at in the film - the movies sea serpent and Medusa were there, but so was the aforementioned chimera (sort of a real-life Chinese dragon) as well as a mermaid, a werewolf, and an African tribal god complete with a complement of vestal virgins, (wildly unPC even for 1935) not to mention a unicorn, a baby roc, a dog more cactus than canine, and a bitchy hermpahroditic sphinx. Good luck getting any of that on screen in 1963.

Creature effects aside, the snide tone of the novel, while engaging as fiction, would not have translated well to a film, either. Enter fantasy writer Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone, among others) who refashioned Finney's youthful, sarcastic narrative into a parable of an old western town beset by greed, doubt and vanity. The enigmatic Dr. Lao uses the denizens of his circus to impart life lessons to the inhabitants of Abalone, and so leaves the town changed for the better. Not Finney's original by any stretch of the imagination, but not a bad screenplay framework at all.

Naturally the film boasts some incredible special effects sequences. The showpiece features the Dr.'s pet sea serpent who, after being released from his tank by two bad hombres, grows to gargantuan proportions and promptly runs amok. The Loch Ness monster, designed by master creature maker Wah Chang and animated by stop motion genius Jim Danforth is a terrific movie creature. The restoration on the DVD has cleaned up a number of matte lines in this sequence and corrected, to a degree, some of the color inconsistances from the tape version. Though the animated effects Dr. Lao sends forth to subdue the creature still look as cheesey as ever (not unlike Colorforms shapes stuck onto the film stock) the sequence still has lots of thrills and charm.

The best effects in the movie, however, are the performances of Tony Randall as Dr. Lao and virtually every other creature in the circus. It was Pal's inspiration to have one actor play all the main parts, thus adding a greater level of mystery to the proceedings. Is Dr, Lao a quick-change artist? A magician? An extension of all the other creatures or are they all extensions of him? None of these questions are ever answered, which is another one of the film's many charms. As Lao, Randall plays a sage of awesome power and wisdom who frequently masks his true nature behind a condescending Chinese accent. Racist caricature? Perhaps, but Lao always seems to be in complete control of the subtle joke he's having on the townspeople smug in their assumption that he is simply a wacky old Chinese faker. Besides, the depth of the character comes out when he gently speaks to a young runaway about the true circus of life taking place in the world around them. It's a great moment and Randall plays the scene with an equal balance of wisdom and fun.

Randall is also affecting as Apollonius, a blind fortuneteller cursed to reveal the absolute truth of his customer's futures, no matter how painful it may be to them. Impassive, detatched, and yet unbearably sad ("I only read futures, I don't evaluate them" he tells one broken-hearted woman) Randall's performance is a subtle and wonderful study in melancholy.

The other guises Randall assumes, such as Merlin, Medusa, the abominable snowman and Pan are all skillfully realized cameos, each enhanced by the makeup wizardry of William Tuttle. The DVD includes a behind the scenes documentary on Tuttle and his work, required viewing for any geek with an interest in makeup and creature effects. Wrap that up with the flick's original trailer and bio information on Randall and George Pal and you've got as Dr. Lao says, "One hell of a show."

Junior out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Oct. 7, 2000, 6:09 p.m. CST

    with barbara eden, right?

    by baff

    the scene taht i remember most is when Pan is making Barbera Eden really lustful. he is like, dancing around her or something and she is panting and trying to keep her 19th century lady dignity but is mysteriously turned on by him. it is a really, really cool scene. now i wish i paid more attention to the rest of the movie, junior mintz makes it sound pretty interesting...baff

  • Oct. 7, 2000, 10:39 p.m. CST

    7 Faces of Dr. WHO???

    by Roj Blake

    ...that's only as long as you don't count Paul McGann. Or Peter Cushing. Or Rowan Atkinson. Or, etc., etc. But back to the matter at hand - Dr. Lao is a truly great visionary piece of film. Way ahead of it's time, I vividly remember parts of it from my childhood. I own the LBX MGM laserdisc from a few years back. I wonder if Junior Mintz would mind letting me know whether or not it's worth me shelling out for the DVD??? Any cool extrees?? The LD's got the trailer, but nothing more. Tony Randall's great in the movie, might even be the best thing he ever did, although Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is pretty damn good, too. I notice the poster before me seems to recall the Pan scene the most. Odd, this is the scene that always stuck with me, too. It certainly doesn't look like Randall, but the makeup IS heavy. Pretty erotic for a "children's movie", which is prob why it stuck. Randall appears as himself (or rather with no makeup at all), briefly, in one scene towards the very end of the pic - look for him amongst the townsfolk when they're all gathered in the tent. See it.

  • Oct. 7, 2000, 11:05 p.m. CST

    now i am blessed

    by moviejedi

    I was at a movie collectable shop today... searching... searching left... searching right... looking for some stills/photos from the movie "Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires", keeping in mind the movie has about 9 or so alternate titles... and I just so happen in my search to stumble upon this movie "Seven Faces of Dr. Lao" and I'm immediately curious about the name it draws me to peek inside its folder to browse its stills... I go through each still with each one being better than the next... and I was like "Wow how come I have never heard of this movie, looks very uber cool." So the rest of the day I am really wondering/pondering just how good this movie is... and then bam... read this very cool review by Junior Mintz... the type of review that just wants to make your run out like you were Lola running to save Manni to get a copy of this. I guess this is the movie geek version of "Pay It Forward" and now I must do my part to alert three people of this movie. As a side note I got this whole wierd flashback to QT Quatro when I saw the image of Junior at the bottom of her review. One night at QT Quatro there was some enchanting beautiful woman there dressed like Trinity from the movie "The Matrix" except with blond hair and way more beautiful eyes than Carrie-Anne Moss... oh well probably not the same girl- even though I did see Harry talking to her like they were old friends... dunno just made me think of her like that dude in Citizen Kane thinking bout the girl on the ferry in the white dress.

  • Oct. 8, 2000, 12:14 a.m. CST

    Far and away the singular most amazing performance ever captured

    by Bari Umenema

    Randall is absolute perfection! He is sheer genius in this forgotten classic. Also I am head over heels in LOVE with Miss Junior Mintz! Hope she'll send me an e-mail or two...:)

  • Oct. 8, 2000, 3:22 p.m. CST

    Hello, and thank you JM

    by SithScorp

    I am going to run out and buy this ASAP. Thank you... PLus, if you are as much of a geek-dream as the big H says... How do you feel about 6'4", 260lb. geeks... That is all, SithScorp out...

  • Oct. 8, 2000, 11:17 p.m. CST

    7 Faces vs 5,000 Fingers

    by Blabbermouse

    (Did I just submit this without any copy by mistake? Oh well...) Seems like my favorite overlooked kids' films all have numbers in the titles ~~~~~~~~~ Just wanted to let Roj Blake know he's right, Pan DOESN'T look like Tony Randall when he's getting Barbara Eden all hot 'n bothered, because he's NOT - he's taken on the appearance of John Ericson (trivia bonus point, he also played Anne Francis' sidekick Sam Bolt (huh huh, Bolt, get it?) in the "Honey West" TV series), the editor of the local newspaper she's secretly attracted to (Jeannie, I mean Eden, not Honey West... I'm too tired for this - goodnight!)

  • Oct. 9, 2000, 12:25 a.m. CST

    Does anybody remember (and can identify) a movie with an old tim

    by Buzz Maverik

    Did I dream this? Was this something I wrote myself in college then sobered up? Or did I see this on the 3:30 movie when I was a kid?

  • Oct. 9, 2000, 12:55 a.m. CST

    Scattered Memories of Dr. Lao

    by Roj Blake

    Blabbermouse - thanks for the info. I was pretty certain that the actor changed from Randall into somebody else, but I was *not* aware that it was the hunky male lead from the film. That works in context quite nicely. Buzz Maverick - I'd have to say from your description that you are indeed remembering Dr. Lao, although the devil you speak of is probably the Pan character from the sequence that every other person on this talkback seems to recall. Dr. Lao, within the film, appears in various human forms and also as a serpent in one scene!! Check it out - I'm willing to bet this is the movie you remember.

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 2:53 a.m. CST

    Thanks Roj Blake! Now, does anybody remember seeing a great Ham

    by Buzz Maverik

    This was an interesting version because Hyde was a handsomer guy than Jeckyll and Lee played some poor schnook who was either a romantic rival of Jeckyll's or Jeckyll's gal's brother, or something. Hyde made the guy take him out drinking and to bawdy plays and smoking opium and to brothels and stuff like that. Saw this when I was a kid and haven't seen it since.

  • Oct. 10, 2000, 9:46 p.m. CST

    Who's that Pan

    by Walloon

    Tony Randall plays most of the 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, but the erotic, transformed, buff-looking Pan who seduces Barbara Eden is played by actor John Ericson. Tony Randall gives a great performance, but there are somethings that even talent and makeup can't fake!

  • Oct. 12, 2000, 5:41 a.m. CST

    The Doctor (Lao) is IN

    by Mike Jittlov

    Great scholarly review! This was the only movie I ever saw more than twice. (9 times, actually!) Now a DVD, wow! So sorry I didn't buy the record, when I saw it in Hollywood's Music City window. But I did know George Boston, who was in charge of the magic illusions performed by Tony Randall. George was also the hand inside the 7th face (the serpent-puppet). And he gave me the movie's shooting script, plus the Abalone newspaper and lots of stills. (Barbara Eden - yum!) Years later, I helped the always congenial George Pal, who then added his sig to the script. Also met sculptor Wah Chang, and animator Jim Danforth - an absolute genius, who really should be directing his own live-action features. This movie was a crossroads for legendary talents.