21 November 2011

7 FACES OF DR. LAO/1964

7 FACES OF DR. LAO

Director: George Pal/Writers: Charles Beaumont, Charles G. Finney

Cast: Tony Randall, Barbara Eden,  Arthur O'Connell, Noah Beery Jr.

I saw a couple negative reviews of this essentially well made film online. A couple had some issues with Tony Randall, a white American, playing a Chinese man. I really had no issues with this and do not feel fantasy films of the 60's is the best place to vent one's political correctness. It is so strange and out of place to hear people rant in a serious tone about the racist and sexist nature of older films as if modern cinema has finally raised itself above all that. Some other complaints were that the story line was lame and vacuous essentially and the film was preachy and condescending. What are these people talking about? First off the film leans towards a younger audience and like most films aimed at kids (like every animated movie made these days) is going to rely on cliches and gimmicks to deliver its message. It is well made, well acted with great make up by William Tuttle and decent special effects for the time. Does it stereotype Asians at times and is some of the plot more than a little corny and predictable? Certainly. But is it loaded with overt racism, sexism and pedantic, patronizing dialogs? Well, yea maybe. But that is still no reason to not watch this likable film by director George Pal (Atlantis, the Lost Continent, The Time Machine).

Dr. Lao (Randall) rides into the desert town of Abalone on his wobbly mule one day and brings with him his one tent circus that consists of a small group of unique characters, each one played by Randall. The characters are the senile old wizard Merlin, the blind fortune teller Apollonius, the serpent haired Medusa, the Abominable Snowman, and the animated snake whose face resembles the heartless tycoons Clint Stark (Arthur O'Connell) who wants to purchase the town out from under its citizen to make way for a railroad line. While Stark is hardened on the surface by life he is in fact a disillusioned idealist who secretly wants right and good to triumph. Among the townsfolk is Angela Benedict (Barbara Eden), an uptight librarian who is passionately pursued to the point of harassment by the new idealistic newspaper reporter Ed Cunningham (John Ericson from The Bamboo Saucer). Seems in these old films a guy only had to tell a gal "I am gonna keep telling you that I love you until you give in and marry me" and that it would eventually work. All women really wanted to be stalked in old films. Angela's fist husband died and she now raises their son Mike (Kevin Tate) on her own.

So there you have the makings of a formula soul searching film as each of the town's people face one of the acts in Dr. Lao's circus, which are in fact mirrors into their own souls. It can be easy to dismiss some of this as maudlin and hokey but I liked the film. I saw it a few times as a kid and when I watched it recently with some friends with their ten year olds they liked it as well. The story, from a book by Charles Finney that was meant as a critique on American materialism, moves along well enough. Nothing much comes a surprise since most films of this time (though less than films of today) shied away from abrupt surprises and sought to tell the story in a direct and predictable fashion. There is often an obvious moral to the story and maybe some people do not like to have messages in films. They are above all that.

Admittedly some performances and dialog is a little annoying. The little kid who runs crying after Dr. Lao is just too much little to much like the ending of Shane. And while during the same scene he starts juggling with some golden balls left by Dr. Lao and begins crying as he says "Look Dr. Lao I can do it! I can do it!" things descend in the utterly corny, it also sort of got to me if I was to be honest. I can be a sentimental sap at times.

Barbara Eden is effortlessly sexy and Arthur O'Connell plays the same role he always did in fine fashion. Also appearing in a small role is Noah Berry as the newspaper editor. There is a lot of crap out there to watch and waste out lives on but this is not some of it. It is a good movie if you are a fan of old Disney style films directed at a kid's matinee. Look for catastrophe scenes from Pal's Atlantis, the Lost Continent The time Machine and If you are offended by stereotypes then maybe you should avoid it as you may be offended. But if you are cool with white guys playing orientals once in a while then, as Dr. Loa might say, "I leccommend you see dis film chop, chop!"



THE FORTUNE TELLING SCENE FROM 7 FACES OF DR. LAO

No comments: