The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T
One of the strangest and most delightful films ever made, 1953's The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T marked the first and only time that Theodore Geisel AKA Dr. Seuss contributed his genius to a feature film (and no, that posthumous Ron Howard-directed Grinch travesty doesn't count). Fatherless young Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig, of TV's "Lassie") hates his piano lessons like poison and considers his zealous music teacher, Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conreid), to be his "only enemy in the world." Forced by his mother (Mary Healy) to sit inside all day practicing Dr. T's "Happy Fingers" method, Bart passes out at the keyboard and enters a surreal, Seussian nightmare, where he's trapped in the prison-like Terwilliker Institute. Bart discovers that his maniacal piano teacher has hypnotized his mother and plans to force 500 imprisoned boys all clad in identical "Happy Fingers" beanie caps to practice 24 hours a day, seven days a week at his giant piano. His only ally is the plumber, Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes), a sort of Freudian father figure who alternately advises him, disbelieves him, flirts with him, and hits on his mother. The bizarre tone to the story lonely boy fixates on evil piano teacher and hunky plumber is amplified by the Dali-meets-Seuss sets and costumes, and the elaborate, bizarre production numbers. Among the most memorable songs are an extended dance featuring the half-naked, green-painted denizens of Dr. T's lower-level dungeons (where he keeps all the non-piano-playing musicians, many manipulating Seuss-inspired instruments in highly suggestive ways) and a love song shared by Bart and Mr. Zabladowski as they gaze deeply into each other's eyes. The highlight of the film is Dr. T's tribute to cross-dressing, "Dress Me" in which he sings:
Conreid's distinctive style (he was the voice of Snidely Whiplash in the "Dudley-Do-Right" cartoons) makes the number jaw-droppingly funny. Produced by Stanley Kramer, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T was nominated for an Oscar for Best Scoring of a Motion Picture. Columbia TriStar's DVD edition is digitally remastered, but not restored it's a little messy, but it gets better once you get past the phenomenally dust-ridden opening logo. Full screen presentation in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio; Dolby Digital mono audio in English, French and Spanish; subtitles. Extra features include a handful of trailers for other CTHE DVD releases and "Gerald McBoing Boing's Symphony," one of the popular, highly stylized 1950s cartoons about a boy who expresses himself through sound effects. Keep-case.