The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) movie poster

director Roy Rowland
viewed: 12/28/2012

As fantastic as it looks from many stills taken from it, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, the only feature film ever written by Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) is almost of a great thing.

It takes place mostly in a dream of Bart Collins, a whacked-out version of his reality in which his overbearing piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker (the inimitable Hans Conried), runs an institute to crush all other musical instruments, launching a performance by 500 boys (thus the 5,000 fingers) on a humongous piano.  Bart’s mom is hypnotized to help him and only his neighborhood plumber, who he craves to fill in as his missing father figure, is around to potentially help him.

The sets are the real star here, though the costumes are sometimes as good.  It’s Dr. Seuss, people.  It looks fantastic, especially in stills or screen-captures, there are images galore to inspire and amuse.

But it’s a musical too, with mostly middling songs.  The best number takes place in the dungeon, where all other instruments and musicians have been sent.  The play on a variety of Seussian instruments in a number that is as much a dance piece as musical piece.

There are certain flashes of brilliance, the elevator to the dungeons, with the operator singing out the specialties of each floor as in an old department store: “Jewelry department. Leg chains, ankle chains, Neck chains, wrist chains, thumb screws, And nooses of the very finest rope.”

But for the most part, it’s a kind of flat near miss.  It’s a cult film, deservedly so, for the nuggets of gold within it are best mined by the very passionate.

Clara and I watched it together.  She thought it was okay.  I had my mixed feelings as described above.

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