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

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

If you’re like moi, there are those certain films that are incredibly-strange in an incredibly-absurd way, and then there are those certain films that are incredibly-strange in a darkly-comical way (ie: often referred to as a “dark comedy” per se), and then there are those incredibly-strange films that have a bit of weirdness, absurdity, dark comedy mixed into them, with also a child-like adventure-story intertwined, with also a bit of surrealistic-juice just waiting to be “chugged down” one’s visual and mental esophagus. Chalk up one for the “musical-fantasy,” as well, and you have the incredibly-delightful film, “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.”

Tommy Rettig as Bart

To be wiki’d or not to be wiki’d, but here is the basic ‘elements’: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. is a 1953 musical fantasy film. It is best known for being the only feature film ever written by Theodor Seuss Geisel (“Dr. Seuss”), who was responsible for the story, screenplay, and lyrics. It was directed by Roy Rowland. The film was re-released in 1958 under the title Crazy Music. And the Wiki’d plot: “(...) revolves around young Bart Collins, who lives with his widowed mother Heloise. The major blight on Bart’s existence is the hated piano lessons he is forced to endure under the tutelage of the autocratic Dr. Terwilliker. Bart feels that his mother has fallen under Terwilliker's sinister influence, and gripes to visiting plumber August Zabladowski, without much result. While grimly hammering away at his lessons, Bart dozes off and enters a fantastical musical dream, in much the same fashion as Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. (This film differs from the The Wizard, however, in that the audience is certain from the outset that the story is a dream.)

Beautifully-designed, Surreal sets

In the dream, Bart is trapped at the surreal Terwilliker Institute, where the piano teacher is now a madman dictator who has locked up all non-piano-playing musicians in a dungeon and constructed a piano so large that it requires Bart and 499 other enslaved boys (the aforementioned 5,000 fingers) in order to play it. Bart's mother has been turned into Terwilliker’s hypnotized assistant and bride-to-be, and Bart must dodge the Institute’s guards (including the dungeon’s singing elevator operator and a pair of roller-skating Siamese twins joined at their beards) as he scrambles to save both his mother and himself. He tries to recruit Mr. Zabladowski, who has been hired to install all of the Institute’s sinks ahead of a vital inspection, but only after much skepticism and foot-dragging is the plumber finally convinced to help. The two of them empty their pockets and construct a noise-sucking contraption which ruins the mega-piano’s opening concert. The enslaved boys cheerfully run riot, and the “VERY atomic” noise-sucker explodes in spectacular fashion, bringing Bart out of his dream.

The movie ends on a hopeful note for Bart, when the real-life Mr. Zabladowski finally notices Heloise, and offers to drive her into town in his jeep. Bart escapes from the piano, and triumphantly runs off to play.”

I recall seeing this film for the first time several years ago and falling in love with it. The surrealism of it is quite fabulous, and the dreamy-settings and peculiarisms are all manifested perfectly within the “plot.” I’ve never particularly been a fan of musicals (although I do adore the wonderful “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” for it’s dynamically-unique scenes and vibrant colorscapes!), but this isn’t a hatching cliche’-egg by any means.

Dr. T

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