“As to who was most responsible for this debaculous fiasco, I will have nothing more to say until all the participants have passed away, including myself.” –Theodore Geisel on The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
DIRECTED BY: Roy Rowland
FEATURING: Tommy Rettig, Hans Conried, Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy
PLOT: Fatherless Bart’s well-meaning mother forces him to practice the piano when he would rather be playing outside like a normal boy. He falls asleep and dreams of an institute ruled over by the dictatorial piano teacher Dr. Terwilliger, who keeps his mother in a hypnotic bondage and plans to enslave 500 boys to play his massive piano. With the help of a plumber, Bart must thwart the evil Dr. T and his henchmen and bring his mom back to her senses.
- The script and lyrics were written by Theodor Geisel (better known as Dr. Seuss). The first draft he submitted reportedly weighed in at 1,200 pages (100 pages would be an average script length).
- Geisel disowned the film after it bombed at the box office, and refused to mention it in his biography.
- Hans Conried said that eleven musical numbers were cut before the final release.
- In “The Elevator Song,” the stanza referring to the “Third Floor Dungeon” was cut out of the film after the initial screenings (and does not appear on television screening or home video versions). The original lyrics read “Third floor dungeon: Household appliances. Spike beds, electric chairs, gas chambers, roasting pots, and snapping devices.” It’s speculated that the reference to “gas chambers” was deemed inappropriate in a movie released so soon after the Holocaust.
- Producer Stanley Kramer is rumored to have directed some of the sequences himself.
- Frederick Hollander’s compositions were nominated for a “Best Scoring of a Musical Picture” Oscar.
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is saturated with surreal Seussian imagery, from roller skating Siamese twins linked by their beards to an elevator operator with no nipples and no face. Even the uniform Dr. Terwilliger requires Bart and the boys to wear—a simple blue beanie with five yellow fingers pointing skyward—is a candidate for most bizarrely memorable image. Throwing up our hands in despair, we’ll go with the obvious choice: the mile-long, two-tiered winding keyboard that the diabolical doctor plans to make his 500 charges play.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Hypnotic whammy battle, underground musical cacophony, executioner elevator operator [selections provided by reader “Gargus” as part of a 2016 contest]
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: In books like “Horton Hears a Who” and “The Cat in the Hat,” Dr. Seuss’ fuzzy characters speaking singsong nonsense and cavorting across landscapes with implausible fauna make for children’s classics. But imagery that’s merely whimsical on paper in ink turns positively weird when fleshed out in Technicolor, with live actors singing and dancing. The backdrop of Cold War paranoia, before which flits a fey villain with a fabulous wardrobe, only adds to the oddness.
Joe Dante on the reissue trailer for The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
COMMENTS: Theodore Geisel, the Philistine, notably hated The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, considering it an embarrassment and a low point in his Continue reading 161. THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T (1953)