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

Sixty-eight years ago today, the film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. premiered. It is the only feature film written by Dr. Seuss. If you have ever had a strict instructor or teacher, you may relate to this childhood LSD fever dream. Like any cult classic, people walked out of the Hollywood premier and critics called it confusing, even Dr. Seuss regarded the film as a “debaculous fiasco” and omitted mention of it in his official biography. What more convincing do you need to watch this movie?

Title: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.
Directed by: Roy Rowland
Produced by: Stanley Kramer
Screenplay by: Dr. Seuss and Allan Scott
Based on: Story and conception by Dr. Seuss
Starring: Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Hans Conried, and Tommy Rettig
Music by: Frederick Hollander
Cinematography: Frank Planer A.S.C.
Edited by: Al Clark, A.C.E.
Color process: Technicolor
Production Companies: A Stanley Kramer Company Production and Columbia Pictures Corporation
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Release date: July 1, 1953
Running time: 92 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $2.75 million

Young Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) lives with his widowed mother Heloise (Mary Healy). The bane of Bart’s existence is the hated piano lessons he endures under the tutelage of the autocratic Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried). Bart feels that his mother has fallen under Terwilliker’s influence, and gripes to their plumber, August Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes), without result. While hammering at his lessons, Bart dozes off and enters a musical dream.

In the dream, Bart is trapped at the surreal Terwilliker Institute, where the piano teacher is a madman dictator who has imprisoned non-piano-playing musicians. He built a piano so large that it requires Bart and 499 other boys (hence, 5,000 fingers) to play it. Bart’s mother has become Terwilliker’s hypnotized assistant and bride-to-be, and Bart must dodge the Institute’s guards as he scrambles to save his mother and himself. He tries to recruit Mr. Zabladowski, who was hired to install the Institute’s lavatories ahead of a vital inspection, but only after skepticism and foot-dragging is Zabladowski convinced to help. The two construct a noise-sucking contraption which ruins the mega-piano’s opening concert. The enslaved boys run riot, and the “atomic” noise-sucker explodes in spectacular fashion, bringing Bart out from his dream.

The movie ends on a hopeful note for Bart, when Mr. Zabladowski notices Heloise and offers to drive her to town in his jeep. Bart escapes from the piano and runs down the street to play, with his dog Sport joyfully capering at his heels.

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