The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953)

THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T. (1953)
Article #1515 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-8-2005
Posting Date: 10-5-2005
Directed by Roy Rowland
Featuring Tommy Rettig, Hans Conried, Mary Healy

A young boy dreams that he is a prisoner in Dr. Terwilliker’s Academy where he is forced to play piano.

I haven’t seen the recent big-screen versions of THE CAT AND THE HAT or THE GRINCH THAT STOLE CHRISTMAS, but I think I’m pretty safe in saying that this may be the finest big-screen adaptation of Dr. Seuss. Actually, that may not be quite true; I don’t really know if this is definitely an adaptation or not. I know Dr. Seuss wrote the story, but I think the story may have been intended for the big screen. Dr. Seuss also took part in the screenplay as well as writing the lyrics for the songs. I’m willing to bet that he was on hand for many other aspects of the production, because his fingerprints are all over the place in this movie.

I am simply blown away by the degree of Seussian style in this movie. Here is a quick list of my favorite touches.

– The name of the adult friend to Bartholomew Collins is August Zabladowski.

– The two roller-skating henchman who pursue Bart throughout the movie are siamese twins connected at the beard.

– The happy finger beanies that all the children must wear.

– The ladder that goes nowhere.

– The entrances to the executive offices are not through doors, but holes in the floor.

– The dress that Heloise Collins wears to the Terwilliker Institute that is half business suit, half backless nightgown.

-The huge double-decker piano that can be played by 500 boys with their 5,000 fingers, etc. etc.

In fact, one can go on and on. My only problem with the movie is that some of the songs aren’t very memorable and slow down the story. The two best ones are towards the end; one features a thuggish barbershop quartet singing about the ivy on the walls of the Terwilliker Academy, and the other is sung by the elevator operator to the dungeon. Still, even if some of the songs fall flat, the other musical numbers are magnificent. For me, the finest moment of the movie occurs when Bart finds himself in the dungeon where Terwilliker has imprisoned all musicians who play instruments other than the piano. This big production number makes an astounding use of music, choreography, set design, prop design (the musical instruments are a scream), color photography and acting. This may be my all-time favorite musical number in a movie. There are also great jokes about sink inspections, pickle juice, and the use of the word “atomic”. And Hans Conried makes for a great Seussian villain.

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