Filmbuff’s Vaults: '5,000 Fingers'

By Morgan Leger

5000 Fingers of Dr. T

Known by his pen name, Dr. Seuss, Theodore Geisel is prominent for writing the classic children books “The Cat in the Hat,” “The Lorax” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” which almost everyone knows or reads.

What some Dr. Suess fans do not know is that he once teamed up with Stanley Kramer, director and producer of the infamous message stories such as “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” What resulted was the first and only live-action Seuss film to be created and written by the popular author himself.
“The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T” begins with the introduction of Bart Collins, a young boy that would rather go outside and play baseball then be taught how to play the piano by his tyrannical teacher Dr. Terwilliker, played by the elegant Hans Conried who is better known as the voice of Captain Hook in Disney’s “Peter Pan.”

 He believes that most instruments don’t carry that special tune that is heard when playing the piano keys and thus rules them out as alternative choices. While Bart’s mother thinks that Terwilliker’s harsh teachings are the better recommendation, a plumber named August Zabladowski, who is friends with Bart, thinks otherwise of Terwilliker’s teachings but is left to a deaf ear.
Under the shear boredom of his never ending lessons, Bart falls asleep in “Wizard of Oz” fashion and finds himself in a crazy and nightmarish dream where his piano teacher is a ruthless dictator and owns a massive but heavily surreal institute, which at times appears to more of a state prison designed by Salvador Dali.

The performance of the villainous Dr. T is an unforgettable treat to view as he stops at nothing to make sure that his evil plan for the ultimate concerto is to go as planned. In fact at times, he appears to steal the whole show with his over-the-top acting and the wickedness Hans presents to his character.

Cliched as it is, his portrayal of this underrated rogue can be menacing with his decision to kill someone of atom by atom disintegration and yet comical at the same time with his catchy, but yet infamous “Dressing Song.”
With all the non-piano playing musicians locked up in his dungeon, he enforces the piano to be the only thing to be used for music and even has a massive grand piano built that harbors 5,000 keys. His plan is to con parents into sending their kids to his institute, entrap them, and force them to play a concerto on his colossal instrument.
He also manages to hypnotize Bart’s mother into marrying him and thus forces his step-son to practice before the big day comes when he gets the other 4,990 fingers to fill up the empty seats.
Luckily, his friend August happens to be there, to install all the sinks before a vital inspection takes place, and is convinced to help him end this nightmare before a single note is played.
Loaded with a great amount of dream-like visuals and designs based from Seuss’ illustrations, “The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T” is a strange but yet enjoyable romp into the world of music as depicted through the mind of a kid.
While there are moments that appear to be very psychadelic and bizarre for a kids’ film, the sets and creatures are a spectacle to view, such as a pair roller skating Siamese twins conjoined at the beard which is among the many of Dr. T’s minions.
The songs are not too corny, and prove to be enjoyable while having elements from the 1950s that tend to date the film. The climax involves an atomic bomb reference which is crucial to the plot which provides proof on just how dark but yet whimsical the man who made the “Cat in the Hat” can get.
While unfortunately the massive negative reception caused Seuss to treat this film as his “ugly stepchild” and request no mention of it in his autobiography, this forgotten flick has gained a cult following for being the only live action feature to be made before his death in the early ’90s.
In fact, if you compare this to the later live-action adaptations that surfaced in the previous decade, you will find that perhaps this isn’t as bad as seeing Mike Meyers playing a six foot cat cracking crude puns, or Ace Ventura himself going green as the Grinch.