Thursday, August 2, 2012

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

There is something seriously dark and sinister under the surface of the film The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953), but never mind that, it's also a lot of fun and visually stunning. After all, it is a children's story written for the screen by Dr. Suess. It is the only screenplay he ever wrote during his long and legendary career. But he actually didn't like the finished product and during the premier of the film, movie goers walked out.

Hollywood director Tim Burton was just 5 years old when The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T was released, but it looks like it came right out of his world of expressionistic sets and exaggerated colors and characters. This leads me to think that the world just wasn't ready for this movie in 1953. It has since gone on to gain a substantial cult following. It is also among my favorite kids' movies. 

Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) is a piano student of the demanding Dr. Terwilliker. Bart can't stand Dr. T and he is convinced that he has hypnotized his mother and together they are forcing him to learn the piano. One day while practicing, Bart falls asleep and enters the Dr. Suess world of Dr. T. Barts' 10 fingers are just the first set in the grand scheme that Dr. T has to have 500 boys under his control, to play his giant piano. In the dream, Bart is a prisoner. His mother is Dr. T's assistant. There is a level headed handyman named Mr. Zabladowski. He's sarcastic and resistant to Bart's insistence that something horrible is going on. But he'll come around. In the meantime, Bart meats all sorts of interesting and creepy characters. But none are creepier than Dr. Terwilliker himself. He is perfectly portrayed by Hans Conried, probably remembered most for providing the voice of Captain Hook in Walt Disney's Peter Pan (also from 1953). 

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is a musical in Technicolor. The colors pop out of the screen as everybody sings and dances to songs whose lyrics were also written by Dr. Suess. The music is okay, but it's not the kind of catchy tunes you would find in a Disney animated film. Nothing here will get stuck in your head for the rest of the day. That's a good thing. The best thing about this is what is happening on the screen. The entire dream world is extremely inventive. As I said before, this movie had to have some kind of influence on Tim Burton. You can also see some of it in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971). I kept expecting to see Oompa Loompas. 

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