Film of the Day - The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.


Tommy Rettig in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T

A swingin' affair: Tommy Rettig in The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T

 

A movie for every day of the year – a good one

 

 

2 March

 

 

Dr Seuss born, 1904

On this day in 1904, Theodor Geisel, author and illustrator, was born in Springfield, Massachusetts. He started to sign himself Seuss (his mother’s maiden name) while at Dartmouth College, where he was editor of the humour magazine Jack-O-Lantern. He’d been found guilty of the sin of drinking gin and in order to keep working on the mag after being barred from this extra-curricular activity started using a pseudonym. Having completed his Ivy League education he went to Oxford, in the UK, where he intended to study English. But he gave it up to concentrate on cartoons, which he pursued further after moving back first to Springfield and then to New York. He became successful working as a cartoonist drawing adverts – for Standard Oil, General Electric, NBC, among others – and published his first book, And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street – after much rejection, in 1937. During the Second World War he produced propaganda for the government, as a captain in the First Motion Picture Unit. His documentary on Japan, Design for Death, won an Oscar, as did his Gerald McBoing-Boing, for best animated short. His most successful period as a children’s author followed – Horton Hears a Who!, The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Though always pronounced “Syoos” by other people, the man himself pronounce his name “Zoice” to rhyme with “voice”.

 

 

 

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T (1953, dir: Roy Rowland)

As with the work of Roald Dahl, there’s a terrible tendency by the committees who produce movies to take out the more troubling stuff – the stuff that lends distinction. With Dahl it’s the dark humour; with Seuss it’s the fizzing surreal imagination. This 1953 film gets Geisel better than most – no, let’s not talk about Mike Meyers and the Cat in the Hat movie. It’s a surreal story about a kid who falls asleep while practising the piano and the dreams he has of being held prisoner by Doctor Terwilliker, the man who wrote the piano instruction manual that first sent him into the realm of Morpheus. After the bizarre storyline, the most notable aspect of the film is the brilliant production design by Rudolph Sternad, of the Terwilliker Institute, the Freudian nightmare piano-teaching prison where this poor fatherless boy is taunted by the sight of his mother setting up house with Dr T, the nightmare avatar of his own real-life tormentor. Just to pile on a bit more depth, Seuss and fellow scenarist Allan Scott invoke the the disorientation of Kafka, the guilt of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the expressionist camera angles of Fritz Lang and the chaos of the Mark brothers, to name but a few – anything that will add to the heady mix of unhinged tumult. The film marks some kind of high point for the fetishisation of psychoanalysis – Hollywood had been mad for it since the 1930s – and is also a rebuff to those who say that 1950s Hollywood was always conformist and conservative. Talking of which, there’s also the distinctly leftish, class-critiquing message tucked away in there too, which might explain why the film is not seen very often.

 

 

Why Watch?

 

  • A starring role for Tommy Rettig – usually underdog to Lassie
  • Hans Conried as the dastardly Dr Terwilliker
  • Rudolph Sternad’s fabulous production design
  • The closest movies have ever got to capturing Dr Seuss

 

© Steve Morrissey 2014

 

 

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T – at Amazon

 

 

 

 

imdb poster The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.
The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953)
Run time: 89 min
Rating: 7.0
Genres: Family | Fantasy | Music
Director: Roy Rowland
Writers: Dr. Seuss, Allan Scott
Stars: Mary Healy, Hans Conried, Tommy Rettig
Trivia: The bane of adolescent Bart Collins’ existence is the piano lessons he is forced to take under the tutelage of Dr. Terwilliker, the only person he admits he detests because of his … See full summary »
Storyline The bane of adolescent Bart Collins’ existence is the piano lessons he is forced to take under the tutelage of Dr. Terwilliker, the only person he admits he detests because of his dictatorial nature. Bart feels Dr. Terwilliker has undue influence for these lessons on his widowed mother, Heloise Collins. The one person who sympathizes with Bart, although quietly on the sidelines, is the Collins’ plumber, August Zabladowski. Bart hates his life associated with the piano so much he often daydreams when he practices and even during his lessons. His latest dream has him imprisoned in the fantastical Terwilliker Institute in the day before its grand opening. Terwilliker’s second in command at the Institute is his mother, although she has been hypnotized into her position, which will also soon be as Mrs. Dr. Terwilliker. Bart tries to convince Mr. Zabladowski, who is there to install the Institute’s plumbing, to save his mother and himself from Terwilliker. Bart also hopes that Zabladowski … Written by Huggo
Plot Keywords: piano, dr seuss, recital, baseball glove, title ends with period
Box Office Budget: $1,600,000 (estimated)