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5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., The (1953, Tommy Rettig, Hans Conreid)



A rare chance to see a unique cinematic oddity – a live action musical based on an idea by one of the world’s most famous writers of nonsensical children’s books, Dr Seuss (real name Ted Geisel). Although his works have been animated for television for decades, this was the first time his visions were committed to screen live and the result is totally fascinating.

TOMMY RETTIG is Bart, who’d rather be out playing baseball than learning piano scales under the stern eye of Dr Terwilliker (HANS CONRIED). But, being a dutiful boy, he obeys his widowed mother (MARY HEALY) who wants him to succeed in life even though local plumber PETER LIND HAYES (who has a crush on Healy) thinks he should be running free. But Bart also dreams… He is one of 500 boys held captive by Terwilliker who is training them to play at a massive piano in unison – only Bart and the plumber (who, of course, also appears in his dream) can rescue them along with his hypnotised mother, Terwilliker’s slave.

Musical numbers include The Kid’s Song by Bart, rebelling against adult domination, and Dungeon Elevator but the highlight is the dance sequence in the dungeon where those who preferred other instruments to the piano are held captive but show their spirit with a musical number played on their favourite instruments fashioned from odds and ends. The sets, by Rudolph Sternad, are out of Seuss’ books via Busby Berkeley and the film also has some fascinating Freudian overtones – at one point, Bart tries to escape by climbing a ladder that goes on and on and on – and then ends in mid-air. Absolutely strange (it has a huge camp following) and totally unmissable.

production details
USA | 89 minutes | 1953

Director: Roy Rowland
Writers: Dr Seuss (Ted Geisel), Allan Scott

Tommy Rettig as Bartholomew Collins
Mary Healy as Heloise Collins
Hans Conried as Dr. Terwilliker
Peter Lind Hayes as August Zabladowski
Noel Cravat as Sgt. Lunk
Robert Heasley as Uncle Judson
Jack Heasley as Uncle Whitney (as John Heasley)
Tony Butala as Boy Pianist (uncredited)
Henry Kulky as Stroogo (uncredited)
Alan Aric as Elevator Operator (uncredited)