Movie Review: The 5,000 Fingers Of Doctor T
I love Theodore Geisel (Doctor Seuss) and recently learned that he did a live-action movie in 1959. Entitled The 5,000 Fingers Of Doctor T, it told the story of Bart Collins, a young boy tormented by a cultured but evil piano teacher named Robert Terwilliker.
(Waaaait a minute… there’s something awfully familiar about that. Could there be an inspirational relationship to young Bart Simpson, and his cultured but evil nemesis, (Sideshow) Bob Terwilliger? Hmmm…)
Bart apparently has some sleep disorder; he falls asleep at inopportune times, dreaming that his piano instructor Doctor T is after him. In the dream that encompasses most of the movie, his instructor founds the “Terwilliker Institute” to enslave 500 young boys to play the world’s largest piano (and not incidentally run a gigantic and very profitable racket).
Producer Stanley Kramer pulled out all the stops to translate the surreal world of Doctor Suess to 3-dimensional reality. I imagine that stratospheric costs prevented another live-action Suess flick from being made until special effects could be produced digitally.
The sets, lighting, choreography, and musical numbers are simply astounding. The orchestral number (performed in a dungeon with fanciful instruments that only Doctor Suess could possibly invent) is wonderful but impossible to describe. The movie does run a bit slow for my Die Hard conditioned movie sensibilities but heck, it was made in 1959.
This movie was a lot of fun. I’m going to have to watch it a couple more times to catch everything. You can get your own copy on Amazon.
SPOILER ALERT below the fold
It would be difficult to get this story made into a children’s movie today. Terwilliker offers cigars and tequila as a successful bribe to the other hero, a plumber named Zabladowski. The one African-American operates the elevator down to a torture chamber. Bart climbs into lots of dangerous places including the world’s most vertiginous ladder. Young Bart rebels against authorities and actually uses an atomic weapon against his foe. And if the movie were being made today, there would be a boring sub-plot about Bart’s sleeping disorder, and he would learn to love the piano instead of running off to play.