The 5000 Fingers Of Dr. T (1953)
On Wednesday, February 4th, Movies at Mothers returns when we present a surreal journey through pre-adolescent anxiety, McCarthy era paranoia and the nuclear age, “The 5000 Fingers of Dr T”, directed by Roy Rowland and written by Theodor Geisel (better known at Dr Seuss).
Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) lives a relatively normal suburban life with his single mother Heloise (Mary Healy), but lives in dread of his dictatorial piano instructor Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried), who has no patience for any of the boy’s interests that extend beyond metronome and keyboard. He gets a lot more sympathy from the handyman, Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) who serves as an occasional (potential) father figure. While practicing at the piano Bart drifts to sleep and imagines a world dominated by the tyrannical music teacher, who has hypnotized Heloise into collaboration with his nefarious scheme to assemble 500 boys (hence 5000 fingers) to perform his composition on a massive, sinuous keyboard. Bart recruits Zabladowski to help him foil Dr. T’s plan and free his mother from her brainwashed servitude.
For obvious reasons The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T is generally regarded as a children’s film, but its hard to deny that it’s a singularly smart, and in many ways subversive one. Loaded with post WW2 paranoia, Seuss’ script hits a number of targets dead on, including Fascism, the fear of losing a loved one to conformist ideology and betrayal. One quickly realizes that the use of a child protagonist is an ideal vehicle to represent helplessness in the face of an oppressive social order. There is also a healthy serving of B&D, unusual for a 50’s kiddie matinee. Dr. Terwilliger not only obsesses over his monstrous piano and his plan to force every little boy to play it, but it is to the exclusion of every other instrument in the orchestra. His institute includes a dungeon, imprisoning musicians who dare to practice any other instrument.
Though certainly regarded as one of the world’s most beloved authors of children’s books, Theodor Geisel was first and foremost a satirist. Apart from writing its screenplay, Dr. Seuss also served as the film’s conceptual designer and the sets and costumes inhabiting Bart’s dream are wonderful examples of his playful use of expressionism, with numerous props and matte paintings serving to create a distinctly Seuss-ian live action world. One of the most memorable scenes takes place in the aforementioned dungeon, where a full-blown concert is performed on fanciful musical instruments by bearded and bedraggled captives. The songs, with lyrics by Seuss and music by Friedrich Hollander, include a show stopping number performed by the wonderful Hans Conried, “Dress Me Up”, as Terwilliker dons his ceremonial vestments in anticipation of the debut of his maxim opus.
The excitement begins at 6:30 when you can enjoy one of the best dinners in town, followed by the screening at 7:00 PM. Hope to see you there!
Mothers is located at 212 SW. Stark.