Combustible Celluloid
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With: Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, Hans Conried, Tommy Rettig, Jack Heasley, Robert Heasley, Noel Cravat
Written by: Dr. Seuss, Allan Scott, based on a story by Dr. Seuss
Directed by: Roy Rowland
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 89
Date: 06/19/1953

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

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pickle Juice

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) wrote the screenplay for this children's musical, which was probably intended to be another The Wizard of Oz, but baffled critics and audiences and ended up an obscure flop. Geisel did not even mention it in his biography. But in the years since, it has become a cult classic and a dark, strange, wonderful curiosity. It begins, like The Wizard of Oz, with the main character dreaming. Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) lives with his single mom and hates his piano lessons. He wakes up, a prisoner of the maniacal Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried), who has invented an enormous piano meant to be played by 499 other boys. His mother somehow falls under the influence of Dr. T and works for him, and the only person Bart can trust is plumber August Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes), who flirts with Bart's mom in real life.

Bart tries to escape, is captured, and invents a kind of atomic noise-sucker that does not allow the piano to be played. The movie has some very strange musical numbers, as well as messages about Nazis and WWII and the atomic bomb. There's also a dungeon for any other instrument that's not the piano. Every so often a scene starts normally but goes off in some bizarre direction, leading viewers to wonder what, exactly, was intended and what just came about by accident. Producer Stanley Kramer had never done anything so loony before (he was more focused on heavy, message movies) and neither had director Roy Rowland. But The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T continues to fascinate. Despite its outsider status, it received an Oscar nomination for its music.

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