The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

| June 7, 2016

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to the world as Dr. Seuss of course, only wrote one feature film: a live action musical called The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953). Directed by the legendary Stanley Kramer (It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad WorldGuess Who’s Coming to Dinner), it’s a film I’d been eager to see for ages, having caught snippets of it on TV as a kid, but only recently was able to see it thanks to Mill Creek Entertainment releasing the film on Blu-ray. And it is every bit the treat I’d always surmised it would be!

The bulk of the film takes place within the dreams of young Bart Collins, a boy whose sole problem in life is that he doesn’t want to play piano but his mother and overbearing piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker (the titular Dr. T), simply won’t let him stop practicing. In his dreams, these problems manifest in a fantasy centered on the evil Dr. T’s attempt to force Bart’s mother into marriage, even as he plots to enslave 500 boys for the purpose of playing his monstrously large piano. The first of these slaves is of course, Bart himself, and it’s up to him and him alone to stop Dr. T from realizing his nefarious dreams.

Bart’s dream world delivers precisely the sort the visuals you’d expect of a work by Dr. Seuss, like a Dr. Seuss book come to life with all its off-kilter buildings and perplexingly massive and barren halls. This is where the film really excels, offering a never-ending stream of eye candy. For the Seussian accuracy of its visuals alone, I recommend checking out The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T!

The only real problem I had with The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is that there isn’t all that much to it beyond the stunning imagery. Narratively, the film contains perhaps 45 minutes of fairly thin material, especially since we know up front that the entire Dr. T caper is a dream. Padding out the running time are a few great character-building scenes, as when Bart and the plumber he wishes his mother would marry go pretend fishing by way of father-son bonding, and a slew of mostly forgettable song and dance numbers. That Seuss wrote the lyrics for the songs surely helps, but there’s certainly nothing in there that can hold a candle to the songs in How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966). The lyric-less dance routine in Dr. T’s dungeon stands out as the most memorable of the musical numbers, but even then, only the visuals are particularly notable there too.

That said, I suppose I, as a 31-year-old who’s not big into musicals in any way, am not exactly the target audience for the film (though certainly it could have been made more with parents in mind, I suppose). However, my son really liked it, so it could be a good way to introduce kids to older cinema if you’re looking for a way to do that. Plus, if you’re keen on musicals of the era, you’ll likely find a lot to appreciate here yourself. Even still, I’m glad I’ve finally been able to give The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T a look if for nothing else than to see those distinctly Seussian visuals come to life.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T is currently available on Blu-ray from Mill Creek Entertainment. Though bereft of special features, the release sells for an incredibly reasonable $8.99 on Amazon right now, and it’s totally worth it given the solid visual presentation of the film on this disc. The video appears to capture the film’s original grain structure quite well and the image is almost entirely free of damage and debris—I only spotted one little fleck of debris moving its way across the screen, in fact, but that of course could have been in-camera debris for all I know.

If I have any complaint about the disc it’s that I felt the image could have been brighter and the colors a bit more highly saturated. This of course could just be a personal preference since this may be exactly how the film was intended to be presented, but when I see Technicolor film on Blu-ray, I really want it to pop. I in fact want those Technicolor reds and pinks to appear blindingly bright, as they are on The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) Blu-ray, for example! But again, that might just be my Technicolor fetish speaking.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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