I posted on Facebook when I was on my way to the theatre that I thought that perhaps The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T is one of those movies that I just claim to see, not one that I actually have seen (I know, the shame is unbearable), but as I watched it, I realized that I have totally seen this movie before! How could I have doubted myself? Though I truly think that I saw a cut version on TV, because I would never have forgotten the Dance of the Imprisoned Musicians.
Cinefamily, the best membership movie theatre in LA (sorry, American Cinematique!), was having a Seussapolooza celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday, as the programmer put it, “Because Hollywood is celebrating his birthday by releasing a computer-generated version of The Lorax with a bunch of unnecessary characters,” which lead me to believe that perhaps he didn’t approve.
First they played Seuss on the Loose, a three part TV special from the 70′s, The Sneetches, The Zax, and Green Eggs and Ham, then the original version of The Lorax, “You notice how many times the Lorax smiled? Or cracked a joke? Exactly!”
These are definitely TV shows from the 1970s, the animation is basic, the singing is trilly, the voices (Paul Winchell and Hans Conreid) are really familiar, but they are just so charming and fun, and the actual kids in the audience enjoyed them too, not just the nostalgists like me. The kid sitting nearest me, after watching The Lorax, said to his Mom, “I wish I had a truffula tree! Maybe I could find a seed?”
But the main attraction was The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T, one of the craziest films ever made for children or anyone.
Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) hates practicing the piano, and hates his piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conreid). He likes his single Mom and the plumber, Mr. Zabladowski, who clearly should get together and give that poor boy a father. Bart falls asleep while practicing and dreams of the Terwilliker Institute, where Dr. T has built a piano for 500 boys to play, Bart is a prisoner, Mrs. Collins is the hypnotized second-in-command, and she is going to marry Dr. T! Also, there is a dungeon where Dr. T has imprisoned all of the non-piano players. And the plumber, Mr. Zabladowski is installing the sinks for the 500 boys, and since they won’t be able to open the Institute unless the Sink Inspector certifies it, Bart tries to convince him that Dr. T is evil and his mother is hypnotized and that he should be his father.
This really doesn’t convey the wackiness of this movie. The fact that it was designed by Dr. Seuss and he also wrote the songs should give a clue. More than anything it reminds me of a children’s version of Spellbound, Hitchcock’s film with the dreams designed by Dali.
But what makes the movie wonderful is Hans Conreid. Hans was a friend of my Mom’s whom I knew when I was a kid. He was always my favourite grown up, as he never talked down to me. He was very sarcastic and funny, and treated kids like adults. I loved him so much, I really did. And he gives an acting lesson in this film that frankly, all performers should analyze. He plays both the real Dr. T and the dream Dr. T, a more extreme version of the same guy. He wears insane outfits like a military dictator, he threatens children, he hypnotizes people, he just flies off the walls, and you know what else? He is completely emotionally truthful every second of the time! He never plays down to the material, he never overacts in a non-realistic way, no matter how wack-a-doodle things get, he takes the role seriously and plays it for real.
And that’s how you do it, people.
Seuss on the Loose
The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T