Hollywood films just don't get any weirder than this underappreciated 1950s classic. This surrealistic children's film (cowritten by Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss), features Tommy Rettig of TV's "Lassie" as Bart Collins, a young boy who would rather play baseball than take piano
lessons with the eccentric and tyrannical Dr. Terwilliker (Conried).
Falling asleep at his piano, Bart dreams he's being chased by weird creatures with butterfly nets through a land of fog, cylinders, and odd-shaped mounds. Here he stumbles upon the castle of Dr. T, who runs a piano school for captive boys. The film's key image is the massive winding double-decker
piano keyboard with 500 seats, one for each student. 500 boys, 5000 fingers--get it? Kept in the dungeon are pitiful creatures imprisoned as punishment for playing instruments other than the piano. The prisoners have built musical instruments out of odd materials and, in the film's most elaborate
sequence, perform a strange ballet. Bart's widowed mom (Mary Healy) is second-in-command at this terrible school but she is hypnotized by Dr. T. Eventually Bart teams up with Mr. Zabladowski (Hayes), a resourceful plumber and reluctant surrogate father, to topple Dr. T's evil empire.
THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR T. is one of the best fantasy films ever produced by Hollywood. Adults will find it every bit as diverting and intriguing as children as it explicitly connects dreams, surrealism and psychoanaysis. The dreamy sets succeed in making this film look like a Dr. Seuss book
brought to life. Rettig and Hayes are delightful and Healy's OK but Conried gives what may be the performance of his estimable career as the dastardly fop. Though at times deliriously perverse, particularly in the context of conformist 1950s filmmaking, the film is also quite moving. Essential
viewing for any potentially cool kids.
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