The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

I did not know that Dr. Seuss tried his hand at movie-making back in 1958.  The result: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T, was a quasi-musical  escape movie.  Stanley Kramer (the Wild One) directed, though uncredited.  It seemed most (Seuss included) were not super happy with the end result and tried to distance themselves from it.


Let me say straight up, it’s not the best movie.  It’s a little forced, the musical numbers are kinda mundane, and the kid really grates on you after a while.  So……why the post?!


Because, VISUALLY, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  Really more like German Expressionism in the execution of the sets, costumes, etc.  Let me show you:


The big-money set piece you see in the pictures above, is the 5000-fingered piano the unlucky music students must slave their time at to fulfill a madman’s dream.  The film focuses on the a boy, who bored with his piano lesson dozes off and enters the dream world of evil Dr. Terwilliker *.  He imprisons the boy’s mother and turns her maternal love and free will into dust….(though she does get to run this cool control board)


The boy must enlist the help of the ultimate Proletariat action hero: the plumber.  Interestingly enough, he occupies the same position in both the dream world and real world?


It is worth noting that the effects are all of the solid, non-CGI rendered variety.  So people actually built these insane sets.  I’m sure many of the visual ideas just couldn’t be translated onto the screen in the late 50’s.  Take for instance:


That being said, the majority of the set pieces look like they came right from Seuss books.


From here the film progresses through various Piranesi-esque landscapes and labyrinths as the boy tries to escape and thwart Dr. Terwilliker’s plans.  Along the way, we encounter some very Seussian individuals:


ZZ united.


Notice the dungeon-master’s early adoption of the earbud.


In typical 1958 fashion the only person of color in the film is running the elevator!


While the musical numbers are fairly intolerable to my ears, they do feature some lovely abstract Seussian instruments.


Again, I’m not recommending it as a great movie, but I do recommend it as a completely singular visual experience.  I can sum up my feelings on the film simply by saying the spirit and look of it are exceptional, even if the execution doesn’t quite succeed.   You could always just turn the sound off and pretend you’re watching the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or something…..

* Yes, Sideshow Bob is named after the bad guy.

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One Response to The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

  1. I saw this movie years ago and I agree with your assessment. The production design is staggering, and should have been the visual template for all the recent Seuss movies. Dr. T proves that it IS possible to capture Suess’s imagination and world in a live-action movie. What a genius. What a thoroughly original mind.

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