“The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T.” Tomorrow!

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I think when someone finally does an accurate, TRUE accounting, it will be found that most of the best musicals of the 2nd half of the 20th century came not from Broadway but from children’s shows for screens both big and little. And one of the greatest of the unsung lyricists? Dr. Seuss.

His meisterwerk The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) has not been remembered as a perennial classic for a very important reason: it’s completely unsettling. 5000 Fingers hits a trifecta of terror: Freudian anxiety (all the way to the Oedipus compex); Cold War fear; and the dream-like horrors of surrealism. Dr. Seuss’s visions are usually muted for us, made warm and cuddly by the fact that they are rendered into safe cartoons. 5000 Fingers was the only time the good doctor had a direct hand in translating his nightmare visions into a live action film. The gorgeous Technicolor helps sell the fantasy aspect, but still it is all too real, a nightmare made palpable. The tale, in which a sweet little boy named Bartholomew Collins (Tommy Rettig) retreats from his piano lessons and the apparent development that his mother (Mary Healy) is going to marry his horrible piano teacher Dr. Terwilliker (hilariously played by Hans Conreid)…the boy retreats, as I say, into a deep slumber, a dream world which, like the one in The Wizard of Oz is a far more dangerous place than his actual home. He is transported to a prison-like castle where himself and 499 other boys are going to be made to play a long, winding piano, forever and ever and ever. Helping him and his mother to eventually escape is a likeable, goofy-looking plumber (Peter Lind Hayes). The most memorable vision is of a pair of roller skating men whose long beards are somehow connected as one.

At any rate it’s playing tomorrow  at 11am at the Film Forum. You owe it to yourself to see it on the big screen! Tickets and info here: http://www.filmforum.org/movies/more/5000_fingers_of_dr._t.

And here’s the trailer, which doesn’t even begin to capture its splendors:

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