The wonder musical of the future!
I pity the fool…oh, wait, wrong T. From the mind and pen of Dr. Seuss comes this wacky, surreal musical about a boy and his evil piano teacher.
Facts of the Case
The beginning of the story will strike a chord with many, including myself. Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig—"Lassie") is forced by his mother (Mary Healy) to take piano lessons from the imperious Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conreid). Bart hates his piano lessons, and would rather spend time talking with Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) the plumber. Zabladowski thinks that Dr. Terwilliker is a "racketeer." Anyone who has ever taken piano lessons that they really didn't want will instantly identify with Bart.
While sitting stubbornly at the piano, young Bart falls asleep and has a bizarre dream where he is transported to the Happy Fingers Academy, the only piano academy in the world with a dungeon and an electrified barbed-wire fence. There he is forced to serve Dr. T, practicing his piano in preparation for a mass (forced) concert of 500 boys all playing together on the largest piano ever built. The people from Bart's real life are there as well—his mother is second-in-command of the Happy Fingers Academy, and Mr. Zabladowski is there too, installing sinks for all 500 boys to keep their fingers washed. With Zabladowski's help Bart must escape, foil Dr. T's plan, save his mother from the evil doctor's clutches, and disrupt the concert.
With a script, song lyrics, and set design by Dr. Seuss himself, this movie is a wild little trip into an imaginative and colorful world. The songs are clever and crisp, and some of the scenes are truly memorable. In particular, the musical number in the non-piano players' dungeon is a frenetic, zany piece that just screams of Seuss's influence. The sets and costumes are adorned with liberal doses of bright primary colors, and look like one of Seuss's books come to life. It is a bizarre landscape, a place where Marvin the Martian would feel right at home. There are clever comic touches such as a pair of Siamese twins on roller skates, joined only by a long, grey beard.
Beyond the comedy there is a deeper story. In a nutshell, Bart is searching for a father figure to replace his own dearly departed dad. He finds such a figure in Mr. Zabladowski, but his mother isn't interested. Bart needs to free her from Dr. Terwilliker in his dream, much as he needs to free her from her restraints and inhibitions in real life. In both worlds Dr. Terwilliker is shorthand for everything that stands between them. Mr. Zabladowski also represents freedom for Bart, whether it be freedom from a dungeon or the freedom to go outside and play baseball instead of practicing the piano.
The only really memorable performance is Conreid as the dreaded Dr. T, a campy, prissy prima donna. He is outrageous and over the top and loads of fun. He reminds me of Christopher Lloyd at his craziest, a sort of Dr. Brown gone bad. He has a wonderfully wacky musical number close to the end of the movie as he is getting dressed in his finest for the big concert.
The sound is presented in its original mono format. It sounds pretty good for mono. Music and dialogue are clear and reasonably crisp, and there is no detectable hiss or distortion.
Extra content is fairly limited, which is not surprising given the age and obscurity of the movie. There is a gallery of approximately twenty black-and-white promotional stills, along with trailers for four other Columbia TriStar "family" releases. There is also a bonus cartoon, "Gerald McBoing-Boing's Symphony." It is an interesting addition, and kids may like it, but I found it silly and painful to watch.
I would like to address one very small, insignificant detail about this DVD that I really like. It utilizes the "cover picture" feature on my DVD player, so that when I push "stop" I see a picture of the DVD cover, not just the boring blue Sony logo screen. Columbia TriStar has started using this feature frequently, and Warner Brothers has also gotten into the act with recent releases such as Miss Congeniality. I know it's silly, but for some reason I really like this useless little feature a lot. I don't know why.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T suffers at times from the same disease as a lot of musicals; some of the songs bring the movie to a grinding halt. Also, the movie is at its best when it sticks safely to verbal silliness and visual gags. It tends to drag a bit when addressing the sentimental attachment between Bart and Zabladowski.
My only real complaint about this disc is the video quality. Colors are sharp and bright, maybe too much so. There is a real sense of the trademark Technicolor over-intensity to a lot of the colors, especially royal blues or bright yellows. I can live with that, but there are a number of more serious problems. For starters, the picture is often very soft, and seems a bit dark. Fine textures such as hair are sometimes very clear, but sometimes fudged. There is much pixelation and shimmering in almost all solid-color surfaces, but especially white or off-white walls. Finally, there are strange red and blue flares that run up the center of the screen in certain scenes. I don't know if this was a problem with the original print or the DVD transfer process, but it is a pretty glaring defect.
Dr. Seuss's The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T is charming and silly and at times clever It is a lighthearted bit of fluff, and an enjoyable little fantasy. The input of Dr. Seuss is clear, and is one of the high points of the movie. If you have kids, it might be worth a rental on a Saturday afternoon.
The movie is acquitted. Columbia TriStar is convicted of producing a poor video presentation for this DVD; the court acknowledges that this is a pretty rare offense for them, so they are free to go with a warning this time.
We stand adjourned.
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