This film was directed by Roy Rowland, produced by Stanley Kramer, and, most important, written by Dr. Seuss.
How did I never see this remarkable movie until now? Made in 1953, it was Dr. Seuss’s only foray into the movie business. Featuring song and dance, wonderful costumes, and sets based on the landscapes and details familiar to all Seuss readers, it tells the story of Bart (Tommy Rettig), a young boy (8?) who lives with his attractive widowed mother, Mrs. Collins, somewhere in America. But the Dr. T of the title, Dr. Terwilliker, is a musical monomaniac. Bart struggles at the piano at home while his mother, Mary Healy, criticizes his practice of the piece assigned by Dr. T. Soon we meet the villain himself, Hans Conreid, and realize that along with nurturing dreams of a grand concert of this trivial song he has composed, he also has designs on Mrs. Collins. He’s not her only suitor - there’s also the kind modest plumber, Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes), who sides with Bart but cannot break through to Mrs. Collins.
Soon Bart is moved to Dr. T’s Academy, ringed with barbed wire and equipped with guards, searchlights, and dungeons, where a two-tiered keyboard snakes around a grand performance space. Dr. T’s dream is to conduct 500 boys playing his Happy Fingers song in unison at a great recital - hence the 5000 fingers of the title. Each boy will have a room in this fantastical prison, where Mr. Zabladowski is installing sinks in their cells. Dr. T. himself, and Bart’s mother, live in the upper reaches, above the recital hall.
This movie was intended for children, and as in The Cat in the Hat, they are given minds of their own and some pretty good lines. It’s surprising that it didn’t make more of a comeback in the sixties and seventies as a movie well suited to psychedelics - it would be a marvel on acid!
I don’t want to give away those delicious details that will surprise and amaze first-time viewers - just go see it! If there’s an indie theater in your community, request a screening - it’s worthy of big-screen appreciation.