“Come On And Dress Me, Dress Me, Dress Me In My Finest Array,
Cause In Case You Haven’t Heard, Today Is Doe-Me-Doe Day!”
By Brian Kramer
“The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T” was the first Dr. Seuss film that was ever made and it was a live action feature, believe it or not. It wasn’t “The Grinch who Stole Christmas,” as most people think. And it is also the only feature film Dr Seuss ever wrote.
“The 5,000 fingers of Dr T” is one of my favorite films (that you have may have never seen) that was released in 1953, and directed by Stanley Kramer, although he’s listed as producer. (Credit for Director goes to Roy Rowland) I think it’s one of the best uses of Technicolor that Hollywood ever produced. Although the movie was a critical and financial failure, and patrons walked out after 15 minutes at the Hollywood premiere and Dr. Suess never attempted another feature film, it just goes to show you that something’s cannot be judged by the critics. (Remember the critical response to the Ramones first album). Still, all these years later, it’s become a cult favorite and an inspiration to many artists, actors and musicians.
The film stars Tommy Retting, the future star of TV’s Lassie, and Hans Conreid who appeared in many TV shows, but was also known as the voices in Rocky and Bullwinkle and Dudley Do right. Han Conreid is perfect casting. His over the top, bug-eyed, slightly demonic portrayal of the master piano teacher leads up to his Oscar moment. The musical number in which Dr T is getting dressed by his many man-servants is so ridiculous that it’s wonderfully unforgettable.
Check out the scene here:
The very Seussian plot involves a mad piano teacher, a brainwashed single mother, 500 little boys locked up in a facility with electrified barbed wire, ladders to nowhere, a really big piano and an atomic noise fix. If that doesn’t get your heart betting fast, you don’t know what you’ve been missing!
The heart of the movie is Dr Seuss’s lyrics and wacky over the top characters– Dr T., or Terwilliger, is a minimalist dictator who casts spells over people and serves them spectacular vintage pickle juice. Watch the film you’ll get it. I have been lucky enough to see this film in the theater a few times. It is actually the only film I made a special trip back to New York City to see. The second time I saw it at the Film Forum in the Village, after the seven minute dialogue free-scene that’s pure Seussian magic, the audience burst into spontaneous applause.
As to it’s message? Well, it was 1953 and the lyrics are about cross-dressing and undulating undies, so maybe Dr. Seuss, a.k.a. Theodor Geisel, was trying to tell us something.
But for the life of me, I don’t know what it was…?