The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

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The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.
Fingers of dr t.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Roy Rowland
Produced by Stanley Kramer
Screenplay by Dr. Seuss
Allan Scott
Based on Dr. Seuss
Starring Tommy Rettig
Mary Healy
Hans Conried
Peter Lind Hayes
Music by Frederick Hollander
Heinz Roemheld
Hans J. Salter
Cinematography Frank Planer
Distributed by Columbia Pictures
Release date(s) July 1, 1953
Running time 92 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2.75 million

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953) is a musical fantasy film, the one feature film written by Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), who was responsible for the story, screenplay and lyrics. It was directed by Roy Rowland, with many takes directed, uncredited, by producer Stanley Kramer. It earned a 1953 Academy Award nomination for "Best Scoring of a Musical Picture".[1]

Filmed in 1952,[2] before the transition to widescreen formats began, it was composed for the then-standard 1.37:1 Academy aspect ratio (1.33:1, when televised) and photographed by the three-strip Technicolor process. It was re-released in 1958 under the title Crazy Music.


Young Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) lives with his widowed mother Heloise (Mary Healy). The blight of Bart's existence are the hated piano lessons he endures under the tutelage of the autocratic Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried). Bart feels that his mother has fallen under Terwilliker's influence, and gripes to plumber August Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes), without result. While hammering at his lessons, Bart dozes off and enters a musical dream, much as did Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.

In the dream, Bart is trapped at the surreal Terwilliker Institute, where the piano teacher is a madman dictator who has imprisoned non-piano-playing musicians. He built a piano so large that it requires Bart and 499 other boys (hence, 5,000 fingers) to play it. Bart's mother has become Terwilliker's hypnotized assistant and bride-to-be, and Bart must dodge the Institute's guards as he scrambles to save his mother and himself. He tries to recruit Mr. Zabladowski, who was hired to install the Institute's lavatories ahead of a vital inspection, but only after skepticism and foot-dragging is the plumber convinced to help. The two construct a noise-sucking contraption which ruins the mega-piano's opening concert. The enslaved boys run riot, and the "atomic" noise-sucker explodes in spectacular fashion, bringing Bart out from his dream.

The movie ends on a hopeful note for Bart, when Mr. Zabladowski notices Heloise, and offers to drive her to town in his jeep. Bart escapes from the piano, and runs off to play.

Featured cast[edit]

Actor Role
Tommy Rettig Bart Collins
Mary Healy Heloise Collins
Hans Conried Dr. Terwilliker
Peter Lind Hayes August Zabladowski

The singing voice of Tommy Rettig was dubbed by Tony Butala, the founder of The Lettermen.

Healy and Hayes were married in real life.


Although he wrote the original treatment and the song lyrics, Geisel regarded the film as a "debaculous fiasco" and omitted mention of it in his official biography with Random House.[3]

At the Hollywood premiere, patrons walked out after 15 minutes, and box-office receipts were disappointing.[4] Nevertheless, the film gained a following, and has been compared to live-action adaptations of Seuss's works made since his death.

Musical score[edit]

The film is musical, with background music or musical numbers. Composed by Frederick Hollander (born Friedrich Hollaender) with lyrics by Dr. Seuss, the score was nominated for an Academy Award in 1953. Along with standard orchestral instruments, the score uses a theremin. A soundtrack CD was released by él records in association with Cherry Red Records (ACMEM126CD). In addition to the score the CD includes ten tracks not included in the film. They are:

  • "My Favorite Note" (Hans Conried)
  • "Oh! We Are the Guards" (The rollerskating Siamese Twins)
  • "I Will Not Get Involved", Parts 1 and 2 (Peter Lind Hayes)
  • "Grindstone" (Peter Lind Hayes)
  • "Money" (Peter Lind Hayes)
  • "Terwilliker" (Hans Conried and Mary Healy)
  • "I Will Not Go To Sleep" (Hans Conried)
  • "Many Questions" (Mary Healy)
  • "One Moment Ago" (Chorus version. Photos exist of Hayes and Healy singing this in a duet, but the track is lost.)
  • "One Moment Ago" (Orchestral version)

The "Elevator Song", intoned by an elevator operator who resembled a hooded executioner, originally contained four verses in the original release of the film. The third verse, THIRD FLOOR DUNGEON, was cut out for the re-release and television runs of the film, and the DVD release of the film.

As filmed and released the lyrics were as follows:

Assorted simple tortures.
Molten lead, chopping blocks
And hot boiling oil.

Jewelry department.
Leg chains, ankle chains,
Neck chains, wrist chains, thumb screws
And nooses of the very finest rope.

Household appliances.
Spike beds, electric chairs,
gas chambers, roasting pots,
and scalping devices.

Ev'ry body out!

Influences on other works[edit]

  • The Simpsons villain, Sideshow Bob, was given his last name "Terwilliger" from this film. Sideshow Bob is Bart Simpson's nemesis, as Dr. Terwilliker is Bart Collins' nemesis.[5]
  • In the 1985 Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle science fiction novel Footfall, the character Harry Reddington (Harry Redd) says "She turned me on to 'The 5000 Fingers Of Dr T' and I never thanked her"


  1. ^ Eleanor Quin, "The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.", Turner Classic Movies.
  2. ^ The film's main title displays a 1952 copyright date (MCMLII in Roman numerals), indicating completion, although not necessarily in its final form, by the end of that year.
  3. ^ Judith Morgan and Neil Morgan, Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel: A Biography (NY: Da Capo Press, 1996). p. 136.
  4. ^ Thomas Fernsch, The Man Who Was Dr. Seuss (NY: New Century Books, 2001), pp. 104-105
  5. ^ Carroll, Larry (2007-07-26). "'Simpsons' Trivia, From Swearing Lisa To 'Burns-Sexual' Smithers". MTV. Retrieved 2007-07-29. 

External links[edit]