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Film: The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T
"Yes sir, very atomic!"

"We should always believe children. We should even believe their lies."
—Mr. Zabladowski

"How many times must Matt Groening have watched The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T?"
John Lingan

The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T is a sadly-overlooked 1953 fantasy movie, especially notable in that it was the only time that Dr. Seuss ventured into the live-action film medium. In it, young Bartholomew Collins (Tommy Rettig) finds himself and his hypnotized mother (Mary Healy) trapped in the piano-playing Institute of the maniacal Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried), a villain who doesn't just chew Seuss's marvelous scenery, but engages in an epic multicourse banquet. Bartholomew's only hope is convincing plumber August Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) to help him, instead of installing the Institute's sinks.

The film was a massive Box Office Bomb and critical bust at the time of its original release (people even left the theater 15 minutes into the movie during its Hollywood premiere), and prompted Dr. Seuss to not produce another feature film again, but it has since become a Cult Classic, and has inspired many filmmakers today, such as Tim Burton.

There's Siamese-beard rollerskaters, a visit to the most toe-tappingly tuneful dungeon ever, and a VERY atomic noise-sucker/bomb. Go track down a copy and watch it! Do it now! (or just go here!)

This film contains these INEXPLICABLE PHENOMENA:

  • Affably Evil: Dr. Terwilliker IS THIS up and down and back and forth the line, he even outright states he's a villain before offering refreshments AND has a Villain Song with Ms. Collins and Mr. Zabladowski!
  • All Just a Dream: The reasoning behind the high weirdness and the behavior of the adults - it's all based on a child's dream logic.
    • Or Was It a Dream?: Bart and Mr. Zabladowski, after Bart wakes up, still have their thumbs bandaged from their blood sharing. Mr. Zabladowski, not "remembering" the dream, doesn't know how it got there.
  • And You Were There
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking
    "First Floor Dungeon: Assorted simple tortures. Molten lead, chopping blocks, and hot boiling oil."
    "Second Floor Dungeon: Jewelry Department."
  • Big Lipped Alligator Movie: Although it's fairly clear where the hallucinogenic sequences stem from.
  • Bizarrchitecture: It is, quite literally, a Dr. Seuss book brought to life. Note, for example, the Toilet Tree in the background of Bart's cellblock.
  • Camp: Oh, where to begin...
  • Camp Straight: Dr. Terwilliker. Especially in his Villain Song.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Dr. Terwillinker
  • Classic Villain: Classic children's villain, even. The grumpy inflicter of the boy's hated piano lesson becomes an egotistical, grandiose, vain and autocratic dictator who speaks with Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness and demands that everyone is subservient to him, Dr. TerWILLIKER! Why? Because piano playing is Serious Business and he knows far more than a mere child!
  • Cover Version: Avante-Garde Metal band Mr Bungle would often cover third floor dungeon live. they take it Up to Eleven. It's terrifying
  • Cut Song: There was a whole bunch of other music written for the film by Dr. Seuss that didn't make the final cut, and only survives on old production bootlegs.
    Oh We Are The Guards: We are Two Terrible Twins With a Terrible Siamese Beard.
    Don't get fresh with us now, Or you will get choked by the beard of the twins with the
    Siamese beard, with a terrible twin on each end.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: Dr. Terwilliker. Hans Conreid was the voice of Snidely Whiplash.
  • Deus Ex Nukina: "Is it... atomic?" "Yes sir, VERY atomic!".
  • Disintegrator Ray: "Hello, physics laboratory? ... I want him disintegrated...atom...by atom!"
  • Disney Acid Sequence: Most of the movie.
  • Disappeared Dad: Played oh so very straight to the point where the entire film is a Freudian dream metaphor for Bart's longing for a father who can take him to baseball games instead of having to hang around the house with mom and do piano lessons. Yes indeed, very '50s.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: A dictator herds people into a labor camp, and it all ends with an atomic explosion.
  • Dream Ballet: If you squint a bit, the dance numbers could be considered as Dream Ballets.
  • Dream Land
  • Elevator Floor Announcement: The dungeon elevator.
  • Fashionable Evil: Of the campiest sort. "Do-Me-Do Duds", indeed.
  • Foreshadowing: After the dream sequence at the beginning of the film, Bart describes it to Dr. Terwilliker. Terwilliker scoffs and replies, "Why couldn't you dream about practicing the piano?" Sure enough, the next time Bart falls asleep....
  • Frothy Mugs of Water: Pickle juice. "Be careful, Mr. Zabladowski. That's some powerful stuff!"
  • Gilded Cage: "Tonight... you will sleep in your lock-me-tight!"
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Inverted in that it's just piano lessons, but to a red-blooded 1950s boy like Bart the very idea is A Fate Worse Than Death. And when he learns that his teacher has built an enormous "500 boy piano" with plans for more little boys to have to bang away, oh the horror, the horror...
  • Humiliation Conga
  • Hypnotize the Princess: Bartholomew's mother has been turned into Terwilliker's assistant.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: The VERY atomic noise-sucker.
  • Large Ham: Dr. Terwilliker can rant with the best of them.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: Almost none of the articles of clothing Dr. T lists in "Dress Me" are actually part of the costume he gets dressed in.
  • MacGyvering
  • Nice Hat: As seen above, so very much averted with the beanie that Bartholomew is forced to wear.
  • Notable Original Music:
    • The Dungeon Elevator Operator song.
    • The Dungeon of screechy violins musical interlude. (See Big Lipped Alligator Moment.)
    • The Camp Villain song, "Dress Me", aka "Do-Mi-Do Duds". "Come on and dress me, dress me, dress me in my finest array..."
    • "Just Because We're Kids" sounds like an anthem of the 60's Baby Boom generation.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: After the horrific description of what goes on in the first dungeon, and the more horrific description of the second dungeon, the basement dungeon (which they get off on) is not described. Leaving it to the imagination as to how bad that must be.
    • It was originally described in High Octane Nightmare Fuel glory (See Second Verse Curse on the YMMV page.)
  • Nuclear Nightmare: rife with Cold War symbolism.
  • Parental Bonus: The song Get-Together Weather, which is a Love Triangle Song. Hmmmm... "Come on, the weatherman's reporting that the weather's ripe for sporting, and for love and assorted courting, this is get-together weather, together is just what we've got to get! What fabulous weather for cooing and billing! What fabulous weather for dally-down dilling! What fabulous weather for bipping and beeping! For schnipping and schnupping and schnooping and schneeping! Come on, the weatherman's announcing that the weather's ripe for flouncing, and for b-b-b-b-b-b-bouncing..."
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Mr. Zabladowski and Mrs. Collins were married in real life when they made the picture.
  • Rule of Symbolism: see Nuclear Nightmare and Disappeared Dad, above.
  • Sadist Teacher: Dr. Terwilliker. Even the real-life version seems overly strict and demanding, even taking into account Bart's bad habit of falling asleep while practicing.
  • Scary Black Man: The elevator operator.
  • Sexy Secretary: Mrs. Collins.
  • Sissy Villain
  • Spiritual Successor: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton movies, Deranged Animation...
  • Super Serum: Pickle juice. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: "Bartholomew Collins" sounds a lot like "Bartholomew Cubbins", the hero of an earlier book by Dr Seuss. They are both boys of about the same age, hats and the number 500 features in both stories. Dr Seuss did say his original idea was warped beyond recognition...
  • Villain Song
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Mr. Zabladowski defeats the Twin Guards by cutting their shared beard, separating the two in the process.


Singin' in the RainThe FiftiesLittle Shop of Horrors
The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie MenFilms of the 1950sThe Band Wagon

alternative title(s): The 5000 Fingers Of Dr T; Ptitleu2r483ac
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