Arts & Culture » Theater Critic's Choice

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.

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One of the most underrated of all children's fantasies, and conceivably the most interesting movie that Stanley Kramer ever produced. Dr. Seuss wrote the screenplay (with Alan Scott); his wartime buddy Carl Foreman was originally supposed to direct, but the Hollywood witch-hunts soon made this impossible, and Roy Rowland took Foreman's place. The plot basically consists of the florid nightmare of a ten-year-old boy (Tommy Rettig) about his authoritarian and vaguely foreign piano teacher (Hans Conried); in the dream, the piano teacher forces 500 boys to play his monotonous exercise on a continuous keyboard located in his gargantuan palace, while the boy's mother is locked, hypnotized, in a gilded cage. Dr. Seuss originally wrote the part of an elderly plumber who befriends the boy for Karl Malden, but "commerce" intervened, and Kramer insisted on using radio star Peter Lind Hayes instead, with Hayes's partner Mary Healy as the mother. Despite these and other problems--the film proved to be a financial disaster--the film remains a unique and truly imaginative wonder, fascinating both ideologically as an expression of its period (1953) and aesthetically as a very inventive form of delirium. Cinematographer Franz Planer, production designer Rudolph Sternad, and choreographer Eugene Loring all made astonishing contributions--their dungeon ballet, with an assist from Dr. Seuss, is a particular high point--and Frederick Hollander furnished the score; the use of Technicolor is especially impressive. If you've never seen this before, prepare to have your mind blown. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Thursday, July 21, 8:00, 443-3737)

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