The 5000 Fingers of Dr T

This big-budget kids' film from 1953 based on ideas by Dr Seuss proved too much for young minds at the time, but deserves to find a cult audience on Blu-ray

Film Review by Adam Stafford | 22 Aug 2017
Film title: The 5000 Fingers of Dr T
Director: Roy Rowland
Starring: Tommy Rettig, Hans Conried, Mary Healy, Peter Lind Hayes
Release date: 24 Jul
Certificate: PG

A critical and commercial flop on its 1953 release, this zany and fairly daft romp from the pen of Dr Seuss (his first and last film script) has earned a cult status among aficionados of strange cinema. Ostensibly an extended dream-sequence, we meet plucky Bart Collins (the often cloying Tommy Rettig) and his strict piano teacher Dr T (Conried), who has a peculiar distaste for any instrument other than the piano. Dr T’s insistence that “practise makes perfect” is lost on little Bart as he falls asleep at the piano and ends up in a weird compound where the eponymous doctor has built a ridiculously long piano ripe for the 5000 fingers of 500 children to play it simultaneously.

In the dream, the doctor parades around like a pompous dictator, keeping Bart’s mum (Healy) in hypnotic servitude while their plumber neighbour (Hayes) potters about installing sinks – he also becomes something of a surrogate father to Bart. Added to this are two roller-skating twins conjoined by one humongous beard (“they were men of infinite jest!”), a gimp-masked elevator operator who sings about torture dungeons and a bottle of potion that sucks sound out of the air.

If that all sounds fairly mental, that’s because it is, but what’s really striking about the film is the sheer imagination and creative talent pouring from every corner of the frame, from the elongated, expressionistic set designs (courtesy of Cary Odell and Rudolph Sternad) to the rousing and often beautiful musical score and songs created by Frederick Hollander and Seuss himself.


A jam-packed embarrassment of riches. There's insightful commentary from film historians Glenn Kenny and Nick Pinkerton; interviews with the relatives of the actors and son of director Roy Rowland; on-set images gallery and booklet with a new essay by artist Peter Conheim and more. [Adam Stafford]

Released by Indicator