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The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T (DVD)


The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T (DVD)

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Kids' films don't come much more Freudian or perverse than The 5,000 Fingers Of Dr. T, a justly revered cult classic that could only have come from the mind of co-screenwriter Dr. Seuss. Available on DVD for the first time, the 1953 film unfolds with the elegant simplicity of a fairy tale, as it tells the story of a spunky, fatherless boy (Tommy Rettig) traumatized by the soul-crushing perfectionism of authoritarian piano teacher Hans Conried, the villainous Dr. T. Falling asleep at the piano one afternoon, Rettig dreams he's held captive in the Terwilliker Institute, a towering, surreal masterpiece of production design where Conried has shacked up with Rettig's mother and is orchestrating a massive piano recital for 500 unfortunate boys. Thankfully, help is available in the form of affable plumber Peter Lind Hayes, an alternate father figure as working-class, American, and easy-going as Conried is patrician, vaguely European, and uptight. If the film's Freudian anxiety and maternal betrayal suggest Shakespeare's Hamlet, it's intentional; at one point, Conried even delivers a monologue paying homage to Hamlet's "Alas, poor Yorick" soliloquy. But Freudian weirdness, Shakespearean madness, and surreal comic invention aren't all Dr. T has to offer. Director Roy Rowland alternately and favorably evokes the work of Kafka, Fritz Lang, Orson Welles, the Marx Brothers, and Frank Tashlin, while simultaneously displaying a sense of class-consciousness befitting a film produced by legendary bleeding heart Stanley Kramer. Effortlessly capturing the mixture of childlike wonder and primal terror that characterizes the best children's entertainment from The Wizard Of Oz to The Iron Giant, Dr. T is as winning and delightful as last year's How The Grinch Stole Christmas was soulless and mercenary. The DVD proves disappointingly threadbare, offering no commentary tracks or behind-the-scenes footage. It does, however, contain one charming bonus, the short cartoon Gerald McBoing Boing's Symphony—an utterly charming fable that, in its own modest way, is as endearing and unforgettable as the feature film it accompanies.