I first saw this 1953 film on TV as a small child, and I was utterly freaked out by it. For years I didn't know the name -- I'd ask random people if they remembered a movie with a kid playing the piano while wearing a rubber hand on his head, and I'd get blank, puzzled stares. Eventually, it was released on home video, and I discovered that there's something of a cult following for 5,000 Fingers among folks like me who had their brains bent by it at an early age.
If you've never seen the movie, you've missed out on one of the great pieces of American surrealist cinema. The screenplay and songs were written by Theodore Geisel, best known as Dr. Seuss, and originally released under the title Crazy Music. Geisel later denounced the movie, calling it a "debaculous fiasco," and even insisted that mention of it be excised from his official biography. Lore has it that some audience members at the film's premiere were so weirded out that they walked out after just 15 minutes.
The story's a dream-tale that takes place in the mind of a boy named Bart (Tommy Rettig, who played Timmy on TV's Lassie), who falls asleep during his piano lesson. In his dream, he's a captive at the Terwilliker Institute, a musical asylum run by his evil music teacher (Hans Conreid). He gets a plumber, Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) to help save his enslaved mother and sabotage Dr. Terwilliker's plan to force 500 boys to play his new concerto on a massive, specially-constructed piano. All of this takes place amid freakish, Seussian sets, with lots of songs and a few hilariously uncomfortable, intimate moments between Mr. Zabladowski and the father-figure-hungry Bart.
In the scene below, Dr. T's getting dressed up for Do-Mi-Do Day, when he'll assemble all of the imprisoned boys and make them play piano simultaneously. Despite Terwilliker's intention of forcing Bart's brainwashed mom to marry him, there's a decidedly flamboyant quality to the man's sartorial style as he exhorts his dressers:
Come on and dress me! Dress me! Dress me in my peekaboo blouse,
With the lovely interlining made of Chesapeake mouse;
I want my polka-dotted dickie with the crinoline fringe;
For I'm going do-mi-do-ing on a do-mi-do binge!
Conreid, who you may know best as the voices of Captain Hook in Disney's Peter Pan and Snidley Whiplash in the Dudley Do-Right cartoons, was one of the great character actors of all time and shows off an inimitable flare for musical comedy in this scene, which always makes me smile: