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Monday, September 29, 2014

The Mad King (1914) by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Mad King is easily one of my favorite Burroughs books because it so gleefully ripped-off the premise of one of my favorite stories The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope. It has all the swashbuckling adventures of Zenda, as well as the key mistaken identity aspect, but in the second half published year later takes the story in a much more interesting direction.

Barney Custer of Nebraska arrives in the European country of Lutha, the land of his mother, for a bit of a break from farming in the no longer so Wild West. On his arrival he hears of the escape of “The Mad King” who had been imprisoned for ten years by his scheming uncle, Prince Peter of Blentz. When Barney saves a beautiful woman from a runaway horse he jokingly tells her he is The Mad King, unfortunately for Barney she believes him, even when he tries to tell her that he was kidding, that he is just a visiting American she chalks that up to the madness he suffers from. To make matters worse of course is the fact that Barney does look like King Leopold, and try as he might no one will believe him when he claims otherwise.

As similarities to The Prisoner of Zenda go there isn’t as much as one would assume by just hearing the premise, sure there is an American visiting a small European country who happens to look like the current Monarch, but unlike in Zenda Barney is never enlisted by friends of the King to take the place of the incapacitated Monarch. Barney constantly tries to explain to anyone who will listen that he is not the King, even when he knows that just agreeing with everyone will land him a kingdom and the woman he has come to love. He only takes up the mantle during dire situations and to save the lives of others, but what really sets The Mad King apart from The Prisoner of Zenda is in the character of the King, in Zenda he is a bit of a drunkard and a tad irresponsible while in The Mad King we find out he is a coward with a tendency to be a vindictive asshat.

In the first half of The Mad King we follow Barney as he tries to keep out of the clutches of Prince Peter while trying to get the true king back on the throne, but in the second have the villainy roster includes Prince Peter, and evil ambassadors from Austria and King Leopold himself who is jealous because Barney made a better king and that the princess that was betrothed to him now loves the American. Barney discovers sometimes it doesn’t pay to be the nice guy.


So if you like rousing stories of stalwart heroes, nefarious plots, beautiful princesses, epic battles and lots and lots of swashbuckling adventure this could be the book for you.  Edgar Rice Burroughs certainly had a flair for high adventure and The Mad King is a prime example of the genre.

Ghostbusters II (1989)

Do you remember how The Empire Strikes Back started with Luke, Han and Chewbacca the heroes of the Rebellion all going their separate ways after losing their jobs? And how Princess Leia got married to some dude we never see and had this guy’s kid, but now she’s divorced and has changed careers. If you don’t remember any of that it’s because it never happened as that would have made for a terrible, terrible movie. Sadly that is pretty much what fans of Ghostbusters got when they went to see this much anticipated sequel.

The film starts with the title card “Five Years Later” and we see Ecto-1 tooling down the streets of New York as Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) are apparently responding to a call. They are lead into house by a concerned woman who hopes the Ghostbusters can handle “them” because they’ve been a nightmare, Winston responds with the question “How big are they?” Answer: Four Feet. We then get the reveal that it is a child’s birthday party and the Ghostbusters are here to entertain the kiddies. Winston asking how big they are now makes no sense as they were hired to work this party so you’d assume they’d now the rough age of the kids attending and their “size” isn’t really a relevant factor. I know I seem to be making a big deal out of lame sight gag but to me this was a big “What the fuck moment,” weren’t these guys saviours of the city? You would think book deals and movie and television option alone would be enough to set these guys up for life, and that’s only if it turns out there are no more ghosts for them to bust in the world.
Birthday Party Clowns 
“Who you gonna call…not these guys.”

So what happened in those five years? How did they go out of business? Why does Dana have a kid that isn’t Venkman’s? Well from Winston we find out that right after the events of the first movie the Ghostbusters were sued by every state, county and city agency in New York and almost everyone is calling them showboating frauds. Stantz and Winston are doing these kid parties, Egon (Harold Ramis) is doing studies on how emotions effect the environment, Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a bad television show called “World of the Pyschic,” and Dana (Sigourney Weaver) is a divorced single mom working as an art restorer at the local museum.

World of the pychic 
To be honest I’d watch this show.

Audiences love an underdog and in the first movie we were introduced to a group of eccentric goofballs that believed in ghosts and that they could be captured, no one else believed in them, that is until the shit started to hit the fan as ghost after ghost attacked the residents of New York City culminating in a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man stomping down the street in the aid of an evil god. The day was saved and the underdogs were now the heroes of the city. Then for some reason Ramis and Aykroyd believed it was necessary for the sequel to work they would have to go back to square one.

Returning to my Star Wars analogy that would be like Luke returning to moisture farming or maybe a hosting reality show about shooting wamp rats. In Empire Strikes Back Luke, Han, Chewie, and Leia are all heroes of the Republic, but they are still underdogs because the Empire is still out there and still very, very evil. You just have to up the stakes, change the threat level on either or a physical or emotional level or both. There is no need to undermine what your characters did in the first movie as that is likely to just piss off the fans of the original.

Slimer returns…for no actual reason.

So who is the big bad in Ghostbusters II? Well it’s a haunted painting; in fact it’s one of the paintings being restored at the museum Dana works at, a beautiful coincidence that makes no sense. Vigo Von Homburg Deutschendorf the Scourge of Carpathia is an evil spirit that needs the body of a child so he can live again. He is aided by Dana’s boss Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicoll) who is established as a goofy guy with a terrible accent and a penchant for work place sexual harassment. Vigo is not threatening or scary, despite being voiced by the awesome Max von Sydow, and the comedy stylings of Peter MacNicol here are just embarrassingly bad.

Peter and the Ghost 
Hey Mister MacNicol, Dwight Frye wants his accent back.

While investigating weird goings on surrounding Dana’s baby the boys discover a river of slime under the city. Unfortunately they accidentally black out the entire city when Stantz breaks a power cable during his rushed ascent, and this gets them arrested. Who knew the New York City grid was so touchy.

river of slime 
The River of Slime.

Our heroes find themselves in court before a very nasty and pessimistic Judge (Harris Yulin) who rants angrily against their charlatan tactics, luckily for the boys a jar of the slime is sitting on nearby table and it reacts violently to the Judge’s anger. For some reason this brings forth two ghosts that he once sentenced to death.  The Judge begs for help, offering to drop all charges if the guys and stop that ghostly duo.  Our intrepid heroes easily bag the spooks.  Cue music video montage of the gang back at work fighting ghosts.

Hunting the ghosts of good movies past.

Because of the popularity of the Real Ghostbusters cartoon they movie had its tone changed to be more “family friendly” with the ghost themselves being less scary looking and more in keeping with their cartoon brethren. I mean everyone knows kids hate to be scared, right?
Attacked by cartoon ghosts.

The connection between the pink slime and ghosts is never made clear in this movie. We are told that it has psychokinetic powers that are reactive to emotions and Stantz calls the stream of this slime under the city a “River of pure evil.” How a substance that is pure evil can be later positively charged is never explained. What is Vigo’s connection to the slime is also left rather vague. The slime is apparently a by-product of the negative emotions of New Yorkers, so did the slime awaken Vigo from the painting or did Vigo bring the slime from the other realms and is using the negative emotions of the city to power it? Now I’m not saying you have to explain everything in your big budget supernatural comedy but if things just happen randomly and for no apparent reason it takes away the tension. If anything can happen and there are no rules then you’ve just got a mess for a script and audience that won’t care.

lady liberty vs The Blob 
Lady Liberty vs The Blob.

The rest of the film follows much of the formula of the first one; they become media darlings again, things start to turn ugly, they have to go see the Mayor, a government stooge will give them a hard time, and then the boys will show up to save the day.  Check please.

• Dana once again is at the center of this paranormal event. Lazy and unnecessary.
• She has also given up a career as a concert cellist to work at a museum.  I guess music was just a passing fad.
• Their new shoulder patches are just the movies logo. Lame.
• Slimer is back for two scenes only because he is a popular character from the cartoon.
• I’m betting the reaction to the Statue of Liberty walking down Fifth Avenue would result in more screaming in terror than in cheering.


There are some fun moments in this movie and the cast of actors here have created characters that are hard not to fall in love with, if only this had been in service of a good story we’d all be much happier. Vigo is just a terrible villain and his ghostly plan to possess a baby and then rule the world just seems old hat. Give me more stuff about ghostly trains and the Titanic arriving at New York harbor and I’d have been a much happier camper.

Titanic finally arrives 
I wonder if Jack Dawson is with that group.

What it comes down to is that Ghostbusters II comes across more like a third and tired installment in a franchise more than the direct sequel it is.  Like there was another chapter and somehow we all just missed seeing it.  I waited patiently waited five years for them to give us a sequel and I wish they’d waited a bit longer, hell I’d have been just as happy if all we got as a sequel was The Real Ghostbusters Cartoon.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Catwoman (2004)

Movies have not been all that kind to female superheroes, on television Lynda Carter ruled as Wonder Woman for years but somehow that most iconic of all female characters in comic books has had almost infinite problems making its way to the big screen. Is it Hollywood’s fear that a female protagonist just won’t bring in the box office numbers a man would? Well I’d say actors such as Sigourney Weaver, Linda Hamilton, Angelina Jolie, to just name a few, would argue that point.

linda carter 
Still waiting.

Sadly the comic based movies starring women have had a terrible track record and one that studio execs can easily point to. Christopher’s Superman: The Movie was a box office bonanza while Helen Slater as Supergirl flopped faster than a speeding bullet. Why did a Man of Steel beat out a Girl of Steel? Answer, because the second one was terrible beyond measure? Nothing to do with the source material or the character just that the Supergirl movie was given a much smaller budget and a half-assed script with a plot that wouldn’t survive the scrutiny of a five year old. It never had a chance.

“My film may have sucked but at least I didn’t totally embarrass myself.”

But today we are not going to get into the Salkind’s horrible treatment of Superman’s cousin, I’ll get to her at a later date, but one of the other giant female characters in comicdom, DCs Catwoman. And no not the cool and exciting foil of Batman as portrayed by Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises or even the dark and tormented Selina Kyle depicted by Michelle Phieffer in Batman Returns, no this is the 2004 movie directed by Pitof and starring Halle Berry as Selina Kyle a struggling artist working for an evil cosmetic company. Girl Power!

Enter Catwoman *sigh*

Our movie starts with  Patience Philips (Halle Berry) floating in water, her voice over proclaiming that she is dead. Is it a really good idea for filmmakers to start off with a homage/rip off of a classic like Sunset Boulevard? I just can’t see how reminding the audience of much better films will help with yours. Either the audience will be unfamiliar with source movie you are “referencing” (which for this target audience is likely the case which means it’s not so much an homage as just plain theft), or if they are familiar with that film than you will most likely just piss them off.

Homage or creative bankruptcy you be the judge.

The film jumps back in time to see Patience Philips  rushing to job as commercial artist for a cosmetic firm. We see her wacky co-workers, including stereotypical gay man, and chubby best girlfriend Sally (Alex Borstein). Her boss George Hedare (Lambert Wilson) yells at her a lot because he is a big meanie who doesn’t treat women with respect, and when she tries to deliver a layout to him in the middle of the night she overhears an evil cosmetic conspiracy, this is when our story takes off.

Of course she is spotted during her ill-conceived eavesdropping and two thugs “kill” her by flushing her out into the river through a giant waste disposal pipe and this where we found her floating during the opening prologue. She then is given the breath of life by a really bad CGI cat and thus she receives all these mystical cat powers. If this sounds dumb to you then the rest of the movie will be down right insulting.

Mister Whiskers and the Breath of Life

Let’s talk about her “Cat Powers” as this one of the film’s more idiotic ideas; Catwoman does not need super powers. Sure Tim Burton’s Batman Returns had a woman resurrected from the dead by cats and by the end you get the idea she may have nine lives, but she does not have the silly ass cat abilities that we see Halle Berry get. This Catwoman can land on her feet like cat, leaps around with super agility, and kick the ass of any two bit opponent, now I hear you saying, “That’s not so bad, and not terribly far off from the comic characters abilities” and your right but sadly this movie takes all those abilities to eleven and by that I mean CGI Super-Fu. Both this Catwoman movie and the Daredevil film insist on making the heroes move around like Spider-Man. Neither of those characters is supposed to have super strength or kneecaps of titanium as would be required to have if one were to survive the things these two do on screen.

Halle Berry Cat Powers
• Super Agility – Over exaggerated but we’ll let this one slide.
• Compulsively attracted by shiny jewelry. Bullshit, that is the villain Magpie not Catwoman.
• Can squeeze her head through steel bars. Weird and creepy looking.
• Really likes eating fish, cause she’s a cat you know. Get it?
• She is turned on by catnip. Fuck you movie.

To make matters worse we get an info dump on the history of Catwomen from Francis Conroy and it’s here where we find out that the cats chose Patience to carry the mantle of The Cat.  Now what exactly is The Cat Agenda?  Is Patience suppose to endorse PETA and the proper protection of cats everywhere?  Or is she too run around stealing shit and flirting with hunky cops?  Here motives in this movie are bit unclear, sure she tries to uncover the plot that lead to her “murder” but beyond that what are her plans?  Is she going to be a crusader against evil cosmetic companies everywhere (one must assume there are a lot of them) or is she going to become a cat burglar and haunt the rooftops of Gotham City?

Note to all potential heroes, do not take advice from Crazy Cat Lady.

On her first night out as Catwoman she puts on this great black, leather suit and she looks damn good! So later in the film when she sports the torn up purple outfit we saw in the movie poster we all ask ourselves why? Her first night costume was so much better and closer to what fans of the comic would expect to see, so why the producers thought to give her that torn travesty is beyond me.

Assless Chaps just screams empowerment.

Oh, I haven’t yet mentioned the film’s hunky love interest, who is played by Benjamin Bratt. He is a police detective Tom Lone and after a “meet cute” falls in love with Halle, and surprise, surprise he gets assigned the Catwoman case.  What a coinkydink.  He’s the kind of movie cop that arrives at every crime scene, making you wonder if the city police force is seriously short on manpower, and he arrives so quickly at one murder scene you have to wonder if he’s actually clairvoyant. That we see him investigating a jewelry store robbery and then later a murder at the cosmetic factory clearly shows us that the writers do not understand that Robbery and Homicide are two very distinct divisions in the police force. That or they simple don’t care and are just lazy hacks.

Tom Lone is the lone cop.

And what dastardly plot will Catwoman foil? Well it seems that the cosmetic firm that Patience worked for has developed a cream that makes the user look younger, but it is addictive, causes headaches, nausea and if you stop using it your face becomes horrible scarred, and the wife and face of the company Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone) is trying to cover it up.

vlcsnap-2014-09-25-13h19m36s203 - Copy 
She chose Brand X.

That Laurel Hedare kills people to keep this side effect secret makes no sense at all because once the make-up gets on the market, and what it actually does to people becomes apparent to everyone, her company would be sued into oblivion. Laurel is not a crazed psycho like the Joker who would revel in the maiming of thousands of innocent women just for the fun of it; she is a bitter woman who is mad that her husband is stepping out with a younger model. Also this is really not a great villain for our hero.

Corporate Evil has never been sexier.

Why is Catwoman’s nemesis in this film even a woman? Does Hollywood think audiences wouldn’t buy a final smack down between hero and villain unless they were of the same sex? And giving Laurel Hedare skin like living marble does not make up for this. If you don’t want Catwoman facing off against Batman why not throw in some one else from his rogues gallery; Clayface, Maxi Zeus, Mad Hatter, Hugo Strange or even The Ventriloquist! Any of those would have been better than “Marble Face.”

“Should we break out the pillows and fight?”

This is the kind of movie that thinks it’s about empowering women when in fact it’s quite the opposite. Catwoman vs the Evil Cosmetic Company is just insulting. Add to that the drippy love interest that is Tom Lone, a ridiculous costume, silly cat powers and you have a recipe for one of the worst comic based movies out there. And that’s saying something.

 Note: Halle Berry personally accepted her Raspberry Award for worst actress for this film. That is kind of awesome.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gotham (2014) - Pilot

Gotham bannerRaise your hands if you think the world needed more of Batman’s origins? Yeah, me neither, but here we are once more we venturing into the dark streets of Gotham City, this time courtesy of the Fox Network. Right out of the gate a network show based on the early years of Batman has to fight that attitude, and as most prequel stories don’t work because the interesting parts of the story have already been told that attitude is pretty justified. Smallville lasted ten seasons without Clark donning the cape and flying to the rescue, but he still had superpower and fought many villains (often lame villains I must add) but he was still a superhero, but Bruce Wayne here is just a little kid with nary a batarang in site.

Enter Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) a hero soldier newly arrived in Gotham who slowly comes to the realization that he may be one of the few honest cops in the entire city. He’s partnered with Detective Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) who is definitely one of the crooked ones, but he is a man with definite shades of grey. Bullock isn’t a bad man he just came to the realization a while ago that the only way to survive in Gotham is to play the rigged game as is, because to attempt to change it is to die.

The Odd Couple.
The Odd Couple

So is the show a Gotham police procedural? No, because we are constantly bombarded with characters that will later be in the top tier of Batman’s Rogues Gallery. If not handled well this could get really annoying really fast. The most egregious example of this is young Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova) who will someday become Catwoman. The pilot begins with us following her through the streets of Gotham while she steals milk from a woman’s groceries and pickpockets a guy’s wallet. I was okay with seeing cute as a button Selina Kyle parkouring her way across the rooftops of Gotham and only slightly groaned when she gave the stolen milk to an alley cat (get it, she likes cats), but when it turns out she witness the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne I was about to give up on the show after only seeing five minutes. Then Ben McKenzie’s James Gordon entered the picture and the show began to slowly win me back.

Manic Pixie Cat Girl.
 Manic Pixie Cat Girl.

We also have police forensic specialist Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) who likes to answer direct questions with riddles. This is something I’m betting would get you fired after about a week. Then we have Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Taylor) who we see with a pointy nose and an umbrella, oh and he’s total psychopath. A little abused girl named Ivy pops up briefly because apparently name checking three future villains wasn’t enough.

I sense something fowl in the air.
I sense something fowl in the air.

Lucky for us the show mainly sticks with Gordan and Bullock as they try to solve the Wayne murders. Through the investigation we meet Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) a local underworld boss and then Carmine Falcone (John Doman) who clearly is the man who runs Gotham. For the most part this was what made the show work as Gotham is shown here as kind of like a gothic New York by way of The French Connection and if the series stays more or less along those lines it could work. If it starts doing super villain of the week schtick it will falter and fail. Well I almost forgot to mention one of my favorite actors and that is Sean Pertwee who plays Alfred Pennyworth Bruce Wayne’s ever faithful butler. Neither he nor Bruce (David Mazouz) is given much to do in this episode and really what can one do with a young Bruce Wayne? He’s not old enough to start his training yet so aside from Alfred giving the kid advice and sandwiches I can’t see where the show is going to take these two.

At what point do you think the show will suggest, "The Butler did it."
At what point do you think the show will suggest, “The Butler did it.”

That Selina Kyle is seen popping up at the Wayne funeral and later at the entrance to Wayne Manor has me worried. Are we going to get young Bruce and Selina going off to solve mysteries together? *shudder*
He’s hoping that the show runners have a few good ideas up their sleeves because right not it has me interested enough to keep watching, but I remain intensely skeptical all the same.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"The Mucker" by Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

muckerWhen one thinks of author Edgar Rice Burroughs the name Tarzan readily leaps to mind or maybe John Carter and his adventures on Mars, but Burroughs was not just a prolific writer of jungle or Martian adventures his bibliography stretches from the mean streets of Chicago to the mesas of the Wild West,  so I thought it would be fun to take a look some of his lesser known works. First up The Mucker.

Written in 1913 and first published in the pages of All-Star Weekly the story of The Mucker follows the adventures of one Billy Byrne a self-professed thug who haunts the nasty streets of West Side Chicago daring any man, woman or child to cross him. Billy Byrne is not your typical Burroughs character; he has no secret noble origins or even a decent family life, a bastard through and through and is more likely to be found drunk than sober if given a choice. He would think nothing of kicking a man when he was down or beating an opponent into a bloody pulp long after they could defend themselves. Aside from his massive physique his greatest characteristic is his hate for the upper-class and by extension the cops who protect them. Billy Byrne is a man born of hate and living in a modern jungle where the phrase survival of the fittest is more than just words.

The story takes off when Billy Byrne is fingered for a murder he didn’t commit causing him to go on the lam, fleeing to San Francisco just steps ahead of the law. At a local dive he tries to get a couple of sailors drunk so he can roll them but the tables are turned when he is slipped a mickey and finds himself shanghaied aboard The Halfmoon, a ship crewed by not the nicest people in the world. There are those aboard The Halfmoon who have a darker mission and that is to kidnap a millionaire’s daughter, the beautiful socialite Barbara Harding, and either ransom her or trick her into marriage. Billy has no moral dilemma when it comes to this sort of activity and he’d sooner push in the face of a pretty socialite than kiss it, but when Miss Harding courageously stands up to Billy, calling him a coward and a mucker, he starts to see her and himself in a different light.

The book does a great job of showing the gradual change of what in most books would be a villainous slob into a heroic character. Onboard The Halfmoon he is forced to work hard and give up drink, and when acting instinctually finds himself doing heroic acts. During a hurricane he saves the life of one of the kidnappers, and later at considerable risk to his own life saves Barbara Harding by getting her ashore when The Halfmoon sinks in the storm.

Burroughs takes on the debate of “Nurture vs Nature” by saying that both environment and how one was raised have a great effect on how someone turns out, but that if a person is intrinsically good deep down, he can overcome both of those. Basically even a dark and nasty slob may have some decency deep down and if given the opportunity he can make a change for the better. So I think Burroughs arguments on human nature veer closer to the genetic, you are born either good or evil and environment or how one I raised is not the defining scale tipper.

Now I don’t want to make it sound like The Mucker is a treatise on the predisposition of good or evil, this is a fun and rousing pulp fiction novel that just happens to have a complex character as its protagonist. When Billy, Barbara and the crew of The Halfmoon wash ashore on a strange island after the ship breaks apart the adventure element of the book kicks into high gear because this island is inhabited by classic Burroughs’ trope, The Lost Civilization. In this case it is Feudal Japanese Samurai who fled Japan and took up residence on this remote island and after years and years of interbreeding with the local Malaysian headhunters have turned into a rather nasty and cruel society.

It will come as no surprise to any reader that Billy Byrne will have to rescue Barbara from these Samurai headhunters and that thrown together in this dangerous primitive world the two will fall in love, with only the social gulf between them being the only obstacle even Billy’s great brawn can’t seem to overcome. In The Mucker Edgar Rice Burroughs gives us your standard high adventure but with a variety of interesting ideas and settings, where multiple characters grow and change throughout the book and though Barbara Harding does fall into the “Damsel in Distress” role she is much richer and feistier character than say Dejah Thoris in the John Carter books. This is a book I can highly recommend to fans of Burroughs and pulp heroes.

Return of the Mucker
Return of the Mucker
Not so easily to recommend is the sequel called Return of the Mucker which was published a couple of years later and is sadly not of the same calibre as the original, once again fleeing the law for the crime he did not commit Billy Byrne crosses over into Mexico where he gets himself mixed up with various Mexican revolutionaries. To say that Burroughs depiction of Mexicans is borderline, if not outright racist at times, would be fair, but the story and not period racism is the biggest problem with this book as the reader must wade through multiple rescues of various characters with nary a plot in sight.  Redundant and teidous would be the two biggest descriptors of this book.  There was a third book in the series, more of a spin-off than a sequel really, called The Oakdale Affair which doesn’t even have the fun adventurous Mucker but it follows a secondary character from Return of the Mucker who just isn’t as interesting or entertaining a character as our rough yet lovable Mucker.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

Dr. Seuss has to be the most recognizable name in children’s literature, countless kids learned to read by studying the complex nuances of Green Eggs and Ham, so it is no surprise that his books have supplied a surplus of material to Hollywood. To this day there are only two Christmas Specials I refuse to miss; A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and that is only the tippy-top of awesomeness that is Dr. Seuss as there have been many more animated specials from the great Doctor.

But what of live action adaptations? Can the somewhat Daliesque worlds of Dr. Seuss be brought into theaters with actual actors and sets? With the advent of modern special effects, improved make-up artistry and computer generated images one would think this is no problem, but you would be wrong.

Oh so very wrong.

So we have has established bringing Dr. Seuss’s stories to life isn’t all that easy, even with the all the advances the movies have made in technology, but way back in 1953 Theodor Seuss Geisel got together with Columbia Pictures to bring an original story to the big screen, and it was amazing.

"None shall pass."

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T was directed by Roy Rowland and produced by the great Stanley Kramer and remains the only movie written for the screen by Dr. Seuss, and that is a shame. Theodore Seuss Geisel wanted to make a movie that would take into account "Themes of world dominance and oppression coming out of World War II” and the result was a whimsically fun story about a boy and his evil piano teacher.

Or a boy and his beanie.

Bart Collins (Tommy Rettig) does not want to learn to play the piano, he would rather be out playing baseball or one of other countless more fun activities a young boy could be doing, but he is forced by his widowed mother Heloise (Mary Healy) to spend countless hours tickling the ivories under the demanding tutelage of Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried).

"Ten Happy Fingers"

The movie starts off with a the weirdest of dream sequences, and in this particular movie that is saying something, as young Bart is chased around by a group strange figures that attempt to nab him in their colorful nets. This opening sets the tone of the movie and is I’m sure what lost many people back in 1953.

A Nightmarescape.

Bart is yanked out of his dream and admonished by Dr. Terwilliker for not being better focused on his piano playing. With a resigned sigh Bart returns to his practice while still wishing for some form of escape. His one hope is that local plumber August Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes) could someday intervene and rescue both him and his mother from the Rasputin like Terwilliker. Sadly Zabladowski seems more interested in sinks than in the beautiful widow.

The Widow and the Plumber. 

Mere moments later Bart is dozing at the piano again, one must wonder if Bart possibly suffers from narcolepsy, and he enters the dream world of the  “Happy Fingers Institute” where Dr. Terwilliker has created a massive two tiered piano that is designed to be operated by 500 boys.
Bart wants no part of this and refuses to return to his cell so he runs and tries to enlist the help of Mr. Zabladowski, who has been hired to install al the required sinks for the institute, but the plumber doesn’t want to get involved.

Bart finds out from August that his mother is at the institute and currently in the Number Two spot and seems to be running things for D. Terwilliker.


“Dr. Terwilliker does not believe in baseballs, golf balls, basketballs or tennis balls, ping-pong balls, snowballs, croquet balls or hockey pucks. Dr. Terwilliker believes only in the piano!”

Terwilliker finds out that Bart has not returned to his cell and immediately orders he be found and sent to the dungeon.
Searching for Bart.

Squad “A” begins to hunt for the poor kid as Heloise activates the searchlights. One would immediately assume this eliminates her from ever earning mother of the year but it turns out that Terwilliker is a master hypnotist and keeps her entranced most of the time.

Doctor Caligari was clearly an architect here.

Bart must run from numerous patrols, dodge searchlights and avoid the roller-skating twins who are conjoined at the beard. If that’s sounds weird I’m understating things.

The Twins 
The Twins.

Of course the greatest moment in this film is duel between Zabladowski and Dr. Terwilliker. Bart finally convinces the ever blasé plumber to go and check out what’s really going on and rescue his mom, this leads to a mental showdown that is just glorious.

It’s this kind of thing that gives one hope for humanity, that a beloved children’s author and a major motion picture studio could come together and creates something so monumentally abstract and wonderful is just incredible.

Ladder to nowhere.

Of course the sad note is that the film was a box office flop, some audience members left after the first fifteen minutes. Now this was the early fifties so I’m betting expressionistic filmmaking in family features wasn’t something audiences were ready for, hell I doubt if released today it would get much of a better reception as the film is really for a viewers open to the delightfully bizarre and I’m not sure if there are enough of us out there to make a film like this break even.
Now the film is not without its flaws, some of the musical numbers aren’t all that great and tend to go on too long, but for me that is a minor quibble and didn’t lesson my enjoyment in the least. 

Note: There were originally 18 songs but wisely nine of them were cut out. *shudder*
Musical numbers on acid.

The movie does rest heavily on the acting chops of a kid and overall young Tommy Rettig does a fine job but the standout performer here is the great Hans Conried as Dr. Terwilliker, his brilliant performance as a mad musician bent on piano players to rule the world is simply inspired.

Hans Conried, genius!

One truly can’t do this film justice with mere words; this is something that has to be experienced, from the design and craftsmanship of the sets to all the talented performers who poor their heart and souls into this truly magical project.

Thank you Theodore Geisel, wherever you are.