The mad humor of Dr Seuss (Ted Geisel) has been captured on film in this odd flight into chimerical fiction. Story and conception were shaped by Dr Seuss for the Stanley Kramer unit at Columbia, and he also contributed to the screenplay and did lyrics for the songs composed by Frederick Hollander. Results are sometimes fascinating, more often fantastic.
Of all the wild, weird happenings, the film’s standout is the fantastically imaginative dungeon ballet – a mad creation.
Tommy Rettig is the kid who would rather be out playing with his baseball and dog than learning the scales under the tutelage of Hans Conried, the Dr Terwilliker who becomes the villain of the plot. Opening finds the youngster dreaming he is being pursued by strange creatures with butterfly nets in a land full of odd cylinders and mounds, eerie hues and fog.
This new land is a terrifying one, filled with a strong castle in which Dr T conducts a school of piano for the 500 boys he holds prisoner. In the dungeon, deep below the fortress, is a group of miserable creatures, grown green and moldy with age, who were imprisoned because they dared play instruments other than the piano.
Roy Rowland, an expert in the direction of kids, shows his skill in handling Rettig and does fairly well by most of the fantasy, although the material is such that it’s hard to keep the interest from lagging at times.
1953: Nomination: Best Scoring of a Musical Picture