Dr. T is a bit like The Wizard of Oz in that it's a vividly imagined fever-dream that reflects the real world pureed in eye-popping colors and shapes through a child's trauma filter. For Dorothy Gale, it's brought on by familial stress instigated by head-trauma. For Bartholomew Collins (Tommy Rettig), it's familial stress instigated by exhaustion created by piano drills imposed by the unholy alliance of his mother (Mary Healy) and his music teacher, the snooty Dr. Terwilliker (Conreid). The kid's got no allies, save for his dog, the audience—whom he regularly addresses—and the local plumber, Mr. Zabladowski (Peter Lind Hayes), whom he respects for his control over his life and his ability to fix stuff—fixing stuff is important when you're a kid seeing the world broken. Bart sums up his predicament for us, then falls into a horrific exhausted slumber, where he pictures himself the lone victim in the machinations of Dr. T, secluded in his impossibly architectured institute, the first specimen in a regimented experiment to lead a slave-team of 500 kids to realize his ultimate composition.
|Bart hides in plain sight in T's complex—making him look bug-like and squashable
It may be the weirdest, most enjoyable leftist agenda movie that producer Stanley Kramer ever produced (even over It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World), If.... without machine guns, creating a passive-aggressive (through a "very atomic" silence producer) explosion of revolt to decimate the forces of regimentation and create a nuclear family out of the resulting chaos. Even if Bart can't escape his lot, he can at least do some damage in it, and make it work to his advantage. Sounds like any skill-set a kid would, should, and could have use of.
|Bart climbs to the top of an impossible ladder, only to be found out by a searchlight.
Geisel thought little of the film, either because he thought the product compromised, or because the response to it was lackluster to the extreme. And kid-star Tommy Rettig went on to become the first "Timmy" on the Lassie TV show, an unpromising career with drugs, but ended strong by becoming a pre-eminent software programmer, specializing in DBaseIII. All of which seems rather Seussian, as well.
|Dr. Terwilliker's castle is full of oddities and Gehrey-esque angles
* For example, he labeled the film a "debaculous fiasco."