The prologue (olive-suited men with multicolor butterfly nets) introduces the link to Invaders from Mars, released that same year. Just about every kind of buried panic in Eisenhower’s suburbia is exhumed and painted in flaming hues, courtesy of a preteen (Tommy Rettig) asleep during music class. The kid’s hated piano becomes a winding keyboard long enough to accommodate the digits of 499 other imprisoned boys, Dr. Terwilliker (Hans Conried) queens over a trompe l’oeil fortress built from bits of Dali and Escher. Dr. T’s prissiness and lavender robes are contrasted with the charmless manliness and vaguely military greens of the lumpy plumber (Peter Lind Hayes) who plays grudging paternal figure to Rettig’s drifting dreamer. In between them is Mom (Mary Healy), by turns a frozen-haired hausfrau, a zombified car-ad model, and a quasi-dominatrix secretary. "It’s not, quite frankly, a wholesome situation." The Wizard of Oz is the model, along with the Brothers Grimm and Scheherazade; azure and school-bus yellow are the dominant tones, a swirling ladder reaches toward the clouds, the adults engage in a hypnosis faceoff before singing "Get-Together Weather" ("For schnipping and schnupping and schnooping and schneeping"). Is it even necessary to point out that Dr. Seuss wrote the screenplay? Roy Rowland’s negligible direction offers no help with this "idiotic, cockeyed flum-dummery," though the rebelliousness that turns out to be good, old-fashioned anti-intellectualism feels less in line with the good Doctor’s Whoville than with producer Stanley Kramer’s Hackville. Still, there are a few lambent, deranged moments: "The Dungeon Song" (out of Powell’s The Elusive Pimpernel), "Terwilliker Academy" (transposed to the boxing ring in It’s Always Fair Weather), the roller-skating twin Fagins joined at the beard, Conried’s incomparably fey "Do-Mi-Do Duds," and the six-minute catacombs ballet with bare torsos painted green and fused to oboes, tubas, horns and xylophones. A nuclear blast concludes the reverie, the nuclear family is renewed, the young protagonist rushes out to grow up into Liberace. Cinematography by Franz Planer.
--- Fernando F. Croce