DR. SYN: THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH (1964)
Starring Patrick McGoohan, George Cole, Tony Britton, Michael Hordern and Geoffrey Keen
Directed by James Neilson
Wave VIII of the Walt Disney Treasures collector DVD's comes out this week with a ripping yarn originally broadcast in three parts on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color. "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" tells the tale of Dr. Christopher Syn (McGoohan), an 18th century English vicar tending to his flock in the town of Dymchurch. Unbeknownst to his parish, the respected parson is by night the mysterious and feared Scarecrow, leader of a gang of smugglers on the Dover Coast. Donning a burlap mask and tattered garb to hide his identity, the Scarecrow and his "gentlemen" pillage and plunder for the benefit of the citizenry oppressed by the excessive taxes of King George. In doing so, Dr. Syn must match wits with the tenacious General Pugh, tasked by the King to capture the Scarecrow gang and bring them to justice.
Dr. Syn, respected vicar by day . . .
Originally produced for American television, "Scarecrow" holds its own among the best of the live action adventure films Disney produced in England following WWII (it was later re-edited and released theatrically in Great Britain as Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow). It boasts a talented cast led by McGoohan, then on the verge of stardom as TV's Secret Agent and later The Prisoner. His Dr. Syn is both gracious and cunning, always staying one step ahead of the King's army, while his Scarecrow is menacing and forceful, but still mindful of what's right for the people of Dymchurch. McGoohan maintains a delicate balance between the perceived hero and villain personas he plays without once teetering into caricature. It would be 40 years before another actor (Christian Bale) would pull this trick off as well (but McGoohan still has a better "Dark Knight" voice).
. . . feared Scarecrow by night.
Other noteworthy performance come from Cole as Dr. Syn's scoundrel of a sexton, Mr. Mipps, and Keen as General Pugh, who easily could've become another buffoonish bad guy of the Disney canon. Instead, Keen plays him as a dignified and duty-bound career soldier, even when embarrassed in defeat at the hands of Dr. Syn.
This two-DVD set comes with the three original World of Color episodes (complete with Walt's introductions) and the feature film edit of "Dr. Syn" shown abroad. All have been fully restored with the TV episodes shown as they were originally shot (but never broadcast) in widescreen. Also included are the bonus feature docs "Dr. Syn: The History of the Legend," which explores Dr. Syn's literary origins (Despite what Walt says in the intros, Dr. Syn was an entirely fictional character), and "Walt Disney: From Burbank to London," which looks at the movies Disney produced on the other side of the Atlantic during the 1950s and 60s.
"Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" is available in stores Tuesday along with Walt Disney Treasures "The Mickey Mouse Club Presents: Annette" (the original television serial starring everyone's favorite Mousketeer) and "The Chronological Donald, Volume Four" (the last collection of cartoon shorts featuring the irascible duck).
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