Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Walt Disney's Dr. Syn : The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

"On the southern coast of England, there's a legend people tell of days long ago when the great Scarecrow would ride from the jaws of hell...and laugh with a fiendish yell" 

In 1964, Dr.Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh debuted on The Wonderful World of Color and kiddies all across America and Britain were glued to their television sets to watch the burlap masked avenger of justice ride through Romney Marsh in the dark of night cackling like a banshee. 

The haunting Scarecrow was a folk-hero to the villagers of the sleepy hamlet. They were being grossly overtaxed by King George III and the menfolk were being shanghaied into naval service by press-gangs until whoosh! out of the night rode a savior - a smuggler in fact - named Scarecrow. Robbing from caravans and merchant ships laden with gold en route to the King, the Scarecrow and his henchmen mercilessly pillared their booty to distribute to the poor folk of the parish of Romney Marsh. Only his closet associates Hellspite and The Curlew knew that Scarecrow was in fact Dr. Christopher Syn ( Patrick McGoohan ), the vicar of the local parish. 


Unlike Walt Disney's other television series which spanned across twenty or more 1/2 hour episodes, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was structured more like a mini-series and aired in three 1 hour parts. On December 1963, Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow,  a 98 minute feature film version was released in theaters across the pond and here in the States in 1975 ( yes, there was a 12 year delay ). 

Doctor Syn was originally conceived by Russell Thorndike who wrote the novel on the renegade priest turned pirate in 1915 in a book titled "Dr. Syn: A Tale of Romney Marsh". His character is murdered at the end of this novel but he was resurrected from the dead in 1935 and made the dark hero of in another six books. It was the 1960 novel "Christopher Syn" written by American author William Buchanan that caught the eye of Walt Disney who instantly saw its story potential and cleaned it up a bit for his use on his Wonderful World of Color program. 


Sparing no expense he sent director James Neilson, a camera crew and a top-notch English cast including George Cole, Tony Britton, Kay Walsh, Michael Hordern and Geoffrey Keen to film on location at Romney Marsh, located in the southeast of England in the county of Kent. 


For years The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh has been a very difficult program to come by but recently Walt Disney Studios released a magnificently restored collector's edition to the public apart of the Walt Disney Treasures collection. Chock full of special extras such as a featurette about Dr. Syn's origins, an introduction by Leonard Maltin, and the making of the television series, it is a wonderful addition to any collection but alas.....at it's extortionate price it's a DVD not many can afford.

This post is our contribution to the Swashathon being hosted by Movies Silently. Be sure to check out all the other great posts on your favorite sword-clashing films. 

10 comments:

  1. That costume scared the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid!

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    1. It is frightening...I'm surprised no one in our neighborhood has ever dressed up as the Scarecrow for Halloween!

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  2. Thanks so much for joining in with this intriguing entry. I have been interested in seeing this for a while but, as you say, the price is a bit much.

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    1. Well, if you're willing to sit in front of the computer, the Scarecrow is available to view on Youtube. Thanks for hosting this cutting-edge event!

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  3. This would have been terrific to see as a kid – and as an adult, too. I've never even heard of it, so I was glad to see it in the blogathon. I don't think I'll be shelling out for the DVD, but I might see if our library can track down the novel. Thanks!

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    1. Great idea, Ruth! But ask your librarian for the DVD in addition to the novel. That's how we saw the show. It was shipped to our library from out of state. If you don't feel like sitting through the actual series, watch the film version...it condenses the story quite a bit but retains most of the excitement. Both are on the DVD.

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  4. This was one of my favorite Disney installments and Patrick McGoohan was perfect in the title role. I actually like the movie version better because it moves at a quicker pace. The smugglers' costumes are all great. Hammer Films also made a version of Dr. Syn the same year as Disney. It was called CAPTAIN CLEGG (retitled NIGHT CREATURES in the U.S.) and starred Peter Cushing as the vicar. It's pretty good, too!

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    1. I am amazed at how many devote fans of the Scarecrow there are today. So many people on the internet claim this was their favorite of all the Disney series. He really was a great character, a crime-stopping Batman in 1700s England. I'll have to check out the Hammer version. Thanks for stopping by Rick!

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  5. I was a little kid when this played on Disney and it scared the heck out of me. The Scarecrow turned up in nightmares for years. I was always a little scared of Patrick McGoohan. I'm glad you wrote about this one.

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  6. I was five years old in 1963 and I loved, Loved, LOVED The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh!. I never forgot that theme song, and I still have the accompanying comic book and my own first-grade drawings of the characters.
    Along with Hammer's Night Creatures, there was also a 1937 film version, Doctor Syn, with veteran actor George Arliss in the title role (minus the spooky costume). The Scarecrow also turned up in 2003's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: in a painting of an 1800s version of the League he's seen alongside Natty Bumpo, Lemuel Gulliver, the Scarlet Pimpernel and Fanny Hill.
    Thanks for this five review and for spotlighting one of Disney's best live-action adventure series. Now I think I'll go watch my Disney Treasures DVD...which I wouldn't part with for all the illegal whiskey in England.

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