Entertainment :: Television

Walt Disney Treasures :: Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

by Howie Green
Contributor
Saturday Nov 22, 2008
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The Scarecrow rides again! And he does not disappoint!

When the Disney Comics monthly kid’s magazine began running cartoon adventures of "The Scarecrow" of Romney Marsh a few years ago I hoped that it indicated that we might all once again enjoy the adventures of this long lost Disney classic movie adventure tale. And, at last, it has arrived, fully restored in glorious color with an introduction by film historian Leonard Maltin. This movie production had a very brief VHS tape release in the early 1980s and then disappeared to become a treasured collectible that has regularly sold for big bucks on eBay and Amazon.

This 1964 Disney English production was originally aired on American TV as a 3-part mini series and then released in Europe as a theatrical movie. Both versions are included in this two-disc box set along with a short making-of featurette and Walt Disney’s original introductions to each episode in wide screen. The set comes in a metal collector box and is part of the Disney Treasures series of DVD releases.

The story is based on the books of Russell Thorndyke who lived in the Romney Marsh area that is located in England’s southeast corner near the White Cliffs of Dover. Due to it’s proximity to France the area was home to a bustling smuggler’s trade in the mid-1700s and gave rise to many tales and legends. Thorndyke created a series of books based on the Scarecrow character who is actually the infamous retired pirate Capt. Clegg who is masquerading as Dr. Syn the respectable vicar of the town of Dymchurch.

This was McGoohan first big starring role 2 years before he bacame a sensation on TV in The Prisoner

Leading a triple life the Scarecrow intimidates the local townsfolk and is able to set up a very successful smuggling trade. In the books the character is of dubious morality but in the Disney version he’s more of an updated Robin Hood type hero who uses the profits from his smuggling operations to help the locals pay the crippling taxes imposed upon them by good old King George. If Washington, Jefferson and those other troublemakers in the American colonies thought things were bad for them (and they were) the situation for the Kings subjects back at home were even worse. Between the heavy taxes and naval press gangs roaming the countryside looking to grab any able body male for the King’s navy life in Romeny Marsh was not easy and the townsfolk welcomed the Scarecrow even as they feared him.

This production was originally aired in the U.S. as a 3-part mini series in 1964 on TV in Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color sereies. The two version of the movie production in this set are both worth watching. The theatrical version is almost half as long as the full three television episodes and moves quickly through the action packed adventure, but loses a lot of the back story. The full length TV versions are the biggest bang for the buck with Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner) in his first international starring role as Dr. Syn with Sean Scully as his young assistant and many well known English actors including Michael Horton and George Cole and Tony Britton.

It is interesting to note that the reason the movie was filmed in England is because after World War II the English government forbid Disney (and any other company) from taking any of the money they made in the U.K. out of the country. From the profits garnered in England Disney had a nice bucket of money to draw from and state-of-the-art production facilities in London that could be rented to make movies. Able to pick from the cream of the English acting community for casting Disney went on to produce a long and successful series of movies in England that included "Mary Poppins" and "The Scarecrow" among many others.

"The Scarecrow" is one of Disney’s very best TV productions and this DVD release is a great presentation of a rollicking swashbuckling adventure tale that is even better than I remembered it.

- Walt Disney original TV introductions in wide screen format
- Introductions from filim historian Leonard Maltin
- Making-of feature with interviews including Patrick McGoohan

Howie Green is a Boston-based artist and painter whose portrait of rapper Biggie Smalls appears on the album "Incredible". He is winner of Absolut Vodka’s 25th Anniversary art competition and he painted 3 of the cows in the Boston Cow Parade. He recently painted a series of Pop Art Murals at the Dimock Center in Boston, MA and completed large art and mural installations in Delray Beach and Jacksonville, FL. He also recently painted the front entrance to Boston City Hall. His a multi-media designer and author of several books including "Jazz Fish Zen: Adventures in Mamboland" - and he once sang back-up for the opening act at a Shaun Cassidy concert in Madison Square Garden.

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