Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1963)

Starring: Patrick McGoohan, George Cole, Sean Scully, Tony Britton

Plot: In 18th century England, the mysterious masked rider known as the Scarecrow leads a rebel band to save the town of Romney Marsh from the King's oppression and Naval press gangs.

My Review and Thoughts:

Behold a Disney classic. A magical tale that is also much more. The generations that grew up with the magical world of Disney and their television films will be amazed once again with this powerful restoration that yes is hard to find and is expensive also. I was so happy to be able to find this amazing film at Days of the Dead Atlanta Convention.

Truly a Walt Disney treasure from the 196's. A classic in all of the sense of the term classic. This is one of those forgotten little powerful films that's truly hard to get times but is out there for a price this is an extraordinarily talented group of actors and the written persona of the characters through the plot grabs the viewer and entertains them from beginning to end.

I grew up with the wonderful world of Disney on television. Disney used to bring out the movies once a week and it was a truly priceless moment and ordeal for me as I was a movie buff and absolutely love Disney and it was always a treat to watch these films specially with the introduction of Walt Disney. The magical world of Disney gave me countless moments of the childhood films filling me with imagination and an all inspiring love affair for cinema. They gave me the love affair of family oriented films. A love affair for animation and most of all Disney's live-action films such as this one that I am reviewing. There are many versions of this one, but I speak of the original television mini-series version, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh and also the movie theater feature that played on cinemas, Dr. Syn.

I absolutely love this film. It's one of those movies I can watch over and over again and it never gets tiring. That's what happens with a lot of Disney movies is there so spectacular and amazing at times that you end up watching them over and over and over again. Bedknob's and Broomsticks is one my favorite Disney films of all time.  I've probably seen it over 500 times if not more, that's the quality of Disney's storytelling and plot driven films that grabs the inner child and the imaginative mind of the viewer.

This is based on the series of books referring to Christopher Syn which the original beginning of the character was written by Russell Thorndike. Other publications was written by William Buchanan. Interesting and surprisingly to know this was not the first version of the story, there was an original movie in 1937 titled Doctor Syn. Also Hammer Studios created the movie Captain Clegg based on the story staring the one and only masterpiece performer Peter Cushing. This I am reviewing here was created in three parts and before the term miniseries was ever used, this was the miniseries of its time. It was shown in three different spots to complete the product of the film.

This stars one of my favorite all-time actors, the extraordinary one-of-a-kind awesome talented brilliant sophisticated performer Patrick McGoohan. I will always remember him in my second favorite television series of all time the amazing The Prisoner. I recommend you seek out The Prisoner and view it because it's something so odd and hard to explain unless you have seen it. He is always talented at any part he ever did. He had such a way with his performances. He gives a truly mysterious manly man's persona, almost in the lines of a swarthy type of emotions in his acting. What is amazing about McGoohan is he was virtually unknown in America at the time this came out. He had not yet become an actor that Americans knew. One of his most famous roles and the one that would make him a household name Secret Agent had not yet viewed in America. 

The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was re-edited for British theaters as simple titled Dr. Syn. It was a double bill running after Disney's The Sword in the Stone. In the 70's it was re-edited again for American theaters. When the film made it to VHS in the 80's sadly the weird haunting and creepy laugh of the Scarecrow was deleted. Terry Gilkyson's laugh was brilliant in the part and is a pivotal reality to the film.

Now there is a huge debate if Dr. Syn is real or not. Walt Disney believed he was and even on the introduction of the film stated so. There is no defining character in history accept the basis of Thorndikes books. The scarecrow was I suppose actually based on a real time scenario but not any real person. Created as a Robin Hood type of character. A single man that lived by day as a respected person and by night he was a smuggler and fought for the people. Whatever the case the movie and adaptions are truly magical and awesome and amazing for the cinema world. Real or not it makes no difference because the idea, the persona and the history around the character, fake or not is still perfect entertainment and thought provoking viewing for the viewer.

Now legend states the closet basis for the character or at least the idea of Dr. Syn came from Thorndikes own explanation of the character and that was, it was inspired by a murder. He had been traveling and one night outside his window he heard a shot, a scream of murder. He looked out and a dead body in all its murdered gore. From there he and his companion talked through the night and supposedly the character was born as they glanced out the window at the dead body which had stayed in its place throughout the night. Now the character of Dr. Syn would be placed in Thorndikes own land and area Romney Marsh where Thorndike's family home was located. The idea of smuggling was real in the area and so it is stated that subject matter is placed upon the already growing character in Thorndike's imagination.

It took place in the 18th century we're Brandy and tobacco were being smuggling to avoid high taxes. There was many battles fought. There was many groups that were a part of smuggling trade and small gangs. The smuggler and storyline created the character of Dr. Christopher Syn by the novel writer Russell Thorndike. The first book being published 1915.

Now what I love about the story and this movie is Dr. Syn also has companions. Dr. Syn is dressed as a Scarecrow in all its creepy glory. His companion Hellspite is dressed as a somewhat skull face who was played wonderfully by George Cole. Cole was a truly gifted and wonderful talented actor. He is still acting today and is a powerhouse performer in anything he does. He also stared in other Disney adaptions such as The Legend of Young Dick Turpin. His next companion the young one known as Curlew who is basically a swan face or hawk or eagle in mask form. Played by the extraordinary Sean Scully a truly master at acting. He also acted in other Disney's adaptions such as 1962's The Prince and the Pauper. A truly versatile actor gracing motion pictures to television. He crafted a wonderful persona which owned his characters. Many will know him from many popular television series such as 84-85's Sons and Daughters, 86's Prisoner: Cell Block H, 92-93's Phoenix.

All the cast work and play off each other. The chemistry is flawless as each member own and create their own parts. They capture the wonderful feeling and very essence of the part they played. This is one of Disney's darker toned adventures. It's amazing the darker reality to this story. The character came out as your basic hero with a gun and ultimate thief if you will. The story, acting and creation come together and flowed off screen for the viewer in all its wonderful retro glory.

Directed by a wonderful man James Neilson who knew how to control and own a movie and create it for the perfection of fans. He was a powerhouse at television cinema. He directed 36 episodes for the classic 50 series The Ford Television Theater and many Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But what makes him stand out is he was a stable director of The World of Disney TV films capturing his talent in such greats as: Texas John Slaughter series of movies, Zorro films, The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, among many others. He also would direct one on my old retro favorite series Adam-12. He created TV movies and shows all the way up into the early 70's. He had a true talent and he created Dr. Syn with the lens to a historical clarity and amazing, exciting action and dripping with a story that any viewer young and old would take deep inside their minds and let the imagination run rampant.

One thing that stands out above and beyond everything is the Masks and costumes of the show. They are a creepy mix of nightmarish and haunting personas and in reality seem to live their own life. Harry Frampton struggled to create the main Scarecrow mask. He did many makeups but each one seemed to fail. As he struggled he came to the conclusion by taking a simple house hold item, a dish towel. From that moment on a legend was created in the image of the scary, haunting and twisted image of a Scarecrow mask.

The beautiful, creepy stunning three part miniseries/movie is something to behold and own and add in all its wonderful amazing glory to any shelf of movie lovers. A cinematic must own and a cinematic piece of perfect eye candy entertainment of a wonderful story, brilliant acting, extraordinary costumes, actions and cinematography.

I leave you with the ultimate opening theme song:

The Soldiers of the King feared his name
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 (Ahahahahaha!)

With a fiendish yell!”