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

    Anyone who was glued to their TV sets in 1964 to watch the continuing adventures and heroic exploits of Dr. Syn on the Disney anthology seriesThe Wonderful World of Color, should feel a shiver of excitement that goes beyond mere nostalgia at hearing this theme song again. Old-fashioned to be sure, but The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh is still a ripping yarn and rousing family entertainment with its unforgettable hero, despicable villain, galloping chases and breathless escapes.

    “On the southern coast of England / There is 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…”

    dr syn
    Retouched artwork by Scott Dutton

    Grandly produced in England, this three-part miniseries is “a story of high adventure and heart,” as Walt Disney states in his folksy and avuncular episode introductions. Patrick McGoohan (known at the time for his iconic role as John Drake on Danger Man) stars as Dr. Syn, who leads a double life as a mild-mannered village vicar by day, and a fearsome avenger known as the Scarecrow by night. The haunting burlap-masked Scarecrow is a folk hero to the villagers, who are overtaxed by King George III and brutalized by his press gangs, who violently shanghai men into Navy service. Only two know the Scarecrow’s true identity, his sexton Mipps (George Cole), and the local Justice of the Peace’s son, John (Sean Scully, from Disney’s The Prince and the Pauper). There is a love story between John’s older sister and conflicted and compassionate English soldier Lt. Brackenbury (Eric Flynn), but it doesn’t slow things down or get too yucky.

    dr syn art
    Retouched artwork by Scott Dutton

    Over the course of three near-hour-long episodes, the Scarecrow foils attempts by his nemesis, General Pugh (Geoffrey Keen) to capture him or intimidate villagers into giving him up. Leonard Maltin does his usual sterling job as an enthusiastic host, who introduces the series, reflects on its place in the Disney canon, and credits the restoration efforts that made this pristine presentation possible. This two-disc set presents the miniseries as it originally aired, and also includes the widescreen feature film version that was released overseas.

    Disc one contains an interesting feature about Dr. Syn’s historical and literary origins.

    Disc two features a segment about the British films that launched Disney’s live-action feature film career. This welcome addition to the Walt Disney Treasures line does full justice to one of Disney’s most wanted titles. 

    Tony M.