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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > Action > British > Walt Disney Treasures: Dr. Syn – The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (Collector’s Tin DVD Set)

Walt Disney Treasures: Dr. Syn – The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (Collector’s Tin DVD Set)


Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: B-     Episodes: B+



The character of Dr. Syn got his start in a series of heroic smuggler novels by the insanely popular Russell Thorndike in the early 20th Century.  The novels chronicled Dr. Christopher Syn of Queen’s College, Oxford England as he sets out on a quest for revenge against a man (a former best friend) who had seduced and eloped with his beautiful Spanish fiancé.  The swashbuckling tale (spun throughout a number of novels) starts out as one of Dr. Syn terrorizing his former best friend and stolen fiancé as they travel across the land, but soon spins out of control as Dr. Syn is thrown headfirst into the life of a Pirate Captain.  Thorndike wrote a total of seven Doctor Syn novels from 1915 to 1944 and in turn his literary vision inspired a number of others to put their own spin on his original works.  In 1960, William Buchanan took the character of Dr. Syn as he was portrayed in the 4th Thorndike novel, The Further Adventures of Doctor Syn (1936), and rewrote the novel with different names for supporting characters and a revamped conclusion; this was the inspiration for the 1963 Disney miniseries Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh.


The Dr. Syn miniseries was broken into three parts (The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh: Parts 1-3) with each airing a week apart in February of 1964.  Patrick McGoohan stars as Dr. Syn a suave smuggler who helps transport smuggled and stolen goods into the small town of Dymchurch after the King of England had levied heavy taxes upon his citizens.  The tale is heavily reminiscent of Zorro or Robin Hood (both Disney favorites) as Dr. Syn (who hides his identity with a Scarecrow mask) robs from the rich to feed the poor.  Dr. Syn, though he has a band of smugglers, only trusts his secret identity to two men; Mr. Mipps (George Cole) and John Banks (Sean Scully) who is the son of the Squire of Dymchurch.  Eventually the King dispatches a hoard of soldiers to squash the Scarecrow problem with General Pugh (Geoffrey Keen) leading the way.  At any cost General Pugh is determined to destroy the problematic Scarecrow; even if that means terrorizing the town folk.  The cunning and sly Scarecrow is always one step ahead of the tyrannical General and his army, just barely slipping out of harms way.


The miniseries was very popular in America in 1964 and many people still hold fond memories of the Robin Hood like Scarecrow; who stood for justice and life in a time of unjust taxation.  Dr. Syn’s memorable popularity is even more evident with this particular Disney Treasures release, with sets selling out everywhere; especially in England where the set is nearly impossible to find as television aficionados scramble to get their hands on that elusive Dr. Syn.  Many casual viewers’ argue whether Dr. Syn was a feature film or a television series; well the answer is both.  Dr. Syn did appear in 1964 (as previously mentioned) on Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, but had first surfaced in theaters in England a half year earlier where all three episodes were condensed into a single film; an abbreviated version of the film also came to theaters in America in the 1970’s.


Though most of the 1960’s Wonderful World of Disney television series elicit ideas of overly family friendly vibes, Dr. Syn has a quite different atmosphere.  It is darker, it is more complex, and it allowed Disney to step out of its normal formula of totally wholesome and explores a grittier side.  Both the theatrical cut and 3 separate television episode versions of Dr. Syn are available on this set; but they are noticeably different.  The film version moves along at a fast pace, ending up being about 90 minutes long; whereas the original television miniseries has each episode at approximately 50 minutes each.  Though many things such as credits, opening sequences, and cliffhangers can be omitted without issue from the television versions; the brief 90 minute theatrical cut does not hold the same level of excellence as the miniseries, as it is overly edited and excludes a fair bit of crucial and entertaining details.  To get the complete experience this reviewer most definitely recommends the television cut of the Dr. Syn series.


Amazingly over 45 years after the production of the Dr. Syn miniseries the picture and sound presented on this set (with obvious restoration efforts from Disney) are extraordinary.  The picture is presented in its original 1.33 X 1 full screen and has been restored from the original film negatives.  The picture’s colors are bright but also have a grittiness that gives the picture quality depth and heart.  The sound is a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo that is not the best DVD sound this reviewer has ever heard, but for the film’s age the quality is above and beyond what would ever be expected.  A 5.1 Dolby mix is also included, thanks to the magnetic soundmasters surviving.


The extras are headed by Disney archivist and charming film connoisseur Leonard Maltin who does an excellent job of introducing both the theatrical and television versions of Dr. Syn.  Also available as bonus features are the original television intros from Mr. Walt Disney himself and two special featurettes.  Each featurette has its own historical charm with the first featurette giving a lessen on how Disney decided to make some of their live action tele-films in London with “From Burbank to London” and the second featurette “Dr Syn: The History of the Legend” gives a very brief but organized look into the good doctor’s literary origins all the way up to the production of the films by Disney.


This set immediately sold out in England and is becoming scarce elsewhere, in part because McGoohan fans (not only of his work as John Drake in the Danger Man and Secret Agent TV shows, but because of the classic The Prisoner, all reviewed elsewhere on this site) waited long and hard for a very long time for this great material to finally be restored and reissued.  The color here is up to the recently restored Prisoner reissue set and serious fans should not hesitate on that level.


This set is excellent, though kids of today may not appreciate it as much as kids 40 years ago did.  The over exhilarating effects of such films as Pirates of the Caribbean have put a damper on children’s (and my) attention spans, but this set is a work of art.  It has all the makings of a solid classic film with a literary backbone.  It is fun, entertaining, and brought a depth to Disney Studios that have not been seen before.



-   Michael P. Dougherty II


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