Sunday, April 28, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Great story brought to life by great acting and visuals.
Cons: Limited edition set sold out quickly.
The Bottom Line:
Disney on TV
Another fun adventure
Well worth tracking down

Dr. Syn Helps Romney Marsh with his Alias, The Scarecrow

Despite being a Disney fanatic, there are many of this films and TV shows I have never seen.  One that friends raved about was Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow.  Even though I knew nothing about it, I jumped when Disney finally released this story on DVD in the two disc Walt Disney Treasures set called Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh.  I really enjoyed it.

The story of Dr. Syn (Patrick McGoohan) originally appeared on three episodes of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color TV program in 1964.  Disc one collects them for us.

He is the respected priest of the Romney Marsh area of Southern England during the rule of King George III (you know, the king during the American Revolution).  But at night, he is The Scarecrow, the leaders of a gang of smugglers who attempt to skirt the king's high tariffs and split the money so they can pay their local taxes.

Of course, the king doesn't take it lying down.  He sends General Pugh (Geoffrey Keen) to try to bring The Scarecrow to justice.  He tries to use navy conscription and a traitor to do it.  But when a deserter shows up, will that finally be Dr. Syn's undoing?

The second disc features the theatrical version of the story.  Basically, it takes a little bit from the first episode and combines it with all of the second and third episode.  There is really nothing on the second disc you didn't see on the first, so for the first time I almost feel like the second disc wasn't needed.  Of course, if the feature film is the version you are most familiar with, I can understand why you would want it in a complete set.

Yes, there is a certain Robin Hoodesque plot to the story, but it really is only superficial.  In fact, I would liken it more to our modern superhero stories.  Dr. Syn goes out of his way to keep his identity as The Scarecrow a secret.  Only two people know of his dual identity, his rector Mr. Mipps (George Cole) and the young teen John Banks (Sean Scully).  Of course, John allows the story to become accessible to the kids who have watched the story over the years.

This really is three distinct stories with the same characters.  It works perfectly for the TV version with each one having a separate plot and exciting climax.  Watching Dr. Syn puzzle his way out of all three predicaments is rather exciting.  I actually watched the movie on the second disc first and found the break in the stories a bit disconcerting.  Frankly, it's another reason I probably won't watch the movie again.

But I will certainly watch these TV shows again.  The stories advance forward quickly.  And there is something appealing about the three main characters.  And the villain?  You love to hate him.

Helping things out tremendously are the actors.  Disney never settled for less then the best, and it shows here.  Even though I had never heard of any of them before, there is not one weak performance in the bunch.

And the production values continue with the look.  Filmed in England (probably one reason I am not familiar with the actors), this film takes full advantage by filming in the real Romney Marsh area as much as possible.  It was filmed in color and looks fantastic.

As if I can't praise it enough, I do need to talk about the set itself.  For those who waited for the character to come to DVD, the wait was worth it.  Every second of film was carefully restored to its original perfection.  While the night scenes (filmed during the day and darkened) look a little off, the day light and interior scenes are wonderful.  The material is shown in its original widescreen format.  Sound defaults to the original stereo recordings, but there is also a full surround mix that sounds wonderful.  And all these technical specifications apply to both discs.

Plus there are the bonus features.  The first disc contains a documentary on the character of Dr. Syn, including his origins (he's really about 100 years old) and his various film incarnations.  The second disc contains another 15 minute documentary on Disney's filming in England.  The weirdest extra is the introductions to the TV episodes in widescreen.  Each of the three TV episodes originally contained an intro and outro with Walt Disney himself.  During the restoration, they discovered they had been filmed in widescreen.  They restored those and stuck them here as a bonus.  What's weird is that each of the episodes contains the intro and outro, but in the full frame they were originally broadcast.  If they had the widescreen, why not just put it in the disc?

Unfortunately, it looks like Disney has underestimated the popularity of Dr. Syn.  The Disney Treasures set appears to already be sold out.

While not super well known today, Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh deserves to be.  This is a fun adventure story told with great acting and visuals.  I will enjoy this set for some time.

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