STUDIO: Walt Disney Home Video
MSRP: $32.99
RATED: Unrated
RUNNING TIME: 4 hours 47 Minutes (total content)
• TV Episodes & Feature film version
• Walt Disney Intros in Widescreen
• “Dr. Syn: The History of the Legend”
Walt Disney: From Burbank To London”
A fawning Leonard Maltin

The Pitch

Robin Hood theme with a Sleepy Hollow aesthetic.

The Humans

Cast: Patrick McGoohan, George Cole, Michael Hordern, Geoffrey Keen, Eric Pohlmann, Sean Scully
Director: James Neilson

“… Speaking of my plans for HEADventureland, someday, my disembodied head will rule from my cryogenic vault within the utopian city of ‘Epcot’. Mwahahaha!”

The Nutshell

Take it away, theme song!

Scarecrow! Scarecrow!
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… with a fiendish yell.
With his clothes all torn and tattered,
Through the black of night he’d ride.
From the marsh to the coast like a demon ghost,
He’d rob the rich then hide,
And he’d laugh… till he split his side.
Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The soldiers of the king feared his name.
Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The country folk all loved him just the same.
He would always help the farmer when there was no gold to bring,
He’d find a way for the poor to pay the taxes of the king,
With gold… from a smugglers ring.
So the king told all his soldiers
“Hang him high or hang him low,
But never return till the day I learn
He rides in the flames below,
Or you’ll hang… with the great scarecrow.”
Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The soldiers of the king feared his name.
Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The country folk all loved him just the same.

He knew the bored locals found his midnight rides rousing, but personally, the chapped Dr. Syn could do without his nightly “Ass VS Saddle” battles.

The Lowdown

During the time of American colony sedition, a reformed pirate-turned-British-countryside-vicar uses smuggling profits to relieve his parish from King George’s oppressive taxation. In the tradition of Zorro (which had also been stamped with the Disney brand at one time), the chaplain has a secret identity. As a masked avenger, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh uses superstition and his wits to elude the authorities and aid the townsfolk of

Nottingham Dymchurch.

This isn’t the first time this story’s been adapted, or even the only adaptation of Russell Thorndyke’s Christopher Syn books during that time. Hammer Films’ Night Creatures AKA Captain Clegg (remake of the 1937 Dr. Syn, without the names, as Disney had the rights), came out in 1962, starring Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. When I discovered this, I cracked open a Hammer set (buy it from CHUD here) I had sitting on my shelf, to explore a different interpretation of the myth and go the extra mile for my Chewer readers. Night Creatures isn’t really horror (as implied), but mostly high-adventurish, like the DVD I’m reviewing here. Comparing the two, the Disney variant is the more heroic presentation of the character, the more politically correct (no “mute mulatto” subplot), more accessible to US audiences (colonial fugitives inserted), and the better designed mythos entry; I dig Dr. Syn & crew’s costumes much more than the scarce Kobra Kai Halloween phantoms in Clegg’s Romney Marsh. The Hammer take is also barren in the memorable theme song department.

Who triumphs in the Dr. Syn VS Capt. Clegg Smackdown?

In Dr. Syn, calm and cunning Patrick McGoohan (The Prisoner, Secret Agent, and of course, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend!!!) disappears into the Scarecrow with a form-fitting mask, tattered threads, croaky voice, and unhinged cackle. He plays both roles expertly and with distinction. The rest of the cast is peppered with other Disney alum who all bring their own charm, flavor, heart, and menace to their respective roles. There aren’t as much swash-buckling stunts in Dr. Syn as I prefer (Hammer’s Creatures delivers some), but there are more than enough mutinies, prison breaks, ambushes, narrow escapes, press gangs, secret trials, ploys, fugitives, and intrigue and espionage to fill a matinee or two in Disney’s 3-parter. I’m glad I fought back my intense curiosity (I wasn’t lucky enough to catch it on TV or 80s VHS) and passed not long ago on acquiring a questionable bootleg, as this Disney vault escapee is thorough and crisp and worth the wait. Ironic how a film release about a reformed pirate stepped in rather timely and rescued me from the temptation of perceived “piracy”? But this set is very limited and soon to be discontinued (if it isn’t already), and will most likely not be regularly released like their popular stuff; so commandeer yourself a copy before the Mouse throws it back into the dungeon for smuggling or sedition.

Walt Disney said, “Books of adventure, suspense and mystery always have a special appeal for me when they’re about real people – or based on the life of a real person.” And I’ll inversely add that good historical fiction is most effective when it spurs you on to uncover the lore behind the yarn, and that’s what the Disney Studios and Disney Home Video have done here. They made me want to crack open a book (or at least surf the web) and learn a thing or two.

“Um… Vicar? When you said my face would look great with a sack on it, what did you… well, whose sack exactly… were you… um…?”

The Package

Packaging: This set is contained in the familiar (and superfluous… I keep mine in the garage) WD Treasures tin and a too-thick case (with awfully stubborn disc grips) for only 2 discs. Collector’s edition packaging is usually extraneous, but in this case, maintains the established silver line look.

Audio/Video: The original serial was filmed in widescreen and then cropped for television in ’63 (Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color) while the combined (and shorter) theatrical release overseas maintained the original ratio, but the film negative was remastered in High-Def and restored here and presented in the wider ratio for both versions in the set. Audiophiles, the original British magnetic sound masters and original music track was also revisited and remixed for dynamic 5.1 surround sound. The mono-aural track was preserved as well for the purists.

Special Features: In addition to both edits of the film, we get the Walt TV intros watchable in WS, some reverent Leonard Maltin insight, and two educational featurettes, illuminating the history behind the film and Disney’s venture into UK film-making.

8.0 out of 10

*Apparently, Patrick McGoohan (3/19/28 -1/13/09) passed away yesterday as I was writing this. Eerie. RIP, McG.

After Maltin was doused with Professor Crane’s fear toxin, he was convinced the world was closing down around him. The film critic/historian was swiftly thrown into Arkham Asylum and, even swifter still, forgotten.