A three part mega-event of the Disneyland television show back in 1963, The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (better known by its video title of Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow) introduced a generation of impressionable youths to the questionable activities and morals of a bootlegger and his highly organized criminal enterprise.
It’s 1700s Britain and the no account marsh people don’t want to pay their taxes so they resort to hijacking various loads of goods and smuggling them here and there for a handsome profit.
The whole operation is organized and run by a dude dressed up like a scarecrow and no one knows who he is except for a few of his closest friends. His voice is from the Devil himself, a guttural sound barking orders and laying out complex schemes to foil the king’s men, but it’s his trademark laugh that instills fear in all those within earshot! Simply put, it’s the laugh of a retarded maniac!
The Scarecrow’s secret identity is the steady and kindly vicar Dr. Syn played by Patrick McGoohan best know for his classic The Prisoner TV show. Dr. Syn spends his days conferring with his second in command, Mips, eavesdropping on government officials to stay a step ahead of the hangman’s noose and helping out the various fugitives who head to the marsh in search of the Scarecrow’s assistance despite the fact that the army has also arrived to bust up the Scarecrow’s operation.
General Pugh is bound and determined to catch the Scarecrow and will stop at nothing to see that it’s done! One of his schemes is the use of dreaded press gangs!
These were thugs whose job was beat up able-bodied men and force them into the Royal Navy! In fact, the press gangs are not unknown to the marsh people as the town squire’s oldest son was kidnapped into the navy years ago!
Dr. Syn holds an impromptu church service as part of a plot to thwart this which just goes to show that religion does have its uses. But one guy manages to get himself caught by the press gang anyway!
And that’s just one of the problems that the Scarecrow has to sort out! There’s also the case of one of his guys turning traitor on him! And who could forget about the American who needs refuge because he’s flapping his blowhole about freedom for the Colonies!
Of course, your heart will really break when the Squire’s long lost son escapes from the navy and comes home while being pursued by the Crown! But then your heart will really, really break when the Squire’s daughter’s love for one of General Pugh’s men is in jeopardy because the Squire thinks the guy is just a gold digger with no sense of right and wrong!
And is there anyway out of any of this when the American and the Squire’s son are captured, hauled off to a dungeon, and tortured in an effort to give up Dr. Syn and all the rest? Is there no one that can set all of this right? (And still find time to smuggle stolen crap?)
“Scarecrow! Scarecrow! The soldiers of the King feared his name!” Let me tell you something pardner. If you hear the Scarecrow’s theme song and you aren’t ready to put a pillow case over your head, mount up your steed and go riding off into the murky night to help him roll barrels of expensive brandy around, you aren’t fit to watch this show! Or even be alive! In fact, your mama probably had a moral obligation to abort your frigging ass!
This movie is two-plus hours of derring-do, close shaves, and double-crosses that never let up! There’s secret passages, hideouts, edge of your seat escape plans, and even two court trials!
One trial involves Dr. Syn helpfully pointing out a bit of information that screws up the prosecutor’s case against one of his men. And he does this even though he tells everyone that the Scarecrow has threatened him if he speaks out! Later on, the Scarecrow holds a trial against the same guy he just got off and finds him guilty! This Scarecrow guy is operating on some level you and I can’t even comprehend!
Frankly, when it was all over, I was sort of feeling sorry for General Pugh. That dude is just a man, not the physical embodiment of the all-knowing cosmic intelligence that the Scarecrow is!
Disney was obviously trying to downplay the whole “booze thief” aspect of things since much of our time is devoted to hiding and rescuing wrongly imprisoned guys.
What about the other victims of wrongdoing though? What about those guys who were expecting their shipment of expensive liquor? Who speaks for them? Where are the movies detailing their plight? Somewhere, some thirsty guy is having to make do with less expensive hooch, all because the Scarecrow cares more about the lazy marsh people than functional alcoholics!
If you parents don’t have a problem with your kids idolizing an 18th century gangbanger like Scarecrow, I’m sure you’ll enjoy forcing them to relive your childhood memories with you. They probably won’t love it like we did, since the British accents can be a bit thick and there’s old guys in powdered wigs making snooty comments to one another about taxes and selling sheep, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you aren’t besieged by requests to make Scarecrow costumes for them.
Dr. Syn also dressed up as the leader of the press gang where he wore a sailor outfit, an eye patch and had a dirty face, but I don’t expect that to be as popular with the kids since it looked he was headed to a Halloween party at a gay bar.
Simply put, more freaking awesome than I even remembered! A pinnacle of live action Disney that easily ranks with the likes of adventures like Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Swiss Family Robinson.
© 2013 MonsterHunter
One thought on “Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow (1963)”
I named a favorite cat ‘Mips” recalling both this film, and the “millions of instructions per second” acronym long relegated to historic oblivion.
Thanks for the excellent plot summary.