One of the newest additions to the Walt Disney Treasuries, “Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” is, as Leonard Maltin informs us, “One of the most requested titles from the Disney library for a number of years.” Leonard Maltin introduces the serial and offers several interesting facts about the set and the restoration involved. Two versions of the series are available in this DVD release: the serial just as it aired on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” in 1964, and the original production that was shot in widescreen (which of course was cropped in 1964 for television sets). The original negative was mastered in high definition and returned to the original sound masters and the original music track to remix the elements for 5.1 surround sound. You have the option of watching the serial in 5.1 surround or the restored mono version that originally aired in 1964.
There are three parts to “Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” and each has an introduction from Walt Disney discussing author Russell Thorndike’s stories of Dr. Syn and the story itself. It’s always nice when the introductions are included because they add to element of storytelling Disney always aims for, that feeling of sitting around listening to your grandparents preparing you for what will be a wonderful adventure through words and images.
“Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romaney Marsh” is an adventure, indeed. A theme song by Terry Gilkyson (“The Bare Necessities”) sets up the serial that opens with the Scarecrow (Patrick McGoohan)ordering several men to load stolen goods into horse and carriages. You half expect this masked man is up to no good since his mask (which is really more like a bag over his head with crooked stitching) is somewhat scary and off-putting. His look live up to his name, as he looks just like a scarecrow down to the straw hair and hat, but there’s something different about this scarecrow and soon you’re let in on his big secret. By night, this man rides as Scarecrow, a traitor to the king, but a hero to the people. By day, the Scarecrow is none other than Dr. Syn, the vicar at the local Dymchurch where his patrons are forced to fight for the Royal Navy and required to pay a ridiculous amount of taxes.
Being the shoulder on which to lay their burdens, Dr. Syn feels for his patrons position and sets out at night to fight the King’s navy and to steal goods and give them to the less fortunate. Sound like “Robin Hood”, well it’s kind-of like that, only less visionary. But what’s different about Dr. Syn/Scarecrow is his Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde personality that keeps you wondering if he’s really as “gentle as a dove” or the havoc reeking night-man the King wants stopped.
The three part serial does a fantastic job of creating tension and conflict out of a familiar story. Scarecrow has two men, The Curlew (Sean Scully) and Hellspite (George Cole)who know his true identity help him during the night. “Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh” keeps your interest by introducing other characters for Dr. Syn/Scarecrow to do. Several people need rescuing, the bad guys are determined to catch Scarecrow at any and all costs, and there’s even love professed between two people from opposite sides of the battle in this Disney favorite. Part of what makes “Dr Syn” so fantastic is McGoohan as the lead. His portrayal of a man whose way of life conflicts and yet somehow harmoniously balances itself is entertaining to watch and constantly refreshing.
While the story and production feels dated, it’s part of the charm of this serial, after all, it creates an element of storytelling that is often found in great adventure classics that you long to read over and over again, stories packed with words like “Swashbuckling” and actions as daring and as heroic as taking on the Royal Navy in order to bring some bit of happiness to the people. The Disney Treasures sets are offered in a limited run of 39,500 each - a numbered certificate of authenticity is included inside the set itself. As with the other sets, these make terrific Christmas gifts and are certainly something the whole family can enjoy.
VIDEO: The show is presented in 1.66:1 full-frame by Disney and looks mostly terrific, as while the image doesn't appear crystal clear, it does look smooth and reasonably detailed, even in the show's many dimly-lit moments. A few specks and marks are seen on the print used, but the majority of the show looks surprisingly clean and fresh. Overall, this was an excellent presentation of the show that will likely delight fans.
SOUND: The Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation offers rather good audio quality (given the age of the series.) Understandably, there is limited surround activity. Thankfully, the studio has also included the original mono soundtrack, as well.
“Walt Disney TV Introductions In Widescreen”
While the original cropped versions of Disney’s introductions accompany part I, II and II, this bonus feature allows you to see the widescreen versions that never made it on television. Though not particularly interesting since you can watch the introductions along with the serials, it’s nice for fans who want a glimpse at Walt Disney’s office in widescreen.
“Dr. Syn: The History of the Legend”
This wonderful documentary takes a look at the origination of Dr. Syn and the books by Russell Thorndike. The story behind Thorndike’s creation of Dr. Syn is actually quite interesting and offers several historical reference points that will appeal to fans. The feature follows the publication of Thorndike’s novels, to the films made from his books, and finally to Disney taking an interest in the story that ultimately became “Dr. Syn: The History of the Legend.” It’s interesting to learn about the changes Disney made to Thorndike’s story and to understand the reason why. Overall this is a fantastic documentary that offers lots of information about the actors, the locations (which are pretty incredible), the theme song, the original story and the new. Worth a look for fans.
Disc Two presents “Dr. Syn: Alias the Scarecrow,” the feature film that aired on television and in theaters years after its serial release. “Dr. Syn: Alias the Scarecrow” is a feature length version of the serial. It, too, is introduced by Leonard Maltin who shares how the feature was also restored and that if you hadn’t seen the three part serial you might not know something was missing (he does say the three part serial is richer experience). Fans will enjoy the ability to compare the two versions, especially if they’ve only seen one. A nice edition from the vault.
“Walt Disney: From Burbank to London”
An interesting look at Walt Disney’s dream of one day becoming a live-action filmmaker, only to have to return to making animated films (that ultimately turned out well). This feature is full of interviews from historians who piece together Disney’s quest to ultimately make live-action films. From making “Treasure Island” that started his live-action career, to his growth as a live-action storyteller, “Walt Disney: From Burbank to London” is a fascinating bonus feature. With archive photos, footage, production design (especially interesting is the blending of live-action with drawings), as well as in depth interviews, this is definitely worth a look.
Final Thoughts: Disney has provided a terrific presentation of the series, with very good audio/video quality, as well as a fine supply of supplemental features. Recommended.