The Screening Room
THE STUDIO GATE
"Dr Syn: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" is quite a nice surprise. I
heard about it in Leonard Maltin's "The Disney Films" book, but I'd
never seen it.
The original television episodes are now on DVD.
For what was considered a fairly small studio, and a studio outside the
Hollywood mainstream lead by majors like MGM and 20th Century Fox, the
Walt Disney Studios produced an amazing amount of filmed entertainment
in the 1950s and 1960s. Not only was the studio still producing feature
animation and live-action features, it was churning out weekly
television entertainment with quality results. One of these television
shows, or what could be considered an early mini-series, "Dr. Syn: The
Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" aired in 1964 as a part of "Walt Disney's
Wonderful World of Color."
Starring Patrick McGoohan as Dr. Christopher Syn/The Scarecrow, the
episodes are a bit of fun. Done Disney's style of the day, the show has
all the adventure of Disney's offerings like "Davy Crockett" and
"Zorro." As Dr. Syn, he's a mild mannered and respectable priest by day.
And just like Batman, he's crime fighter by night. He wears the mask of
a scarecrow and deepens his voice so that his enemies won't know who he
The tale is essentially about a Revolutionary era Robin Hood. The story
was based on "Christopher Syn" by Russell Thorndike and William
Buchanan. This was based on a true-life hero. Taxation and poverty,
according to the introduction by Walt Disney, was hurting the people of
England. The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh wasn't afraid of the King's Men
and took them on.
The production has a surprising amount of action. This isn't action
that's bloody or terribly violent like today's normal TV programming. It
was perfectly suitable for most children back in the early '60s, so it's
probably considered safe today. The episodes are nicely paced and hold
one's interest. You don't have to be a child of the early '60s to enjoy
this. The opening theme is reminiscent of "Davy Crockett," but it's
catchy. The acting by Patrick McGoohan is spot on. He takes command of
the roles of Dr. Syn and the Scarecrow with vigor.
The show was produced with high quality. The costumes, sets and
cinematography are exemplary. Of note, the show was shot in a 1.66:1
aspect ratio, which was the European so-called standard for some
widescreen exhibition (in the United States the equivalent would be the
1.85:1 aspect ratio). Disney took some of its television shows and
released them overseas in the theaters. Included on Disc 1 for techie
geeks like me is the Walt Disney opening monologue in widescreen.
Disney has gone and apparently restored the film's visual and sound
elements. The film has been mastered in high definition and it looks
wonderful. The elements are very filmic and natural. Much of the footage
was shot day-for-night, meaning filters were used during daytime filming
to simulate night. The look is actually good and doesn't lessen the
believability of the show.
The sound has been remixed and restored and the results are very good.
The audio team re-mixed the movies in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound.
I preferred the original mono soundtrack. Not only is it more faithful
to the show and how the film was exhibited, it has a much fuller sound
quality than the 5.1 mix. It sounds as though the music tracks were
re-mixed in stereo, then folded down to mono. Either way, the Disney sound
team did the re-mix, it sounds good.
"Dr. Syn" surprised me with its adventurous storyline and nicely paced
sequences. As a part of the "Walt Disney Treasures" series, this is a
worthy edition that should find itself on any Disney fan's DVD shelf.
Special thanks to Click Communications
Photos: © BVHE. All rights reserved.
DVD Quick Glimpse
An usual mini-series from Disney that's filled
Director: James Neilson
Cast: Patrick McGoohan, George Cole, Tony
Original episodes, plus the feature film version
Sound: Very Good
Many may remember actor McGoohan from the show,
Aspect Ratio (1.33:1)
Aspect Ratio (1.66:1)
Dolby Digital 2.0
Dolby Digital 5.1 (348kbps)
DVD RELEASE DATE
November 11, 2008