There was a little shouting around these parts a couple of months ago, the sort of all capital letters bellowing in which one engages when a lost media treasure shows up unexpectedly. Here, it was the thunderous revelation that Disney had released a no-frills but very nice collection of something I’ve wanted to see for more than thirty years: The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh. I read about it in that great, great old book of classic television Harry and Wally’s Favorite TV Shows, and only seen a clip and some pictures. In a truncated movie version, it showed in British movie theaters at Christmas 1963, and showed up in full form across three episodes of Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in February 1964, meaning Patrick McGoohan made it in between the half hour run and the hour-long seasons of Danger Man.
So there it was, sitting in Disney’s subscription Movie Club, on Blu-ray since late 2019. They don’t draw much attention to these things, do they? Also on Blu-ray exclusive to this club, by the way, are a whole pile of good old live action films that we’ve watched for these pages: Return to Oz, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the only Witch Mountain movies that matter, Watcher in the Woods, even The Black Hole, which isn’t worth my dollars to upgrade, but the others certainly are. You may balk at joining a subscription club, but honestly, anybody who can’t get their money’s worth out of this thing isn’t trying very hard.
So anyway, a paycheck later – okay, not that much – I finally had this, along with all these long-sought treasures, which, back in 2018, I wrote about, figuring I’d have to resort to a bootleg to ever see it. Delightful timing. I made room on the schedule to watch it this month, and tonight, I enjoyed every minute of it. Patrick McGoohan plays the mild-mannered vicar Dr. Syn, who is, by night, the Robin Hood of the Dover Coasts. George Cole is his assistant, Jill Curzon has a tiny role, and Geoffrey Keen is the general who has been commanded by the king to bring in this smuggler by any means necessary. In episode one, he brings a Naval press gang to the area to round up all able-bodied men until someone confesses who is really running this smuggling ring.
I’ve said for years that Disney’s been foolish leaving money on the table by not making this more available, and now that I’ve seen part one, I stand by that. This is really, really good stuff. It’s fairly bloodless, with guns shot out of hands and blows thrown out of shot, but it’s exciting and intelligent. The general is ruthless but not dumb, and nothing’s played for laughs. Admittedly I watch a lot of old teevee, but this felt quite timeless, honestly. A remake’s director could film this script again tomorrow and not need to change very much. There’s perhaps more music than a modern production might employ, but you can hear Thurl Ravenscroft in the theme tune, and that’s never a bad thing.
Actually, while nothing is played for laughs, there is a knee-slapper at the beginning. Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was hosted by Unca Walt himself, who gave a little introduction to whatever the program was showing in any given week. This time, Walt bafflingly told audiences that the Scarecrow, Dr. Syn, was a real historical person, and that the locals still talk about him. I guess nobody told him that this is a fictional character who was created just fifty years previously. Thanks for green-lighting this great show, Walt, but we’ll skip what you have to say tomorrow evening, okay?