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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

What's Rarest Of Disney Treasures?


When 39,500 Scarecrows Weren't Enough


Willingness to pay $250 and up for a DVD must mean you want it very bad. One that goes that high, and often, is Dr. Syn: The Scarecrow Of Romney Marsh, a Walt Disney production done in England and released theatrically there in December 1963. From that 90 minute acorn came fuller growth of three episodes shown through February 1964 on NBC and Disney's The Wonderful World Of Color, a Sunday night ritual for tens of millions of viewers, this a larger audience than for any WD feature during the 60's where admission was charged. Was there a modern-day cult for Dr. Syn aka Scarecrow? One could but guess before Disney issued its Limited Edition DVD (part of the Treasures series) in November 2008. 39,500 units were pressed, then sold out within three weeks of release. Snooze and lose was lesson learned hard as Christmas buyers for that year came away with empty socks. It became known that Disney had done its smallest Treasures run so far with Dr. Syn, this after they spent a pile restoring the shows (and feature version) for DVD.


Fans frustrated by the shortfall went online to vent: 177 comments so far at Amazon's Dr. Syn page where "only 2" discs are left in stock, each with  sticker of $349.95. I went to Ebay from curiosity to see what folks are actually paying ... seems several are willing to part with $250 on Buy-It-Now basis, while bids routinely go that high when ones come up for auction. DVD format has been around so short a time as to make it seem incredible (at least to me) that certain discs could become so rare, if unattainable, but consider fact that other Walt Disney Treasure sets, with tin containers each numbered, command prices approaching Dr. Syn (The Chronological Donald: Volume Four and Zorro: Season One and Two, for instance). Disney's apparent disinterest in re-pressing the discs have sent fans into paroxysms of rage, enough to raise legitimate question of, What was so great about Dr. Syn to begin with?


I never caught the Scarecrow's act on NBC, even though it first-ran over weeks before, and after, I'd turn ten. Chances are I tuned in, as was routinely the case, to watch World Of Color's dynamic opening (in B/W, alas), then Walt's intro, followed by flake-out when his show failed to engage. I'd been hooked by previous Prince and The Pauper in three parts (3/62), and would be again when The Fighting Prince Of Donegal came to primetime. These are the ones I'd be more inclined to revisit, to satisfy sentiment if not to be perhaps let down after fifty odd years. To Dr. Syn I came with objective but open mind, having pre-ordered the DVD back in '08, but not breaking its seal until alert to how coveted it's become. How does Dr. Syn play minus buffer of nostalgia? ... that is, without waft of footie pajamas and cinnamon toast as accompany? I got through one and a half of the episodes, so far, plus main titles of the feature version (which Disney actually released to US theatres in 1975), and extras that expanded on Dr. Syn's literary background and Disney UK ventures from 1950 onward.


The title character is an outlaw, but as Walt assures us in all three intros, he steals from the rich to help the needy, and his crimes never involve killing or even violence beyond an occasional sock to the jaw. Shots are fired, but no one's ever hit, other than redcoats having pistols shot from a threatening hand, the Scarecrow utilizing same benign method to disarm opponents as Roy Rogers and other white-hats that played to kid attendance. There is endless eavesdrop at doors and "outwit" of villainy by a hero who rides to backdrop of a theme song that plays in entirety with begin of all three segments. What all this amounts to is rather bloodless "high adventure" (as in not one drop) and strictest adherence to code of Disney conduct. What works is production polish way beyond level to which mid-60's TV viewers were accustomed. Shooting in England meant dollars went further, and for such outlay, plus rich locations used, Disney could make three-parts on the tube into a real event, at least for youngsters filling last idle hours before starting another week of school.


A surprise that came of Disney's restoration: Dr. Syn was shot in 1.65 widescreen format, and the DVD presents it that way, adding class to what was already there a half-century ago. Brilliance of Disney was how they could make a Dr. Syn pay and keep on paying, via broadcast and repeat of same, a comic book, nay a series of those, plus records both single and LP, even an 8mm release of highlights from the show. No wonder Dr. Syn stayed in consciousness of that generation coming up through the 60's. There was VHS made available in the 80's, these still in demand thanks to scarcity of the DVD. Disney had by time of Dr. Syn built limitless levels of revenue raising for whatever entertainment they produced. For their comparatively modest invest toward Dr. Syn, I'd love to know what dizzying profit it has generated over a past fifty years. Advice to Disney: Press another 100,000 or so of the DVD while its most eager fan base is still ambulatory enough to go out and buy.

http://www.amazon.com/Showmen-Sell-Hot-Merchandise-Hollywood/dp/0971168598/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1404298751&sr=1-1&keywords=showmen+sell+it+hot

9 Comments:

Blogger Britt Reid said...

Disney was looking for another period hero franchise after the successes of Zorro and Davy Crockett.
Of all the "second-generation" attempts like Texas John Slaughter, Swamp Fox, and Elfego Baca, Dr Syn (though it had fewer episodes than most of the others) remains the most memorable due to the catchy theme song and Patrick McGoohan's magnetic performance.

10:37 AM  
Blogger vwstieber said...

And then there is Hammer's NIGHT CREATURES...a fine, briskly paced actioneer starring the inimitable Peter Cushing. Among Hammer's swashbucklers, I'd rank it one of the best. Thankfully it's more obtainable than DR. SYN (Disney should take note of the demand).

Perhaps it's time for a remake?

2:42 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Let me tell you, as someone who watched the original "Scarecrow" airing -- that show had almost as much of an impact on my siblings and me as did the Beatles on Ed Sullivan the same month. (Thank God Disney aired at 7 and Sullivan at 8!) We went so far as to record the theme song on our old reel-to-reel.

I never forgot "Scarecrow" and put an early order in on Amazon when it became available. I then ran it for my wife and daughter (then 12 years old) on three consecutive Sundays -- including the credits and Disney's intro -- and let me tell you they loved it as much as I did in '64. It's probably the classiest-looking live-action feature Disney ever made, and McGoohan is brilliant.

The only problem I have with it is that one scene in part 1 is repeated in part 3 for no good reason. But the rest -- total classic.

3:03 PM  
Blogger Mikeymort said...

This was the last television program I watched before my army officer father was sent to France, where we didn't even have a television set. My memories of this show are that we watched it together as a family,and the scarecrow galloping on his horse. Since that time, I've learned to admire the acting of Patrick McGoohan,and would love to see this on an affordable DVD or Blu-ray.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Lou Lumenick said...

Not too shabby for a remake of a 1937 George Arliss film.

4:12 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Donald Benson considers what might have become of Disney's Scarecrow, and why ...


I had a pet theory about the scarcity of the Scarecrow: Especially in the context of the 60s, it's surprisingly subversive:
-- Dr. Syn's business is tax evasion, pure and simple. He helps the poor by helping them smuggle. And in the first episode he explains to his sidekick that his goal is civil disobedience as much as feeding the hungry.
-- The first episode is about foiling the press gang -- in other words, draft dodging. (This is mostly missing from the DVD movie version). It also sets up that the kindly good-guy squire quietly hates the military, because his son was pressed into service.
-- The second episode gets very dark, about a poor schlep who's pressured into informing and then gets the full treatment from the Scarecrow, who's darn near a supervillain in this one. The "trial" of the informer is solid goosebump stuff.
-- The third episode has Syn and company rescuing the squire's son, a deserter from a brutal navy ship. In a happy epilogue the token romantic lead effectively scuttles his superior's career and tells the squire's daughter he's resigning his officer's commission.

Zorro turned his blade on crooks and cons as well as corrupt officials, and he was above all a good citizen of Spain. Elfago Braca was a lawman, and the Swamp Fox was fighting for America. Scarecrow was always set against The Man, with a side of anti-military sentiment. Maybe there was some blowback that gave the studio pause about exploiting him further (Disney also did "Young Dick Turpin," a sympathetic yarn about the infamous bandit's beginnings. That, so far as I know, has never resurfaced anywhere).

Another possible issue: Disney adapted a modern novel based on an older series of books. Hammer, at the same time, went back to those earlier books for its own take ("Captain Clegg"/"Night Creatures"). While lawyers kept Hammer away from anything too similar, Disney might not have been willing to invest any more money in a franchise they couldn't monopolize, or at least keep from non-Disney knockoffs (Hammer's version is good, but extremely grim).

Somewhere in the 70s Dr. Syn made it to American theaters on a double bill with "Treasure Island." I remember matching posters, full length portraits of Long John Silver ("Pirate's Gold!") and the Scarecrow ("Smuggler's Loot!"). The movie version also appeared on VHS, and I somehow remember it as running longer than the version on DVD, thanks to the press gang segment being tossed in.

7:44 PM  
Blogger radiotelefonia said...

Going off topic, and to your yesterday's post. I found this German program for GIDEON'S DAY (It had a difficult watermark, but I removed it). The title in parenthesis is from the American version, but the print was in Technicolor.

http://www.cartelespeliculas.com/galeria/albums/userpics/10118/1958_-_GIDEON_S_DAY_-_John_Ford_%28German%29.JPG

8:53 PM  
Blogger scott said...

Shoot. I think that's the one Disney Treasures I don't own.

12:33 AM  
Blogger Britt Reid said...

John McElwee has an interesting theory about why Dr Syn failed.
Could the anti-war and anti-Establishment themes be the reason the pro-American Revolution aspects (including helping a "traitor" supporting American independence and Syn's speeches about a "new spirit of freedom" were inserted?
They weren't in the original novels.

9:47 AM  

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