Classic movie site with rare images, original ads, and behind-the-scenes photos, with informative and insightful commentary. We like to have fun with movies!
Archive and Links
Search Index Here

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.


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.

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  
Blogger she said...

the wonderful Alan Dobie as Frank Fragg

2:28 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Play it on Disney channel during halloween. Make a today weekly version.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Janine Perky said...

I had a similar experience. The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh was life changing and inspiring for me and my teenage friends. We loved horses, too, and would sometimes don cloaks and ride and create our own adventures with The Scarecrow 🙂

6:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home
  • December 2005
  • January 2006
  • February 2006
  • March 2006
  • April 2006
  • May 2006
  • June 2006
  • July 2006
  • August 2006
  • September 2006
  • October 2006
  • November 2006
  • December 2006
  • January 2007
  • February 2007
  • March 2007
  • April 2007
  • May 2007
  • June 2007
  • July 2007
  • August 2007
  • September 2007
  • October 2007
  • November 2007
  • December 2007
  • January 2008
  • February 2008
  • March 2008
  • April 2008
  • May 2008
  • June 2008
  • July 2008
  • August 2008
  • September 2008
  • October 2008
  • November 2008
  • December 2008
  • January 2009
  • February 2009
  • March 2009
  • April 2009
  • May 2009
  • June 2009
  • July 2009
  • August 2009
  • September 2009
  • October 2009
  • November 2009
  • December 2009
  • January 2010
  • February 2010
  • March 2010
  • April 2010
  • May 2010
  • June 2010
  • July 2010
  • August 2010
  • September 2010
  • October 2010
  • November 2010
  • December 2010
  • January 2011
  • February 2011
  • March 2011
  • April 2011
  • May 2011
  • June 2011
  • July 2011
  • August 2011
  • September 2011
  • October 2011
  • November 2011
  • December 2011
  • January 2012
  • February 2012
  • March 2012
  • April 2012
  • May 2012
  • June 2012
  • July 2012
  • August 2012
  • September 2012
  • October 2012
  • November 2012
  • December 2012
  • January 2013
  • February 2013
  • March 2013
  • April 2013
  • May 2013
  • June 2013
  • July 2013
  • August 2013
  • September 2013
  • October 2013
  • November 2013
  • December 2013
  • January 2014
  • February 2014
  • March 2014
  • April 2014
  • May 2014
  • June 2014
  • July 2014
  • August 2014
  • September 2014
  • October 2014
  • November 2014
  • December 2014
  • January 2015
  • February 2015
  • March 2015
  • April 2015
  • May 2015
  • June 2015
  • July 2015
  • August 2015
  • September 2015
  • October 2015
  • November 2015
  • December 2015
  • January 2016
  • February 2016
  • March 2016
  • April 2016
  • May 2016
  • June 2016
  • July 2016
  • August 2016
  • September 2016
  • October 2016
  • November 2016
  • December 2016
  • January 2017
  • February 2017
  • March 2017
  • April 2017
  • May 2017
  • June 2017
  • July 2017
  • August 2017
  • September 2017
  • October 2017
  • November 2017
  • December 2017
  • January 2018
  • February 2018
  • March 2018
  • April 2018
  • May 2018
  • June 2018
  • July 2018
  • August 2018
  • September 2018
  • October 2018
  • November 2018
  • December 2018
  • January 2019
  • February 2019
  • March 2019
  • April 2019
  • May 2019
  • June 2019
  • July 2019
  • August 2019
  • September 2019
  • October 2019
  • November 2019
  • December 2019
  • January 2020
  • February 2020
  • March 2020
  • April 2020
  • May 2020
  • June 2020
  • July 2020
  • August 2020
  • September 2020
  • October 2020
  • November 2020
  • December 2020
  • January 2021
  • February 2021
  • March 2021
  • April 2021
  • May 2021
  • June 2021
  • July 2021
  • August 2021
  • September 2021
  • October 2021
  • November 2021
  • December 2021
  • January 2022
  • February 2022
  • March 2022
  • April 2022
  • May 2022
  • June 2022
  • July 2022
  • August 2022
  • September 2022
  • October 2022
  • November 2022
  • December 2022
  • January 2023
  • February 2023
  • March 2023