It’s time for us to start the second of this ongoing series covering the Campaign Manuals and Press Books of the Disney films and shorts. We gave people the chance to vote on Facebook on which movie to cover next, and after several days we had a winner.
Out of the six movies to chose from, Dr. Syn Alias The Scarecrow is the one I knew the least about. This gives me the chance to be among those that have not heard about this film before, and really see how well the propaganda team did on getting the word out, and really pushing for people to go see it.
I summed up the idea of what this series was meant to do a few months ago, and I think it will be how I will start it out for all the films, movies and shorts to follow:
“As I start this new series: here’s what you need to know: you are about to view some rare and fabulous old press materials, images that haven’t emerged from the vault in decades. So picture if you will an earlier time–a world of newspapers and radio ads–and imagine what it was like to see these ads for the first time, little glimpses to the wonders that would soon flicker up on a neighborhood movie screen. Let me know which ads are the most effective, which tease out your interest and which make you want to pull down a DVD and watch the movie all over again.”
When England’s King George III levies a heavy tax on all imports from the Continent in 1736, the Kent-Sussex coast comes alive with smuggling activities. Tales of a mysterious, masked horseman, who calls himself The Scarecrow, and his band of smugglers The Gentlemen, alarms the king and the monarch orders the tyrannical General Pugh (GEOFFREY KEEN) into the Romney Marsh area to put a stop to the lawlessness.
As General Pugh travels by coach from Dover to Dymchurch with his lieutenant, Philip Brackenbury (ERIC FLYNN) he is robbed of his brief case of orders by a rogue (TONY BRITTON), who escapes into the marshes.
Guided by peasants to Dr. Syn (PATRICK McGOOHAN), the Vicar of Dymchurch who secretly doubles as The Scarecrow, to help his overtaxed parishioners, the man identifies himself as Simon Bates, an American under sentence of death for preach- ing sedition—independence for the American colonies. Dr. Syn instructs his sexton and confidante, Mr. Mipps (GEORGE COLE), to hide the American at the inn of Mrs. Waggett (KAY WALSH).
The next day, Dr. Syn is visiting Squire Banks (MICHAEL HORDERN), his daughter Kate (JILL CURZON), and teen-age son, John (SEAN SCULLY), when the General arrives and outlines his brutal plan to press-gang local men into the Navy until someone breaks and betrays The Scarecrow. The vicar advises all likely candidates to hide in the marshes.
General Pugh meets with no success. So he turns to pillaging and burning farms in the area. Still no one will betray The Scarecrow and his men.
Cooking up another scheme, the General interviews Joe Rans- ley, a farmer and smuggler who is known to have suddenly paid up a sizeable and long-standing debt. The General is suspicious of the man’s money source and offers Ransley an ultimatum— jail, or the identity of The Scarecrow. He is given 48 hours to decide.
Young John Banks, one of The Scarecrow’s top aides, over- hears the conversation and reports what he has learned to Dr. Syn. The Vicar thwarts Ransley’s traitorous intentions and the farmer is caught red-handed with stolen barrels of brandy by Brackenbury, Pugh’s lieutenant.
At Ransley’s trial, Dr. Syn intervenes and points out that the confiscated barrels do not contain brandy as had been supposed, but are really filled with sea water, and that Ransley is simply another of The Scarecrow’s innocent victims. Ransley is acquitted.
That evening, The Scarecrow spirits Ransley away and, in the dark night, with all smugglers attending, he stages a phony hanging, with Ransley again the victim. Then, when his men have departed, the Vicar, still in his Scarecrow getup, bids Ransley get out of the country this time and never show his face again. Ransley complies and a phony funeral is conducted on his behalf the following day. No one suspects he has been spared.
During his courtship of Kate Banks, Lieutenant Brackenbury eventually recognizes the injustice in the king’s taxation policies. He is forced to decide between his loyalty to the crown and his sympathy for the peasants when he overhears the reunion of Squire Banks and his elder son, Harry (DAVID BUCK) who, at 18, had been press-ganged into the Navy and now, four years later, has managed to escape. Knowing that young Banks will be executed if he is caught, the lieutenant remains silent and does not arrest him.
Harry Banks and the American, Simon Bates, are offered sanctuary by Dr. Syn, but the two are captured by Pugh’s soldiers before they can hide.
While visiting Dover Castle in his official capacity as chap- lain to the jail, Dr. Syn discovers an unexpected ally in Bracken- bury and formulates a plan to rescue Harry, Simon and the other men imprisoned in the dungeon.
Disguised as a Naval press gang, Dr. Syn and a couple of his Gentlemen, enter the castle and, with the aid of Brackenbury, march the prisoners out the gate under the eyes of Pugh himself, who recognizes no one.
With the help of The Scarecrow, the Banks family is reunited before Harry and other escapees board a waiting ship for Holland and freedom.
When Brackenbury goes over Pugh’s head and submits his officer’s report of the escape directly to the Admiral, General Pugh, disgraced, is reassigned to another area.
Brackenbury resigns his commission to marry Kate and the identity of The Scarecrow remains a mystery.