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The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, on NBC
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Caution: spoilers!

This is based on (or at least inspired by) a series of books I haven't read. (It's actually based on a book by a different author which was a reworking of one of the books in the series.) I guess it was originally supposed to be a 3-episode miniseries, and it eventually aired as such on "The Wonderful World of Color," in 1964. But prior to that it was released theatrically in edited form, as "Dr Syn, Alias the Scarecrow", in the UK. Um... I don't think I'd ever heard of it until the late 90s or so, but it's possible I'm wrong about that. I do think I saw it around that time, but now I don't remember much about it. But in 2021, I watched it on Blu-ray. Actually, I struggle a bit with whether to consider it a miniseries or a limited series, but I think I'm going to go with the latter, because it's more episodic than serial. Anyway, the Blu-ray presents each part as an actual episode of the Wonderful World of Color, complete with introductions by Walt Disney himself. (He claims the books are based on a real historical figure, but they're not.)

Part I
Patrick McGoohan plays Dr. Christopher Syn, a vicar in a small coastal community in southeastern England called Dymchurch, in 1775. Secretly, he is also a masked folk hero called the Scarecrow, who runs a smuggling gang to help the locals pay King George III's exorbitant taxes. The local law enforcement, under the rule of Squire Thomas Banks, fails to stop the smugglers, so the king sends a soldier named General Pugh and his men to deal with them. There are only two people in the gang who know the Scarecrow's true identity: Mr. Mipps (aka Hellspite, who wears a skull mask); and a boy named John Banks (aka Curlew, who wears a bird mask), the son of Squire Thomas (who has no idea his son works with the Scarecrow). I want to say I don't really understand exactly how the smuggling works. The Scarecrow's men apparently distribute the contraband goods to the poor people of Dymchurch, after paying the sailors who delivered the goods. But I get the impression that Scarecrow also provides money to the people of Dymchurch, and there's no mention of selling the smuggled goods, so I don't know where the money comes from. But maybe they only give some of the goods (mainly brandy) to the people and sell the rest, I dunno.

Anyway, Pugh brings in a naval press gang to impress local men into the Navy, and Squire Thomas doesn't approve of that, but there's nothing he can do about it. But the Scarecrow warns all the able-bodied young men to hide in the marsh. One man is captured, however, and later the Scarecrow's gang captures the press gang, and they hope to trade their prisoners for the captured man. There's also an American revolutionary named Simon Bates who had been sentenced to hang for sedition against the king, but he escapes and Dr. Syn keeps him hidden. Oh, and there's a bounty of 1000 pounds for information leading to the Scarecrow's capture (dead or alive). And I should mention that one of Pugh's men, Lt. Brackenbury, apparently has a romantic interest in the squire's daughter, Kate.

Part II
Pugh comes up with a plan to figure out who might be part of the Scarecrow's gang by seeing who's been behind on payments until recently, but are now caught up. One such man is Joe Ransley, who is threatened with jail if he doesn't provide information about the Scarecrow. Instead, he decides to steal contraband brandy from the smugglers and leave town with it, to sell himself. The Scarecrow learns of this and sets a trap for him, and Ransley ends up in court, facing execution. However, Dr. Syn speaks on his behalf, making a fool of the prosecutor, Mr. Fragg, and Ransley is freed. Fragg then visits Ransley and forces him to provide the names of 20 men in the Scarecrow's gang in exchange for the 1000 pound reward. Ransley doesn't want to do it, but Fragg convinces him he has no choice, since he'll either be jailed by Pugh for failing to provide information, or killed by the Scarecrow. So he reluctantly agrees to deliver a list of names the next night, but of course the Scarecrow sets another trap for both Ransley and Fragg. And... I don't want to spoil how that turns out, other than to say the Scarecrow's plan works, as always.

I felt kind of bad for Ransley having little choice but to either betray his fellow smugglers or face a terrible fate. But that's offset by his being shown to be a bad person to begin with, a widower who treats his sons and his stepmother badly. (I think the show said it was his stepmother, anyway, though while I was watching it I was confusing that for mother-in-law, and now I'm not positive that wasn't what was said. But I don't feel like rewatching the episode to double check.)

Part III
A pressed sailor escapes and Pugh's men hunt for him. It turns out the man is Harry Banks, Squire Thomas's son, who had been impressed four years ago. Dr. Syn tries to hide him, but Harry ends up being captured, along with Simon Bates. (There's a recycled scene from Part 1 where Bates first asked Syn for sanctuary.) They're taken to a dungeon to be tortured for information. Scarecrow comes up with a plan to break the two of them and several other men out of prison, and get them passage to Holland. He does this as Dr. Syn himself, after telling his men that he was blackmailing Syn. And he receives help from Lt. Brackenbury, who wants to marry Kate, and also disapproves of Pugh's methods. But I'm still surprised the jailbreak actually worked; at one point it seemed that the rescuers were locked in the dungeon with the prisoners, and though they had a key, I didn't think there was a keyhole on the inside of the door. Maybe I was wrong, but that's just weird.

And I guess that's all I want to say about the plot of the series. I didn't like it as much as I'd hoped I would, but it was alright. The Scarecrow/Dr. Syn was a decent character, anyway.

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