Dr. Syn, a.k.a. “The Scarecrow”

In general, I have never been a huge fan of the “average guy who is secretly a super crime-fighter” trope.   As a general rule, stories where characters have to lead secret double-lives a la Batman and Superman strike me as illogical.  But there was one such character who I always thought was pretty awesome: Doctor Syn, or more properly, his alter-ego, the Scarecrow.

There are lots of stories about him, beginning with the series of pulpy novels by Russell Thorndike.  I’ve never read those; they look to be on the along the lines of the Zorro stories.  I’ve only watched the Disney movie version of the story with Patrick McGoohan, one of my favorite actors, playing the lead.  That was enough for me to decide he was a pretty cool character.

By day, he is Doctor Christopher Syn, a humble vicar in a small, 18th-Century English village.  But at night, Doctor Syn dons this awesome mask–more on that later–and becomes “the Scarecrow”.  He’s tough to describe–what he does is basically the standard Robin Hood, steal-from-rich, give-to-poor act, but the character himself is more of a Batman-like figure.  He has no supernatural powers; he is just a very skilled fighter and horseback rider.  He is also quite sinister looking, even though he is the hero.  His costume puts every other super-hero outfit I’ve seen to shame.  And McGoohan does a great job with the role.

What really makes the series so eerie is the setting.  The evocative cinematography is surprisingly good.  The splendid England coast atmosphere is wonderfully spooky.  It is especially fun to watch around Halloween. I think what I like most about the series is the historical setting.

I should mention that the Scarecrow is, for a Disney movie anyway, a pretty edgy hero.  He’s not an anti-hero, but he does some pretty devious stuff nonetheless.  (I get the impression that he’s an even darker, more outright anti-hero kind of character in the books.)

Back to the Scarecrow’s mask: the thing is brilliantly designed, part of it is mask and part of it is painted, and it really looks convincing.  It has to be one of the coolest props made in that era. On the 2008 edition DVD release, there’s a little feature on how they made it.  Even to fairly critical eyes, it holds up pretty well against the best C.G.I. tricks of modern film-making.  I’d post a picture, but stills don’t do it justice.  You have to see it in motion.

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