Monday, December 01, 2008

The Two Faces of The Scarecrow

316. I don't believe I ever saw the full version of Walt Disney's The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (1964, directed by James Neilson) when I was a kid, but I remember its shorter theatrical version very well. That film was titled Dr. Syn Alias the Scarecrow. In truth, there's not a whole lot of difference between the two versions. Admittedly, the theatrical version is a bit brisker of pace, but at the expense of some characterization. In any event, this is variant of the Zorro myth, set in the England of George III. Patrick McGoohan plays saintly Dr. Syn, the vicar of Dymchurch, who, by night, leads a gang of smugglers as the terrifying Scarecrow to help the locals endure the burden of excess taxation. Of course, the king's men come to town to try to catch him and he outwits them in three separate episodes (or acts). It's rollicking adventure that works because Patrick McGoohan is terrific in the lead. As the Scarecrow, he adopts a terrifying, guttural voice that sounds like a bearing about to go bad. This voice is abetted by a striking character design by the costume department, with its twisted smile. As Dr. Syn, McGoohan is saintly, but with a sly twinkle behind his eyes. And he looks like a man who has and keeps secrets. And, oh, my! He was a looker in his youth (note to self: track down Danger Man). His supporting cast of British stalwarts lends the whole enterprise a gravitas that grounds some of the pulpier aspects of the story. This one was a favorite of mine as a kid. I'm glad to see that it holds up.

317. Hammer's competing version of the Scarecrow story changes a few key details for legal reasons--Disney having sewn up the rights to certain aspects of the story--and is a darker film over-all. Captain Clegg (1962, directed by Peter Graham Scott) was re-titled Night Creatures in the US and finally saw the light of day on Universal's Hammer box a few years ago. It, too, is carried on the strength of its lead performance. Peter Cushing's Dr. Syn (renamed "Dr. Blyss" in this version) has a good deal more menace in him as the vicar, and the movie retains the character's piratical past. The movie is a good deal more violent, too, and shows its hand right from the get-go with a memorable marooning sequence in which a man has his ears slit and tongue cut out before being imprisoned on an island. But the overall arc of the film is the same. Its one of Hammer's more handsome films from the period and the filmmakers have given some of Hammer's stock character actors their heads in this one, notably Michael Ripper as Mr. Mipps, who positively beams at the chance to show an impish sense of humor.

The new Disney Treasures tins include volume four of The Chronological Donald Duck. I love me some Donald Duck (you can blame Carl Barks for this). The current volume features cartoons that were a constant staple of Disney's television empire, so I'm very familiar with all of these:

318. "Dude Duck" (1951, directed by Jack Hannah)
319. "Corn Chips" (1951, directed by Jack Hannah)
320. "Test Pilot" Donald (1951, directed by Jack Hannah)
321. "Lucky Number" (1951, directed by Jack Hannah)
322. "Out of Scale" (1951, directed by Jack Hannah)
323. "Bee on Guard" (1951, directed by Jack Hannah)

In most of these, Donald contends with Chip and Dale, who always seem to cross his path. I always used to think that Chip and Dale were male and female, especially with the way Chip is sometimes drawn as the more effeminate of the two. Lately, I'm convinced that they're gay. But that has nothing to do with what's on screen. It's just my impression. That's all. We also get a Hewey, Dewey, and Louie appearance in a rare depiction of the trio as teenagers. And a bee. Donald has no luck with any of them. The weirdest of these cartoons is "Dude Duck", in which Donald hops off the bus after a gaggle of human women. I've always been able to accept the anthropomorphism in Disney's cartoon so long as it follows Barks's Duckberg model, in which everyone is an anthropomorphized character. Putting human characters in the frame is just weird.

324. There are a lot of things to dislike about the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace (2008, directed by Marc Forster). It's cut too fast. It has no sense of geography in the action scenes. It is fairly lacking in the series' signature humor. It lacks a baroque, comic-opera villain. This is all true. But I came out of the film liking it none the less. I really like the theme song by Jack White and Alicia Keys, which has a distinction that the last several theme songs have lacked: it actually sounds like a Bond theme. The credit sequence is much improved over Casino Royale--again, it seems like the credit sequence of a Bond film. And it has a pretty good story. An acquaintance of mine thought that the McGuffin--our villain is cornering the market on water--was pretty lame; but I grew up in Colorado where there's a saying that "Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting." So it made perfect sense to me. I LOVE that the filmmakers are re-inventing SPECTRE and SMERSH for the 21st Century (and in a way that seems all too plausible). Oh, and Daniel Craig is inhabiting the role of Bond quite nicely. Oh, my, yes. James Bond will return, the credits tell us. I'm looking forward to it.

1 comment:

Anh Khoi Do said...

On Quantum of Solace, I agree that Daniel Craig is a good actor. However, I think that he doesn't have much margin of manoeuvre, because the movie fails to convey Bond's inner feelings. This means that Craig is not well directed by Forster to express a lot through his eyes and few words. Hopefully, the action scenes were there to make me forget from time to time that the acting wasn't what I came for. Well, I just hope that the next Bond film will be a serious Oscar contender as Casino Royale was.