Monday, 31 May 2010

Bootlegger: Part One

Okay, this isn't what I'd planned to write for my first post in this 'ere blog (well, first one since I deleted the ones that I wrote almost 3 years ago), but nevermind,

One of the few things I'm grateful for regarding my father and his side of the family is their association with the Romney Marsh, Dr Syn and the resulting interest in smuggling (and, by extension, piracy) that it spawned in me. I loves me a good yarn about sneaky locals off-loading tax-free booze and goods from a ship off the coast of Dymchurch, sneaking it back to their hiding place and raising a glass to themselves as the Customs men try and track them down.

All the romance and adventure of smuggling was made all the more real and exciting after my aunty traced our family tree and found one of our ancestors was hanged in Dymchurch for smuggling. Suddenly I had a blood connection to a real smuggler and, despite the fact that he was either rubbish or hated so much that he was used as a patsy (neither of which would surprise me, if the family trait of extreme arrogance were in evidence back then and not a modern phenomena), he seemed very cool to me.

What made it all the more exciting was that he was from the time that Russell Thorndyke's Dr Syn books are set, and my imagination was sparked, seeing my ancestor riding accross the Marsh towards the coast with the gang, all wearing their glowing scarecrow masks and the Rev. Christopher Syn riding at their head. My brother and I spent many a day swashing a buckle and firing our imaginary flintlock pistols at imaginary Excise Men that summer!

Not long after that, I found out that there were three films based upon the novels; Dr Syn (1937 starring George Arliss in the title role), Captain Clegg (1962, Night Creatures in the US, made by Hammer and starring Peter Cushing) and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh (a 1963 Disney tv miniseries starring Patrick McGoohan that was edited for British cinema and retitled Dr Syn, Alias the Scarecrow); and I became desperate to watch them and see Dr Syn do his thing!

The first one I saw was The Scarecrow of Romeny Marsh, shown on ITV one Sunday, retitiled with it's US TV title but still in the feature length format. The main thing that has stuck in my mind about it was the theme song - a galloping ballad about The Scarecrow that's so full of character and fun and The Scarecrow's eerie cackle! - but I can remember being enthralled by it. What I've seen of it on YouTube is still good, and I've been trying to track it down on DVD with little success. Disney released a limited run a couple of years ago, and now it goes for silly money. It's still possible to by from their members club, but even that is $29 and only open to members (naturellement).

Sadly, it took me until earlier this year to track down the 1937 film. I've never, ever seen it on video or on television, but I stumbled upon a DVD copy on Amazon of all places and before I could even think "it will be mine", I'd bought it.
It's a charming film that plays the story as one part comedy to two parts adventure and it works very well. It keeps pretty close to Thorndyke and George Arliss is fantastic as Dr Syn. As good as McGoohan's performance is in the Disney film, Arliss is miles better, full of charm and grace yet with a twinkle in his eye that speaks of hidden depths, just as it should be! Fittingly enough, I have the distinct feeling that the DVD is a copy, or, should I say, bootlegged!

Regarding the third film (or second, chronologically), I haven't seen it. Yet. For some reason it has either never been shown on British television (which I can't believe, it being a Hammer film starring Peter Cushing), or I've had the misfortune and/or lack of observational skills to notice when it was on. I am, as you may have guessed, opting for the latter explanation.
Happily, this situation is about to change as I managed to track down a DVD copy of Captain Clegg on ebay just yesterday, and it will soon be winging its way to me! It is, alas, a German version, but if the sellers info is correct, it's only subtitled in German and retains the English soundtrack, so it's not too big an issue (fingers crossed).
As I'm sure you are aware, I'm a massive Hammer fan, so I'm already getting rather excited at the prospect of seeing two big fandoms of mine collide with one of my favourite actors in the title role! Watch out for part two of this 'ere subject with my thoughts about it!