A country vicar leads a band of smugglers in an effort to benefit his parish. [Dir: Roy William Neill/ George Arliss, Margaret Lockwood, John Loder/ 72 min/ Action-Adventure/ Britain/ Anti-Taxation, Voluntaryism]
“I found you in wretchedness and poverty, deprived by harsh laws and heavy taxes … I took it upon myself to change all that at the expense of the [government] revenue.” So says the heroic Dr. Syn, whose idea of philanthropy is to use the proceeds of profitable trade, without paying taxes, to educate and comfort the people of his impoverished village. Indeed Dr. Syn, as the local vicar, is a shepherd to his flock. He routinely uses his smuggling revenues to build schools and to take care of the poor.
But his charitable efforts are in trouble. The royal revenue agent has just come to town, and he’s searching everywhere for untaxed smuggled goods. Ultimately, though the dogged revenue agent doesn’t find any untaxed goods, he does discover something just as problematic–a secret that could destroy Dr. Syn and all his good work. Is there anyone who can save Dr. Syn? After years of good deeds, he finds in the end that he is not without friends.
This is a film any libertarian can enjoy. It does such a good job of portraying smugglers in a sympathetic, even humorous light that by the end even the most rigid authoritarian must hope for their successful evasion of the law. The plot is transparently antitax and it also puts private philanthropy in a favorable light. There is tremendous depth to the production, including elaborate sets complete with trap doors everywhere, first-rate acting from Margaret Lockwood and the legendary George Arliss, and a witty script. It’s a very old film, but the telling is so much fun it doesn’t matter. If you like classic British cinema, this one’s definitely for you.