Finding his parish flock taxed into poverty, a country vicar secretly takes on the king’s taxmen by night in the guise of a hideous scarecrow. [Dir: James Neilson/ Patrick McGoohan, George Cole, Tony Britton/ 129 min/ Action-Adventure, Family/ Anti-Draft, Anti-Taxation]
“Unjust laws can be altered as well as made by men … Taxed out of existence, robbed of their independence by the king’s government, the people must fight back how they can.” So says Dr. Syn, as he plans his next campaign to foil the king’s agents.
A country vicar by day, he secretly operates a smuggling ring by night, using the profits to help the impoverished, overtaxed people of his village. He protects himself from prosecution by hiding his identity behind a grotesque scarecrow disguise. The horrifying image not only provides anonymity but serves as well to frighten those who might betray him. Some even believe that “the scarecrow” is some kind of demon from hell. Only his closest associates know that Dr. Syn is the man behind the mask.
Eventually, news of the masked scarecrow and his smuggling reaches the king, who sends in a ruthless military general to capture this rebel. The general terrorizes the local populace to force them to identify the scarecrow, tightening the screws right up to the climactic end.
This family-oriented Disney drama is a good introduction for children to the concept of limited government. It portrays the evils of excess taxation and the draft, and popular resistance to both. Adults will find this an agreeable if somewhat simple antiauthoritarian tale. This quality production has a terrific theme song and is sometimes suspenseful, but it runs a bit long, reflecting its compilation from the original Disney television show format.
Patrick McGoohan, made famous by his role in the television series The Prisoner, another antiauthoritarian tale, plays his leading role to the hilt. He particularly seems to enjoy himself in the scarecrow’s demonic guise, laughing defiantly in the face of the government’s revenue agents. Then again, who wouldn’t?