DR. SYN (1937) – The Complete Film in a Fine Print

DR. SYN is the final British film and the last film made by Mr. A – we prefer to think of it as Mr. A’s most recent film. Indeed, it is among his best. The reviewer for the New York Times praised it by saying the he found it superior to the MGM blockbuster TREASURE ISLAND (1934), a film with a similar story involving smuggling in the late 18th century.

The chief thing your blogmeister noticed about this particular Arliss film is that Mr. A heads an ensemble cast rather than carrying the entire story on his back as he had with so many of his earlier films. He had little to say in his memoirs about making Dr. SYN other than noting that the story took place in his beloved Kent. He said it had no “plus value,” that is, an element that people would think about after the movie was over. Mr. A singled out for praise the director, Roy William Neill, who would later work in Hollywood directing a number of the Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Mr. A also praised producer Edward Black much more enthusiastically than the faint praise he gave Michael Balcon, the producer of his previous four UK films.

The London premiere of DR. SYN was graced by no less a person than Queen Mary herself. Margaret Lockwood recalled in her memoirs how nervous she was as she was waited for Her Royal Majesty with co-stars Mr. A and John Loder.

George Arliss made a grand total of eighteen sound feature films from 1929 to 1937, an enormous output (plus an elusive short UK film he made in 1931 where he recites Disraeli’s speeches), and another six silent films from 1921 to 1924. Whereas Mr. A’s hit plays ran between two and five years, his most successful films would run in movie theaters for only a week or two. Had Mr. A’s movies ran on the average as long as his plays before he appeared in a new one, it would have taken him over forty years to complete his eighteen films!

At any rate, enjoy Mr. A in DR SYN:

Published in: on July 10, 2017 at 10:04 PM  Comments (1)  
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The Doctor is In – Dr. Syn!

George Arliss as action hero? Not likely but Mr. A comes close with DR. SYN (1937), a corking good pirate yarn based on a popular novel by Russell Thorndyke. The novel is a thematic blend of Robert Louis Stevenson and Sigmund Freud that was so successful Thorndyke wrote several sequels. The novels still have quite a following in the UK. The story is set in Dymchurch, a seaside village in Kent, England, in the year 1800.

Mr. A plays the saintly vicar, Dr. Syn, who looks kindly on the blossoming romance between the orphan Imogene, played by Margaret Lockwood, and Denis Crabtree, son of the village squire, played by John Loder:

Dymchurch is plagued by nighttime apparitions of ghost riders on the nearby Romney Marsh but the main business of the villagers is a little fuzzy. Turns out the leading occupation is smuggling to avoid the exorbitant excise taxes imposed by the King. The ringleader is known only as “The Scarecrow.”

Dr. Syn becomes alarmed for his parishioners when a contingent of the King’s revenue patrol arrives at Dymchurch to investigate smuggling activities. Captain Collyer suspects that the nightly ghost riders are a cover for the smugglers and that Dr. Syn knows a lot more than he cares to tell:

Collyer learns that a number of the villagers were the crew of the notorious pirate, Captain Clegg, who was hanged twenty years earlier and lies buried in the churchyard cemetery – or does he? Dr. Syn alerts the sexton to spread the alarm:

Dymchurch schoolmaster Mr. Rash has designs on Imogene and tries to blackmail her with threats to reveal that she is the daughter of Captain Clegg:

As Capt. Collyer begins to close in, Dr. Syn realizes that he must take action to protect the village. Of course, not only is he “The Scarecrow,” he is Captain Clegg….

…and Imogene is his daughter. Mr. Rash must be silenced:

The discovery of Mr. Rash’s corpse results in the convening of an inquest where Capt. Collyer cross-examines Dr. Syn and forces him to admit his true identity. Before he can be arrested, the villagers intervene to foil Collyer’s men:

With Collyer’s men in hot pursuit, Dr. Syn stops by the church long enough to marry Denis and Imogene, then rejoins his old crew on their old ship, which was kept ready and hidden in a nearby cove, where they sail away for further adventures.

DR. SYN is technically George Arliss’ final film, but we at the Arliss Archives prefer to regard it as Mr. A’s most recent film. On the set, Alan Whittaker is Mr. A’s stand-in, Maude Howell serves as associate director, and Mr. A is in his 70th year:

Queen Mary attended the film’s London premiere, and the New York Times gave DR. SYN an enthusiastic review stating that it was better than MGM’s TREASURE ISLAND (1934). The film is widely considered the best of Mr. A’s five British films and is available on home video in an acceptable (but not restored) dvd edition through various outlets including Amazon.

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