Doctor Syn (1937)

Article #833 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-26-2003
Posting Date: 11-23-2003
Directed by Roy William Neill
Featuring George Arliss, Margaret Lockwood, John Loder

A pirate who has supposedly died twenty years ago is actually running a smuggling ring while disguised as a parson.

Title check: It’s the name of the parson. Note that “Syn” is a homonym.

This is the movie of which NIGHT CREATURES is a remake, and for the most part, the movies are quite similar. The horror elements are even more downplayed in this one; though the existence of phantom horsemen does appear in the plot, they are rarely seen and not played for horror. This earlier version has a more marked sense of humor about the proceedings (particularly a good sequence where the smugglers hoodwink the King’s revenuers by sending them on a wild goose chase to find the phantom riders), and it’s less muddled than the later movie on the level of making it clear as to whom the movie wants you to sympathize with (despite being a pirate and a smuggler, Dr. Syn is obviously the one you’re going to root for). Arliss is great in the title role (as was Peter Cushing in the later movie), but the Hammer movie did have the all-around better cast, particularly in the role of Mipps. This one also ends quite differently than the Hammer version, but the ending feels rushed and a bit contrived (particularly in the convenient way it despenses with the mulatto). It’s still worth catching because of the fun story and Arliss’ s performance.


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