The latest surprise will occur Monday night when, with the aid of a splendid all-star cast, he offers us, on the Public Broadcasting Service network, Percy Mackaye's charming period comedy "The Scarecrow," in which the Devil and a sorceress in 17th Century Massachusetts conspire to create a phony nobleman who plays havoc with local stuffed-shirt Puritans.
As it happens, it is a scarecrow they transform into the nobleman, and there are all sorts of plot reasons and clever implied comments on the foibles of society. Above all though, it is a well-written, often inspired piece of comedy that ranges from farce to moments of sadness in its two hours. It is, however, not without its faults.
One is that the period language is not always wholly understandable at the start, and may put off some viewers. Do not be put off, though. It is worth letting your ear get attuned and it doesn't take long. In addition, though Gene Wilder is often wonderful as the scarecrow in comedy moments, his manner of speaking in the more serious scenes, where he must stand comparison with the high English of such performers as Will Geer and Norman Lloyd, make him sound like a prisoner of Second Avenue.
Still, it is a frequently delightful witchcraft fairy tale for adults and children. And there is a touching turn of events when the scarecrow, in his one days as a human being, feels the warmth of a young girl's love and then seals his doom--yet triumphs--by turning away from the devil, to God, in his desperate prayer to become a real man.
Boris Sagal's direction is notable throughout
"The Scarecrow," for it is a difficult play to pull
off. And the remainder of the cast includes Nina Foch, Blythe
Danner, the late Pete Duel, Elisha Cook, Peter Kastner, Tom Hellmore
and Ann Doran. All of the contribute skills that are a pleasure
to watch. And, whatever its occasional faults, "The Scarecrow"
offers a good deal of witty, sometimes poignant fun.
Caption: Norman Lloyd and Nina Foch prepare to transform a
scarecrow into a man. It's in "The Scarecrow," Percy
MacKaye's full-length drama, which will be shown on "Hollywood
TV Theatre" Monday at 7 p.m. on Ch. 2.
Photo Caption: Gene Wilder as the transformed scarecrow courts Blythe Danner, much to the distress of Peter Duel (Duel is the 31 year old actor who committed suicide Dec. 31).
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