Picks and Pans Review: Taping Tip

updated 05/29/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/29/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

>THE TAIL OF A HERO

THE DISNEY CHANNEL DUSTS OFF A TV classic from 1959, Swamp Fox (Saturdays, 2 p.m. ET), about Revolutionary War leader Francis Marion, who waged a guerrilla campaign of trickery and subterfuge against the British soldiers and their Tory sympathizers in 1780s Carolina. Playing Marion with deadly earnest is none other than Leslie Nielsen, best known today as the transcendently goofy star of the Naked Gun movies. Some of the other familiar faces who turn up in supporting roles in this vintage show are Slim Pickens, J. Patrick O'Malley and Patrick Macnee.

Swamp Fox lasted only eight episodes, a quick hook that Nielsen blames not on low ratings but on international politics. Reached on a break from filming Dracula: Dead and Loving It, a Mel Brooks spoof (in which Nielsen plays the notorious vampire), the actor explained that the series was banned in Canada after a debate in the House of Commons there. Canada had strong ties to the mother country in those days. "You can imagine Walt Disney's reaction to getting banned," Nielsen says. "He might as well have made a pornographic movie. That was the beginning of the end for the series."

Swamp Fox was the last in a line of historical costume dramas that Disney experimented with in the late '50s. The character's trademark was his tri-cornered hat with a fox tail insouciantly perched on its brim. ("Swamp Fox, Swamp Fox, tail on his hat," went the theme song, "Nobody knows where the Swamp Fox at.") That costuming flourish was a naked attempt by Disney to recapture the astounding merchandising boon of Davy Crockett's coon-skin cap. The Swamp Fox chapeau never caught on, even with its wearer. Asked if he got to keep that jaunty accessory, Nielsen responds with a booming laugh, "I really didn't want the hat."

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