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Get out your handkerchiefs for MGM's sixth installment in its popular Lassie series that will entertain children and adults alike. In Challenge to Lassie (1949), aging Scottish shepherd Jock (Donald Crisp) takes lovable stray collie Lassie under his wing and teaches her to be an ace sheep dog. The two are inseparable until Jock dies suddenly, leaving Lassie heartbroken and homeless. When Jock is buried in a local churchyard, Lassie dutifully sleeps on his beloved master's grave every night and refuses to leave. The problem? Dogs aren't allowed in the churchyard, and unlicensed dogs by law are required to be put to death. The townspeople want to help, but one overzealous police officer is determined to uphold the law at any cost.
Challenge to Lassie was based on the 1912 Eleanor Atkinson book Greyfriars Bobby which told the true-albeit greatly embellished-story of a Skye Terrier dog named Bobby who lived in Scotland during the 1800s. MGM tailored the popular dog story to fit its canine star, Pal, who starred in the first six Lassie films, beginning in 1943 with Lassie Come Home. Every Lassie film has starred either Pal or one of his direct descendants ever since.
In his only Lassie film, reliable MGM director Richard Thorpe assembled a strong cast of character actors, who, while not household names, all give solid performances. Donald Crisp, who won an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor for his work in How Green Was My Valley (1941) plays Lassie's loving master Jock. Crisp was a Lassie veteran, having already appeared in the first three Lassie flicks in different roles. Challenge to Lassie was the final Lassie film in which Crisp appeared, but it was not the last he would have to do with the story of Greyfriars Bobby. In 1961 Crisp appeared in another version of the same story, this time for Walt Disney, under its original title of Greyfriars Bobby, playing the role of the sympathetic cemetery caretaker.
Edmund Gwenn, who won an Academy Award for his unforgettable portrayal of Santa Claus in the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street, plays Jock's friend, John, a helpful pub owner who keeps an eye on Lassie following her master's death. Gwenn was also no stranger to the genre, having appeared in two previous Lassie movies, Lassie Come Home and Hills of Home(1948). Rounding out the cast is Reginald Owen as the antagonistic police officer, Alan Webb as the understanding cemetery caretaker, and Geraldine Brooks as his pretty daughter.
A strong addition to the Lassie series, Challenge to Lassie garnered praise for its heartwarming story, beautiful Technicolor landscapes and fitting musical score from Andr Previn in one of his earliest film compositions. "Metro's canine star has never been seen to better advantage than it is in this adaptation of Eleanor Atkinson's Greyfriars Bobby," said Variety. "Screenplay writer William Ludwig has penned a tight-knit tearjerker that holds for the full 76 minutes."
The real Greyfriars Bobby guarded his master's grave without fail for 14 years and died in 1872. Today, a small statue stands of Bobby in Edinburgh, Scotland, not far from the graveyard that holds both him and his master. Bobby's headstone reads: "Greyfriars Bobby died 14th January 1872 aged 16 years-Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all."
Producer: Robert Sisk
Director: Richard Thorpe
Screenplay: William Ludwig, based on the novel Greyfriars Bobby by Eleanor Atkinson
Cinematography: Charles Edgar Schoenbaum
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Eddie Imazu
Music: Andre Previn
Film Editing: George White
Cast: Edmund Gwenn (John Traill), Donald Crisp (Jock Gray), Geraldine Brooks (Susan Brown), Reginald Owen (Sergeant Davie), Alan Webb (James Brown), Henry Stephenson (Sir Charles Loring), Alan Napier (Lord Provost), Arthur Shields (Doctor Lee).
C-77m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Andrea Passafiume