Cast & Crew
A hundred years ago in the Lammermuir Hills near Edinburgh, a little Skye terrier called Bobby is the devoted pet of Old Jock, a poor shepherd. When Jock loses his job because he is too old and infirm to work, he goes to Edinburgh, followed by the faithful Bobby. Before long the old man dies of pneumonia in a wretched lodging house and is laid to rest in Greyfriars' Kirkyard. Following Jock's death, Bobby spends his days begging food from Mr. Traill, the kindly owner of an eatinghouse, and playing with the local poor children. But by night the little animal avoids the crotchety caretaker of the churchyard, Mr. Brown, and keeps a vigil on Old Jock's grave. Eventually Bobby's charm wins over the caretaker and his wife, as well as most of the townspeople. Consequently, when the question of the dog's not having a license is brought to court, both Mr. Traill and Mrs. Brown insist upon paying for it. However, when the Edinburgh waifs also burst into court with the necessary funds, the Lord Provost decides that no one shall pay for the license; Bobby is to have the freedom of the city--at liberty to go where he pleases, including Old Jock's grave in Greyfriars' Kirkyard.
Herbert R. Smith
A. Van Montagu
The film follows the adventures of a Skye Terrier named Bobby. Although bought by a farmer and his wife (Gordon Jackson and Rosalie Crutchley), he becomes most attached to an old shepherd (Alex Mackenzie) working for them. When they have to let the shepherd go, Bobby follows him to Edinburgh, where the old man dies. Bobby sits on his grave faithfully, soon winning the affection of a local businessman (Laurence Naismith) and the children playing near the cemetery. Even the caretaker (Crisp), who initially tries to shoo Bobby away, ends up loving the dog. When a new law is passed requiring dogs to be licensed, the caretaker and the businessman quarrel over who should pay for Bobby's license, leaving the dog in danger of being destroyed.
Eleanor Atkinson based her 1912 novel on the true story of a Skye Terrier in 19th-century Scotland who guarded his owner's grave for 14 years until his own death. The dog was named Bobby, and the grave was in Greyfriars Kirkyard, hence the name Greyfriars Bobby. After the dog's death in 1872, the philanthropist Lady Burdett-Coutts gave the city a drinking fountain topped by a statue of the dog that remains a popular tourist attraction. Although Bobby's owner is believed to have been a policeman, Atkinson changed him to the shepherd Auld Jock in her book. The novel was originally filmed as Challenge to Lassie (1949), with the terrier transformed into a collie and Crisp starring as his owner.
When Walt Disney Pictures started producing live-action features in the late 1940s, the studio--which had little space for live-action filming in Hollywood--did a great deal of production in the United Kingdom, starting with Treasure Island (1950) and The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952). The productions also helped the studio access millions of dollars in English profits that had been frozen by the British government after World War II. Their first film shot in Scotland was Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue (1953), followed by Kidnapped (1960). With the success of those films and strong reviews for the Scottish location work, a return was logical, so Disney optioned the rights to Atkinson's novel.
Heading the all-British cast is the London-born Crisp, who had emigrated to the U.S. in 1906. There he worked in theater opera before moving into film, initially with D.W. Griffith, who used him as both a director and an actor in such classics as The Birth of a Nation (1915), in which he portrayed Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, and Broken Blossoms (1919), in which he played Lillian Gish's abusive father. With the coming of sound, Crisp moved exclusively into acting, most notably with director John Ford in films like Mary of Scotland (1936), The Long Gray Line (1955) and The Last Hurrah (1958). He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in Ford's How Green Was My Valley (1941). By the time he made Greyfriar's Bobby: The True Story of a Dog, Crisp was independently wealthy thanks to sound investments and years spent as a liaison between Hollywood producers and East Coast banking interests. It would be his next-to-last film before he retired after making Spencer's Mountain (1963).
Director Don Chaffey would seem an odd choice for a family picture. The former art director had, to that point, mostly worked on more adult-oriented films like the sex trafficking exposé The Flesh Is Weak (1957), starring John Derek, and the controversial A Question of Adultery (1958), which dealt with artificial insemination. Nonetheless, Disney recruited him for Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog and was so happy with his work, he kept using him for family pictures like The Three Lives of Thomasina (1963) and Pete's Dragon (1977). Chaffey's Disney association also helped him move into fantasy films, most notably the cult classic Jason and the Argonauts (1963), which co-starred Naismith.
Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog was met with respectable reviews and continues to be a favorite of animal-film lovers. A third film based on the legend, The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby (2005), starred James Cosmo, Christopher Lee and Sean Pertwee. Other references to Greyfriars Bobby turn up in the films The Body Snatcher (1945) and Burke and Hare (2010), the song "The Ballad of Greyfriars Bobby" by The Real McKenzies and the 2016 young adult novel The Calling by Philip Caveney.
Director: Don Chaffey
Producer: Hugh Attwooll, Walt Disney
Screenplay: Robert Westerby
Based on the novel by Eleanor Atkinson
Cinematography: Paul Beeson
Score: Francis Chagrin
Cast: Donald Crisp (James Brown), Laurence Naismith (Mr. Trail), Alex Mackenzie (Auld Jock), Duncan Macrae (Sgt. Davie Maclean), Gordon Jackson (Farmer), Rosalie Crutchley (Farmer's Wife), Freda Jackson (Old Woman Caretaker), Kay Walsh (Mrs. Brown)
By David Sterritt
Location scenes filmed in Scotland. Released in Great Britain in 1961.