Challenge to Lassie
Cast & Crew
In an Edinburgh, Scotland courthouse, in the year 1860, an appeals court trial is underway to determine the fate of a collie named Lassie. As John Traill, the dog's master, pleads his case before the judge, he recalls the time, one year earlier, when he first met Lassie: One day, during an Edinburgh street market fair, John's friend, Jock Gray, discovers the young stray Lassie and, recognizing in her the characteristics of a champion collie, decides to keep the dog until she is claimed by her owner. As Lassie grows to maturity, Jock trains her to help him with his sheep-herding chores. Although Lassie learns fast and proves to be an invaluable friend to Jock, Jock is troubled by the thought that her owner may be looking for her, so he decides to leave Lassie with his boss, MacFarland. Lassie is unhappy in her new home and follows Jock to John's inn, where she scratches at the door until she is let in. John then persuades Jock to take Lassie with him on his journey to the northern part of the country, but tragedy strikes when Jock and Lassie are attacked in an alley by two thieves. Lassie keeps the attackers away, but Jock is injured badly and dies the next day. Instinctively, the orphaned Lassie keeps a watch over Jock's grave in Greyfriars churchyard, and when the caretaker ejects her, she finds her way back to John's inn. Unable to continue caring for the dog, John returns Lassie to MacFarland, but she escapes from his barn once again. Lassie's journey back to the graveyard is a long and treacherous one, but she eventually arrives there safely. At the graveyard, Lassie finds herself in trouble with the law as the new, strict police sergeant, Sergeant Davie, threatens to enact a law requiring the destruction of stray dogs not claimed by their legal owners. John goes to court, willing to pay Lassie's license fine to spare her life, but the judge refuses to accept the payment because John cannot prove that he is Lassie's rightful owner. John loses his case, but while preparations are made for an appeal, Lassie escapes from Davie's guard and takes refuge in the soldiers' quarters of a nearby army fortress. The dog is adopted by the soldiers and later makes a daring escape from the walled fortress and returns to the graveyard. John concludes his testimony about how he came to know Lassie, and as the apparently unswayed appeals judge is about to deliver his verdict, the courtroom is stormed by children bearing a sum of money collected to pay for Lassie's license. Things still look bad for Lassie, though, and when a bugle is sounded in the distance, she runs out of the courtroom, which is seen as an indication that she is a wild dog. To prove that she not wild, John leads the judge to Jock's gravesite, where he knows Lassie has gone. Persuaded that Lassie merely responded instinctively to a sound she associated with her owner, the judge agrees to spare Lassie's life by making her a free citizen of Edinburgh, a status exempting her from licensing laws. Furthermore, the judge takes pleasure in assigning Sergeant Davie the task of personally answering questions by passersby relating to Lassie's fame.
Eric F. Noonan
Major Sam Harris
T. Arthur Hughes
Edwin B. Willis
Challenge to Lassie
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 André 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
Challenge to Lassie
The onscreen credits noted that this film was an M-G-M "Silver Anniversary picture." The following statement appeared at the end of the viewed film: "All scenes involving animals in this picture were made under the supervision and with the cooperation of the American Humane Association." Working titles for this film were Highland Lassie and Greyfriars Bobby. Another film based on Atkinson's novel is the 1961 Disney film Greyfriars Bobby directed by Don Chaffey and starring Donald Crisp (as the caretaker) and Laurence Naismith (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.1963). Some outdoor sequences were filmed in Eureka, CA. For more information on the "Lassie" series, consult the Series Index and see the entry below for Lassie, Come Home.