Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Town and Its Dog: "Greyfriars Bobby" (1961)

Made in the early 1960's on location in Scotland, this Disney film tells the true story of one loyal dog.

Old Jock (Alex Mackenzie) is a shepherd from the country who is taken to Edinburgh when his boss (Gordon Jackson) can no longer afford to keep him on. Jock leaves his terrier, Bobby, with the family. The dog follows Jock all the way to the city, a distance of twenty miles. Jock always ate at Traill's (Laurence Naismith) dining rooms at one o'clock, and Bobby shows up there to keep the meal time. Traill tries to get Jock to see a doctor, but Jock later dies in a run down boarding house.

Thanks to his last wages, Jock is buried in a noble cemetery run by caretaker Brown (Donald Crisp). Bobby then develops a routine, meals at Traill's, and then sleeps on Jock's grave at night. Brown tries his best to keep the dog out, but it keeps the rat population down. The dog is adopted by the many poor children in the neighborhood, including disabled Tommy and Ailie. The constable eventually charges the dog with no license, and Traill must appear in court to argue for the dog.

This is a very Scottish film, and many of the accents are difficult to understand. While Disney did release this, children may be bored by the fact that the heroes are two old Scots who mostly argue. The terrier is adorable as hell, and the children are all very cute.

The musical score is Disneyesque, bombarding you with adorable music when the dog does something adorable, and menacing music when the dog faces menace. As an adult, I enjoyed the back and forth between Traill and Brown, although there are a few slow spots that probably could not have been trimmed from an already short ninety one minute film. Brown and Traill are not angels, Traill's dismissal of the children at first is surprising. The film makers are saying that Bobby brought love and kindness to his rundown neighborhood, and I went along with it.

Chaffey's direction is also surprising- surprisingly dark. Jock's experiences in the city are dank and depressing, especially the boarding house scenes. The script bores here and there, it is a little predictable, but this is still a good story. The cast is flawless, adults and kids and dog, as no one crosses to far into overly sentimental territory.

"Greyfriars Bobby" is a lesser known Disney film, but still a good family film. If the kids like literal films instead of shootouts and special effects, this would be perfect for them. Not a perfect film, but I do recommend it. (* * * *) out of five stars.