Scotland in 1865, and Old Jock (Alex Mackenzie) is an elderly shepherd whose closest friend is Bobby, the little terrier that has been his companion for two years or so. Things are not going well for Jock, as he has just lost his job at a farm, though he is not telling the farmer's daughter who is to keep the dog. But as Jock is carried off in the carriage on the way to Edinburgh, Bobby cannot bear the thought of being parted with him and at the first opportunity makes a break for freedom in pursuit of the carriage. He runs all the way to the capital city, searching for his friend, little knowing that Jock does not have long to live...
An inspiration to dog lovers everywhere, the true story of Greyfriars Bobby might not have played out in quite the manner that this Disney version of events would have it, in spite of the caption "The True Story of a Dog" appearing under the title during the opening credits, but the basic facts are there. There was a dog called Bobby, and although some details of his tale were invented by his biographer Eleanor Atkinson, it is genuine that the pooch stayed at the graveyard where Old Jock (as she renamed the owner) was buried, although fresh evidence came to light over a hundred years later that Bobby very probably spent his time sitting on the wrong grave for fourteen years.
Well, nobody's perfect, but the central theme of loyalty between man's best friend and his master has touched the hearts of those who have heard it for around a hundred and fifty years now, so Walt Disney was ideal to make it into a movie, what with the studio's traditional love of animal stories being such a success for them. Wisely, screenwriter Robert Westerby did not opt to anthropomorphise the dog, so it remains resolutely non-human throughout: a talking Greyfriars Bobby would have been too much for credibility to take, so it's through the people who meet him that the emotions are brought out in the story.
In tearjerking scenes, Bobby tracks down Old Jock who is suffering from pneumonia, and in spite of the actions of local eaterie owner Mr Traill (Laurence Naismith), who tries to give the shepherd a good meal and persuade him to visit the infirmary, he ventures out on his own, reluctant to accept any more assistance. He ends up at a boarding house with some of the last of his wages, Bobby by his side, but the next morning sad to say Jock does not wake up and poor little Bobby is left alone in the world. As the only mourner, he follows the coffin to Greyfriars Kirkyard - the old man had enough to pay for his funeral - and makes up his mind to stay by his friend's side for the rest of his days.
For a story that could take half an hour to relate, here they do a good job of stretching it out to ninety minutes, and the unsentimental approach, unusual for the material, turns out to be the sensible one. Naturally, Bobby finds he has other friends after all, the cityfolk he has encountered, so Mr Traill feeds him and the kirkyard caretaker eventually gives in to the dog's persistence and allows him access to the grave; he does kill off his share of rats, after all. To top it all, when in a late arriving twist Bobby has his troubles with The Man trying to keep him down (he has no licence), the local children band together to let him continue living in the style to which he has become accustomed, so in spite of the film turning into a courtroom drama, there is a happy ending. In its plain and, for its genre, almost austere methods, Greyfriars Bobby shows the virtues of charity and loyalty, rewarding the viewer with a warm glow to go with the tear in their eye. Music by Francis Chagrin.
British director best known for directing fantasy favourites Jason and the Argonauts and One Million Years B.C, both of which featured groundbreaking Ray Harryhausen effects. Chaffey also directed Hammer’s Viking Queen, but much of his work was in television, both in the UK (The Prisoner, Man In a Suitcase) and, later, the US (Charlie’s Angels, CHiPs, Airwolf). Also made kids’ favourites Greyfriars Bobby and Pete's Dragon for Disney.