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  Challenge to Lassie Greyfriars Doggie
Year: 1949
Director: Richard Thorpe
Stars: Edmund Gwenn, Donald Crisp, Geraldine Brooks, Reginald Owen, Alan Webb, Ross Ford, Henry Stephenson, Alan Napier, Sara Allgood, Edmund Breon, Arthur Shields, Lumsden Hare, Charles Irwin
Genre: Drama, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The time: 1860, the place: an Edinburgh court, the defendant: a dog named Lassie, who is on trial for her life after being found in the city without a licence and without an owner to buy it for her. A local innkeeper, John Traill (Edmund Gwenn) says that he will put up the money, but a technicality means that his pleas fall on deaf ears. There's one last chance; if he outlines the story of Lassie and how she came to be unofficially residing in the Greyfriars churchyard, then maybe he will gain the sympathy of the court. It all began when the dog was a puppy...

Second to last in the official Lassie series, and by this time inspiration was beginning to run dry, so the filmmakers resorted to recasting the story of another famous pooch, Greyfriars Bobby, with their celebrated collie in the lead role. I suppose if the series had continued it would only be a matter of time before Lassie was starring in the biopic of Laika, the first dog into space (a guaranteed tearjerker considering how that one turned out), and if they were still going today we could see Lassie cast as a live action Gromit alongside a real life Wallace.

But Pal, the original Lassie, didn't live so long, although he certainly made his mark. This was not one of his better adventures, especially in light of the Disney version of the sixties which was more faithful to Eleanor Atkinson's original novel, but for appreciators of the four-legged friend it still provided entertainment, as he was an exceptionally well-trained animal. Here we see him - sorry, her, he was playing a she as usual - grow from a puppy found by shepherd Jock Gray (Donald Crisp) to a loyal companion, always at his side and practically spending its days gazing up at the old man's visage and telling him "Ri ruv rou", which is "I love you" in dog language.

Sadly, the idea of getting Lassie to talk doesn't appear to have crossed the filmmakers' minds, even though it could have been a way of extending the movies' popularity - Lassie went to television during the following decade for about a billion episodes of saving Timmy from out of the well. Anyway, Jock, if you know the story, is not long for this world and it appears that what the scriptwriter thought the Greyfriars Bobby tale needed was more violence, so he does not succumb to illness, but to getting his head kicked in by passing muggers. Soon he is dead, Lassie is in mourning, and refuses to leave the grave her old master is buried in.

This leads to all sorts of problems, as for a start dogs are not allowed in the graveyard, but no attempts to send the mutt packing will work, as she always finds a way of returning. Traill provides her with food, or a cup of tea anyway ("You'll have had your tea, then, Lassie?"), and soon she is a local celebrity, but now has to face the iron fist of The Man, as the authorities make it their business to make life difficult for what they consider to be a stray. They take her away, but in a somewhat clichéd development the dog escapes and performs a rerun of Lassie Come Home, across hill and dale and through the odd loch, all to get back to the grave, the reason for which is becoming a distant memory. Rest assured, it ends happily (they wouldn't have Lassie destroyed, after all), but Pal should have asked for a better screenplay that gave him more to do in his own right rather than aping a previous heroic hound. Music by André Previn.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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