Greyfriars Kirk, photographed by me, 2008. Both ends.
The church in THE BODY SNATCHER. This shot appears after a couple of stock location shots of unchanged Edinburgh settings, the Castle esplanade and Holyrood Palace, and it’s such a convincing Edinburgh church that I always sort of thought it was another stock shot. But that’s our protagonist sat on a gravestone, visible through the gate. And comparing it to the real Greyfriars, it’s obviously a vaguely similar set-up but not the same place. On the other hand, it looks too grand to be a purpose-built set. I wonder if it was left over from another picture, and was rearranged and repurposed for this one? That seems to have been standard practice for Val Lewton’s unit, where the grand staircase from THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS famously crops up again in CAT PEOPLE and THE SEVENTH VICTIM, and THE GHOST SHIP was written specifically to take advantage of a ship set constructed for another movie (but I’ve never heard which).
But it one sense, it’s the same church. The authentic Edinburgh location is the site where a wee dog, Bobby, stayed by his master’s grave, and is commemorated with his own canine statue in bronze. Lewton cheekily incorporates Bobby, now rechristened Robbie, into his version of Robert Louis Stephenson’s Burke and Hare spin-off, and has the inconvenient terrier soundly throttled by Boris Karloff. Is nothing sacred?
Decades later, Greyfriars Kirk was used as the opening location of BURKE AND HARE: THE MUSICAL, a film written by yours truly. It seemed fitting to acknowledge the debt to Lewton, and the fact that the church is next door to our base camp at Edinburgh College of Art was probably a factor too. But it’s amazing place — in the heart of a modern city, you can pan 180° without seeing anything that smacks of post-1828 construction.
GREYFRIARS BOBBY, THE TRUE STORY OF A DOG (amusing subtitle, I feel) in 1961 and GREYFRIARS BOBBY in 2005, tell the “true” story of the dedicated West Highland terrier.