of the Loch (1934)
by Kip-Xool XXVI.XI.MMII
(Bray Wyndham Films) 72mins. UK.
Credits: Dir: Milton Rosmer; A.Dir: Hector Elwes &
B. Graham Soutten; Prod: Bray Wyndham; Sc:
Charles Bennett & Billie Bristow; Ph: James Wilson; Underwater Ph: Eric Cross; Ed:
David Lean; Art: E.L. Fisher Smith; Tech.Dir: J. Elder Wills; Assisted by the Zoological
Society. Sound: Eric Williams; Mus: Peter Mendoza.
Cast: Seymour Hicks, Nancy O'Neill, Gibson Gowland,
Frederick Peisley, Eric Hales, Rosamund John, Ben Field, Rob Wilton, Hubert Harben, F.
Llewellyn, Stuart Hilliard, John Jamieson, Elma Reid, D.J. Williams, Clive Morton.
THE SECRET OF THE LOCH can claim to be the first sound film to concentrate upon the monster of Loch Ness, a 22-mile stretch of
water in Scotland where the fabled "Nessie" is still said to inhabit its deep
waters. The timing of the film couldn't have been any better in light of the increase in reported sightings of the Monster during
the early years of the 1930's. In those days of depression, the media often treated the
sightings as a joke, merely something to lighten the daily news. Then in the early spring
of 1934, shortly before the films release, Colonel R.K. Wilson, a surgeon, not only saw
the Monster but managed to take one of the clearest photographs ever. This gave rise to
the first serious investigation, launching a series of photographic expeditions and
underwater searches for evidence.
Towards the end of 1934, the media interest had died down, yet almost 70 years later, the
Loch continues to be scrutinised by both British and foreign parties, hoping to establish once and for all
whether there is indeed a sea serpent in our midst.
THE SECRET OF THE LOCH is surprising in that throughout the film, all but the
"esteemed members" of the scientific community believe in the existence of the
leviathan. They are depicted as being the most unenlightened of characters, and although
it takes sometime before we see any cinematic evidence of the Monster, we can enjoy the
unveiling of the serpent during the films' final minutes. The film suggests that there indeed is a case for
the existence of the beast, but in our presumably enlightened age, this may be perceived
as simply an excuse to fill the screen with a big monster...
"Soomthing's goot tae be
We begin with a headline from the
'Daily Mail' dated October the 19th 1933 reporting the increase in sightings of the
Monster. 'The Daily Sun' runs with "Seen With Lamb in its Mouth..." At a
quiet tavern on the banks of the Loch in the town of Foyers, a local comes running in with
another close encounter of the Monster. Ol' Jock reports his sighting to the community
while he's poured several whiskies on the house (you wonder how many times the proprietor
has fallen for this old chestnut). Other drink-sodden old salts recall their own
encounters, exclaiming the Monster to be "60 feet or more..!"
Panic-stricken, even the roar of a car exhaust outside causes considerable commotion.
Instead of a ravenous beast however, in walks Professor Heggie (Seymour Hicks) and his
muscle Angus (Gibson Gowland). He also receives a free drink pulled by the fair hand and
ample bosom of Maggie, and sits to listen to the locals' stories. The Prof. then shows the
latest edition of 'The Daily Sun' which reports a "mass hallucination".
age 26, David Lean was already one of Britain's most skillful editors..."
"That's what London says about us" Hicks intones.
Mutterings of "London", "Pah!", "Hoots mon",
etc. are exchanged. For our benefit, Hicks delivers us the strange history of the Monster
with full solemnity.
"On dark winter nights when the mist hangs over it as it does now, we've
known...death come in many ways.
"Soomthing's goot tae be dun" Angus cuts in.
Our next stop is in the conference room of the London Museum where the Prof. is addressing
the finest scientific brains in the country. When Hicks declares what he believes to be
inhabiting the Loch in Scotland is a reptilian survivor of prehistoric ages...a
Diplodocus, the scientists begin their abusive cries of charlatan and madman instead of
any proper discourse about the possibilities. Things get worse when Hicks goes further to
suggest that an egg in an underwater cavern has been hatched due to the blasting
operations nearby and the recent summer heat. Hicks is literally attacked and chased back
to the Highlands.
(Frederick Peisley) of 'The Daily Sun' is sent by his paper to the Loch for a story.
Arriving at the tavern, he is shocked to see all his rival reporters assembled there. Soon
into their drunken revelry, Angus bursts in through the doors with three Brobdingnagian
Wolfhounds, warning the press to stay away from 'Craig Gorm', where the professor is busy
developing a means to prove the Monster's existence. Jimmy of course is the first to react
to Angus' revelatory faux-pas. He scales the ivy on the gloomy manor into the bedroom of
Hicks' granddaughter Angela (Nancy O'Neill), who doesn't seem too perturbed to have a
potential lunatic leering over her. Jimmy hurriedly explains his intrusion until Professor
Heggie throws the door open and catches Jimmy and Angela inflagrante. Angus is called to
drag the blackguard off and throw him into the deepest part of the Loch, until Angus
notices a fellow McKnockie in the tartan cloth of his tie, and plies Jimmy with more than
a drop of the hard stuff.
The following day, Jimmy is busy snooping upon the professor on the banks of the Loch.
With the superb magnification provided by his binoculars, he spies Hicks boarding a small
boat loaded with unmarked boxes. Angela interrupts this little soiree and after a heated
tiff, she agrees to drive Jimmy to where the Prof. is, but instead dumps him 12 miles from
nowhere, claiming that the walk will do him good. On his lonely journey through the misty
darkness, he meets Jack Campbell from Plymouth, whose been summoned to 'Craig Gorm' to
work as a diver. Later on we see Jack Campbell kitted up in his diving suit and pushed
overboard to explore the bed of the Loch.
It is here that we do see some impressive underwater cinematography provided by Eric
Cross. Jack sees a human skeleton as he descends the fathoms and once on the floor, he
finds the Professor's cave. Suddenly an immense shadow lurks towards him, and those on the
boat feel the struggle on the oxygen pipe. Jack is quickly hauled up, but all that is left
is the chewed end of the hose. Something has claimed another victim.
Professor Heggie soon finds himself in court where the verdict is filed as death from
misadventure. But Heggie is charged with undue care taken to prevent another death. The
Professor now seems to become mentally unhinged, and on his next confrontation with Jimmy,
he threatens to blast a shower of bullets into the old boy, but is disarmed by Angus and
Angela. For the love of Heggie's granddaughter, Jimmy sets out to prove that the Monster
exists, and win the Professor's favour.
Jimmy is carelessly sent down, like Jack before him, to the murky depths while
Angela collects the newspapermen from the tavern. At sixty-seven minutes of curiosity,
Jimmy finally tumbles onto our Diplodocus, which is in fact a rather handsome, but common
Jimmy yanks on the cord to be pulled up, but the Professor has climbed aboard the vessel
with his polished shotgun, threatening to fire if they haul Jimmy up. Angus is again
called to restrain the idiot, and as they pull safely Jimmy up, the Loch Ness Monster is
seen swimming on the water's surface. The reporters get their pictures, the Professor is
vindicated, and as Jimmy and Angela cavort on the boat, the Prof. gives them his approval
with an understanding smile.
Will Barker, who had set up the Autoscope Company in 1901,
moved his operations to Stamford Hill in Ealing, London, and when he retired from
production in 1920, the studio was already renowned. Fourteen years later when THE SECRET
OF THE LOCH was made, the studios had been renamed Associated Talking Pictures and were
making their own films, but they also rented out studio space to other production
companies, where many of the country's finest talents were nurturing their skills for
future success. One of these was David Lean. Working on THE SECRET OF THE LOCH at age 26,
Lean was already one of Britain's most skillful editors and would become one of our most
prestigious film directors, with such lauded classic films as BRIEF ENCOUNTER 1945, GREAT
EXPECTATIONS 1946, THE BRIDGE IN THE RIVER KWAI 1957 and the sprawling epic that is
LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 1962.
Co-scripting the film is Charles Bennett (1899-1995), one of Alfred Hitchcock's
favourite screenwriters. Bennett wrote the play on which Britain's first full-talkie film
BLACKMAIL was based in 1929. When Hitchcock hit his prime in the mid-Thirties, Charles
Bennett collaborated on five successive films with Hitch. He went to Hollywood in 1938 and
again worked with the Master for FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT when Hitchcock himself had arrived
Stateside. But he later returned to Britain to write and direct Margaret Lockwood in
MADNESS OF THE HEART in 1949. Bennett's later credits also include adapting M.R. James'
'Casting the Runes' story for Night
of the Demon.
Between Charles Bennett and David Lean, the film benefits greatly from it's impressive
streamlining and finely balanced action and dialogue sequences. Typically of British films
from this period, THE SECRET OF THE LOCH also includes some interesting names in front of
the camera. Heading the cast is Sir Seymour Hicks (1871-1949), a long-established farceur
of the stage. His portrayal as Professor Heggie is as a rather irritable and garrulous
scientist, whose obstinacy and bull-headedness in proving the existence of the Monster
does little to endear himself to the viewer.
Heggie's sidekick Angus is Gibson Gowland, an Englishman whose acting career blossomed
in America during the silent era. His most notorious role
as 'McTeague' in Erich von Stroheim's GREED (1925) opened up a variety of acting
assignments. He can also be seen in Universal's silent Phantom of the Opera, MGM's Mysterious Island (1929), and shortly
after THE SECRET OF THE LOCH, he appeared in Hammer's first horror outing, The Mystery of the Marie Celeste (1935).
Nancy O'Neill as Angela is almost as bland and drippy as Veronica Rose, while Frederick
Peisley as Jimmy Anderson is competent at best in portraying the impulse, derring-do
reporter. In addition, there is also some familiar faces in the supporting cast. One
delight was to see another appearance of D.J.
Williams who acts as the presiding Judge in Heggie's court case. Williams seemed to be
a popular face who, from his first known film in 1914, regularly frequented British
screens throughout the first half of the century. Williams was also a staple member of the
cast that appeared in George King's Tod Slaughter vehicles.
Another face to be seen is Clive Morton, whose film career spanned the British film until
his death in 1975. In one of his first screen roles, Clive Morton appears as a newspaper
Also making a screen debut is Rosamund John as barmaid Maggie, who gave several pleasing
performances in films during the Forties.
Lastly, mention must be made of the films director Milton Rosmer (1881-1971), who
directs this piece with little inspiration. Rosmer began as a popular actor on both stage
and screen, and later combined this with directing from 1926 onwards. Most of his projects
were undistinguished, but he did direct Tod
Slaughter's first feature film Maria Marten, or
Murder in the Red Barn.
Another Tod connection is in the films assistant director, Ben Graham Soutten. I'm not aware of any other work in this capacity
that he's credited with; his participation seems to have been solely as an actor. Born in
1891, Ben Graham Soutten, listed as a former drummer, later lost his leg, presumably
during action in the First World War. He seems to have used this to his advantage in his
film work and regularly appears as an interesting character actor in the Thirties,
including three appearances in Tod's films, notably as the crippled eye-patched
'Nathaniel' in The Crimes of Stephen Hawke.
Perhaps his juiciest role however was as the arch-villain 'Jonathan Small' in the
adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's THE SIGN OF FOUR (1932).
THE SECRET OF THE LOCH, in spite of its faults, is a delightfully entertaining film
capturing the spirit of fervent belief in 'Nessie', albeit depicting a stereotypical view
of life in the Scottish Highlands. If the film today seems to be nothing more than a slice
of early exploitation, it still remains as an anomaly amongst the early horror film
catalogue in treating what was until later, a perfectly plausible story on the existence
of a Monster that continues to evade its captors.
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