Review: The Secret of the Loch (The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection, Volume 4) / Cert: PG / Director: Milton Rosmer / Screenplay: Charles Bennett, Billie Bristow / Starring: Seymour Hicks, Nancy O’Neil, Gibson Gowland, Frederick Peisley, Eric Hales / Released: Out Now
As every schoolboy used to know, the first modern sighting of the Loch Ness Monster occurred in July 1933 when George Spicer and his wife were driving along the newly built Lakeshore road, only to see a very big something run in front of their car. However, that’s not quite accurate: something big and fishy had been spotted a couple of months earlier by a Mrs Aldie Mackay and her story was picked up by a local journalist. As it happens, this was a time when King Kong (1933) was having a huge cultural impact; so he monstered the story up a bit and got in the Inverness Courier under the title of “Strange Spectacle on Loch Ness”. The Loch was soon crawling with London journalists and it can come as no surprise that they soon produced the story of the Spicers' near-collision with the now-iconic beasties.
Fascinating, you’ll agree; but why are we telling you this? Ealing’s The Secret of the Loch (1934) is already an interesting monster movie but you need the historical context to really appreciate it. It was made at a time when Nessiemania was at its height but the established tropes of what is actually a modern legend were yet to be established; this is almost certainly the first movie to ever feature the Loch Ness Monster. The film starts with a series of newspaper headlines expressing concern about the monster in only the way '30s Britain could: just what are the fisheries going to do about it? After some wonderfully atmospheric and low-budget bits of the Loch-side by night, we’re introduced to Professor Heggie (Hicks), the only scientist to believe in the monster, as he gets into a “debate” with his fellow academics at the British Museum with hilarious consequences. Next thing we know, the Loch is indeed infested with journalists much as it was in real life, all in search of evidence of Nessie.
For some reason, it’s only British movies of the '30s that ever quite capture the truly romantic side of Scotland and it’s easy to be sucked in by all the whiskey gags and clan obsessions as these fictional Scots interact with the (rather irritating) Sassenach hacks. We’re sure real Scots might scoff but it’s charming even if you have to keep reminding yourself it was eighty years ago. After all, you wouldn’t expect to get away with breaking into a young woman’s bedroom (as the hero does) just to see her grandfather and get away with it nowadays either. It’s also got lots of deep sea diving-suit action with those big helmets and Nessie herself who is played, somewhat bravely, by an iguana. Oh come on, what did you expect? Willis O’Brien?
If you fancy this (and why wouldn’t you?) then it’s part of volume 4 of The Ealing Studios Rarities Collection. The rest is not really Starburst territory but we can confirm this is definitely the best movie in the set (Googie Withers forgive us).