SECRET OF THE LOCH (1934) deserves its place in history as (1) a fairly crummy British B-picture of the thirties and (2) the first film to use an enlarged iguana as its monster. Except that’s not true, is it? The Fairbanks THIEF OF BAGDAD was there first.
Fiona’s been reading a book by a skeptical cryptozoologist, which seems fascinating. We didn’t know there WERE any sceptical ones. Basically, I guess they study animals unknown to science which they don’t believe in (although like any good skeptic they say they’re willing to be convinced). The book patiently explains the colossal impact the 1933 KING KONG has had – there were no newspaper accounts of Nessie until Willis H. O’Brien brought dinosaurs to the screen in convincing detail and lifelike motion.
And so we get Milton Rosmer’s film, which borrows freely from Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, but substitutes Inverness for Doyle’s South American plateau. Seymour Hicks, famed for his stage and screen Scrooge, plays the irascible/demented Professor Heggie, a crustier version of Doyle’s Challenger, and Frederick Peisley plays the callow journalist hero. Most surprisingly, Gibson Gowland, hulking protagonist of Stroheim’s GREED, is on hand as a celtic henchman, or “henchmon” if you will.
“The monster doesn’t scare me, I’ve worked for Von Stroheim.”
While KONG established the correct pattern for monster movie success, making the audience pant through an opening act with nary a sign of monstrosity, then wheeling its creation on and having him dominate the proceedings until the dying moments, Rosmer’s lightweight farrago does what innumerable cheapjack exploiters would do, holding off any sight of its star creature until we’re in sight of the fadeout. But Nessie is not Harry Lime, and this kind of super-delayed entrance may save on the effects budget but it’s untenable as a narrative device, since any cretaceous eruption into a contemporary drama must happen early enough or risk being rejected by the host body.
There you have it — the monster’s existence is attested to by the Daily Mail. “…the watery depths harbour some fantastic and abnormal creature, probably of Polish origin. Heil Hitler.”
Film history being full of ludicrous surprises, this movie was edited by David Lean. The poor young cutter has terrible trouble building a climax out of the footage he’s been handed, where they seem to have rather struggled with their rear projection. If Peisley isn’t standing in front of the iguana, blocking our view, he’s standing on the wrong side, making the beastie seem shortsighted as it advances implacably off to his left, intent on some offscreen tidbit. Still, the science of interpolating footage of actors in deep-sea diving apparatus with blurry lizards padding amiably towards the lens must have been major addition to the budding filmmaker’s palette. Whether one regrets that he never included an enlarged herbivorous lizard in BRIEF ENCOUNTER or DOCTOR ZHIVAGO depends upon one’s personal taste, and upon whether one is a raving idiot.