The first attempt to put the fabled Loch Ness Monster on the screen is a beast almost as curious as old Nessie herself. Made at a time when reported sightings were cropping up all over the British press, Secret of the Loch no doubt benefited enormously from the famous photographs of the monster taken by respected surgeon Colonel R.K. Wilson which appeared shortly before the film was released in 1934.
What strikes the unwary viewer on their first encounter with The Secret of the Loch is that it's mostly played for comedy. Seymour Hicks mostly plays it straight (though cuts the ham extra thick for the occasion) as the obsessed and publicity shy professor determined to prove that something monstrous is lurking beneath the surface of the Loch, but just about everyone else is presented as a buffoon, drunk or half-wit. The press pack pursuing Hicks' Professor Heggie are particularly hopeless and any Scottish viewer might be forgiven for having serious issues with the way the locals - drunken superstitious rednecks almost to a man - are presented. That said, the scientific intelligentsia are equally shoddily treated in the film's funniest scene set in the British Museum (presumably) when Heggie tries and fails to present his theories to a room full of scientists madder than anything Universal was cooking up at the time.
It's no real surprise that scriptwriters Charles Bennett (later a writer for Hitchcock (The 39 Steps (1935), Secret Agent (1936), Sabotage (1936)) and Irwin Allen) and Billie Bristow played it for laughs as they had precious little else to work with. Hampered by a miniscule budget they were never going to be able to write scenes to match the previous year's King Kong and indeed go out of their way to delay the appearance of the monster for as long as possible. The clowning around of the cast is presumably meant to tide us over until the climactic unveiling of the beastie itself.
And when it does finally put in an appearance, the sense of anti-climax is crushing. There was no room in the budget here for stop motion animation. Not enough even for a man in a suit. Instead, we get a rather lethargic looking iguana, photographically enlarged in a terrarium which the film-makers have done nothing whatsoever to disguise - there's never any sense at all in any of the climactic scenes, supposedly set in the depths of the Loch, that we're actually underwater at all.
Today, the film is interesting not for what it does but for who did it. Director Milton Rosmer - a former actor with a filmography stretching back to the 1910s - was half way through a not-terribly-exciting career that also included the Tod Slaughter vehicle Maria Marten, of the Murder in the Red Barn (1935). His acting credits were somewhat more interesting, numbering among them titles such as The Man Without a Soul (1916), High Treason (1928), a TV version of Gaslight (1947) and The Monkey's Paw (1948). Of more interest is the credit for one David Lean as the film's editor. Lean famously earned his dues toiling away in the lowest echelons of the British film industry before becoming one of British cinema's most revered directors.
The Secret of the Loch is available on budget Region 1 DVDs and is of some interest to students of the Loch Ness legend and historians of British genre cinema alike, but anyone else might find it something a chore. The humour is more hit than miss, the monster is laughable and the performances wildly variable but it nevertheless has a naïve charm that's curiously hard to resist.