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Lair of the Beasts: A Famous Movie Monster
Holmes Goes Creature-Seeking
By Nick Redfern
August 24, 2013
Now and again I’m asked what my favorite monster-movie is. In conversation, people often assume it’s something like the original version of King Kong, or perhaps Godzilla, or, maybe, The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Well, it’s none of those. Nor, thankfully, is it one of those awful, cheap, made-for-TV productions filled with D-list actors and over-sized sharks and crocodiles that are continually thrust upon us.
Actually, my answer is very different. I would have to say that my all time favorite creature-feature is a 1970 production, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. To which, many might reply: “Say what?” Okay, everyone knows that Sherlock Holmes – and his sidekick, Dr. Watson – took on a monster-dog in The Hound of the Baskervilles.
The glowing-eyed, spectral hound of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novel is not the only fiendish creature that Holmes and Watson were forced to do battle with, however. They also had a significant run-in with the world’s most famous unknown animal of the deep: the Loch Ness Monster.
Not in Conan Doyle’s novels, mind you, but in that aforementioned movie, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. The very good, and highly alternative, thing about this particular production is that the team behind the movie decided to do something completely different with Nessie.
At this point (in case you haven’t seen the film, but may now be planning on doing so) I should say two words: Spoiler alert! Yep, the plot is about to be revealed.
Many movie-makers might take the predictable approach of having Nessie as some violent, marauding creature, slaughtering a bunch of teenagers that decide to take a trip to Loch Ness. Billy Wilder, however, was not your average movie-maker. He won numerous Golden Globes and Academy Awards, and was the brains behind the classic Marilyn Monroe movie, Some Like It Hot.
In The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, the famous fictional detective (played by Robert Stephens), and his faithful sidekick, head to Scotland, while investigating the mysterious death of a Belgian engineer.
Shortly after they arrive, along with the widow of the Belgian engineer (who is really a German spy and not the dead man’s wife at all), Watson sees the monster surfacing out of the foggy waters of the mysterious loch.
As the film progresses, Holmes, Watson, and the widow who really isn’t, take to Loch Ness and come face to face with the huge, long-necked monster, which flips their rowing-boat over, and plunges them into the icy, dark waters.
In other words, there really is a Loch Ness Monster. But it’s not a surviving dinosaur, a plesiosaur, a giant eel, or something else equally exotic. Rather, it’s a submarine. Unbeknownst to Holmes and Watson, the British Government has been secretly testing a revolutionary, underwater, military craft deep in the waters of Loch Ness.
The reason: it has become clear – in the pre-First World War-era, in which the movie is set – that Britain and Germany will soon be at war, and so it’s vital that new, novel and revolutionary ways of defeating the enemy should be studied and created.
And, to ensure that the secret of what is really afoot stays hidden, and in the event that visitors to the loch might see the submarine, those running the project construct a large, monstrous head and neck, which are ingeniously attached to the top of the sub.
So, the secret of what is really going on – the testing of a secret military device – gets hidden behind a legend of a long-necked serpent of the deep.
Filled with a great deal of sly humor, adventure, intrigue, and atmosphere, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is – for me, at least – the number-one monster movie.
Nick Redfern is the author of many books, including There’s something in the Woods and Monster Diary.