BR: Maze, The (1953)

April 28, 2018 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Excellent

Extras: Excellent

Label:  Kino KL Studio Classics / Unobstructed View (Canada)

Region: A

Released:  April 24, 2018

Genre:  Mystery / Suspense / 3D

Synopsis: A miffed finacee tracks down her beau to a Scottish castle, and refuses to leave until she uncovers the family secret that’s transformed him into a cold, indifferent man.

Special Features:  Audio commentary with film historians Tom Weaver, Bob Furmanek, Dr, Robert J. Kiss, and David Schecter / Interview with star Veronica Hurst (6:07) / Feature film in 3D and 2D / 3D Theatrical Teaser Trailer / Reversible Sleeve Art.

 


 

Review:

Like the major studios, indie Allied Artists took a crack at the 3D craze with this unusually moody gothic thriller based on a novel by Maurice Sandoz in which a Scotsman fails to return from a visit to the family estate, and his rejected fiancée tracks him down, finding a deeply changed man.

Sandoz’ novel was reportedly inspired by the real-life historical case of a family secret kept under tight wraps to protect the well-being of an estate, but instead of being a tale of an abused soul, The Maze is 99% mystery & atmosphere, with fiancée Kitty Murray ( Veronica Hurst) and aunt Edith (Katherine Emery) confounded by Gerald McTeam’s cold behaviour, and sudden aging over mere months.

Gerald (Richard Carlson) switches from an affable, very much in love hero to a (literally) grey villain, as though the obligations to look after his uncle’s recent demise and the needs of the estate cannot include a marriage, let alone any relationship. The women are ordered to leave by morning, but a cold gives them the perfect excuse to linger a few more days, with Kitty hoping to find clues to her fiance’s iciness.

Like a classic old dark house and slasher film, she pokes into private rooms, examines the attic, and ventures into a giant garden maze that’s strictly verboten to all but the manor’s personnel. Kitty doesn’t get far – she’s spotted and the maze is once again locked shut – but director William Cameron Menzies treats the geometric human trap like a force, luring people to dare wander its sharp corridors and find not the small pond at its centre, but the only way out.

The estate (it’s not really a castle) gives off its own creepy vibes, but the maze is the clue that draws in the curious, but its connection to the truth behind Gerald’s new persona is actually more peripheral. Where the film succeeds is in the eerie mood, as fog washes across the screen at night, and the estate’s lack of any modern conveniences like electricity and phone means Kitty and Edith are not only trapped, but should they disappear, no one would even know of their stay. The pair’s odds become more favourable when Kitty’s telegram brings four of their American friends to the estate, amping up the tension; Gerald refuses to crack, but he puts on a better show of reacting and interacting with his unwanted guests until the mystery element pulls him away.

Menzie’s set designs maximize every dollar in this low budget production, as does Harry Neumann’s stark B&W cinematography, and the high contrast lighting turning the estate innards into a crypt-like environment. Although the main attraction for genre fans will be the newly restored 3D elements and 4K transfer of this rare film, there are two other high points to The Maze: Carlson’s strong performance of a man under duress and wholly unable to trust anyone with the family secret; and Marlin Skile’s score.

Skiles is best known for assorted B-grade genre efforts like the ludicrous Queen of Outer Space (1958) and two very neat Allied Artists shockers, the grisly The Hypnotic Eye (1960) and the primordial serial killer entry The Strangler (1964), so it’s a real treat to hear this largely subdued approach which boasts some sophisticated string arrangements. Instead of loud stabs and furious passages, Skiles sticks to revolving motifs, and when the music does go boom, it erupts beautifully from the 3-channel surround sound mix crafted by Eckhard Büttner. Only qualms: pity there’s no isolated music track, as this is really one of his finest suspense scores.

The less one knows about the story and the finale, the better, but the revelation is definitely one of the oddest in horror.

SPOILER ALERT

 

As co-commentator Bob Furmanek explains, period reviews were unkind to The Maze, with some critics choosing to blow the ending to which the entire weirdness is heading. In a nutshell, like Sandoz’ novel, the secret involves a badly deformed relative whose longevity and weird condition have mandated he be kept in a room, and allowed to enter the maze where he can gain mobility, and freedom in the maze’s central pond. The creature is only seen in short dark glimpses – usually its legs as it scampers to safety – but when finally seen, it’s, um, a giant frog. The costume is partially successful, but what doesn’t help is giving the creature the sounds of tooting elephants. The deformity that affects Gerald’s uncle is rather surreal: in a lengthy speech, he explains that just as we develop from amphibian-like creatures in the womb before turning into bipedal creatures, the uncle remained frozen as an amphibian, although why the decision he evolve into a big toad instead of a mutated creature is a mystery.

Perhaps it’s what was in the novel, or perhaps it was a way to avoid criticism from censors who may have felt a slimy, more amorphous creature would’ve been too intense. Co-commentator and film historian Tom Weaver adds that the toad’s demise had to appear accidental rather than a deliberate suicide – a peculiar issue – but the final scene can be read as a partially accidental tumble, if not suicide force by fear after being hunted like an animal (er, toad).

The revelation is a little laughable, but to Menzies’ credit the rare glimpses of the creature are genuinely creepy, and when its seen in full detail, the actor in the toad suite moves like a terrified animal, making his desperate climb to its bedroom and tumble from the balcony believable.

 

END OF SPOILER

The Maze was release in late June of 1953, but as happened with most 3D movies, it didn’t get the full 3D rollout, and 40% of its audience saw it flat in double-bills, after which it was later sold to TV in the early 1960s. The 3-D Film Archive (in conjunction with Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation) mounted another fine restoration that also fixes some reported technical glitches, and the result is a razor sharp image, clean B&W cinematography, and 3D effects that don’t consist of objects tossed at you; there’s a few, but most of what you see are peripheral and central objects placed at angles which convey sharp depth between the actors and set décor. Perhaps the most effective moment isn’t a scare scene, but angular tree branches that poke out as the camera follows a car.

The commentary unfolds like a vintage Criterion laserdisc track with the edited thoughts by Weaver, Dr. Robert J. Kiss, and film music historian and Monstrous Movie Music album producer David Schecter interwoven between lead moderator Furmanek. Like prior 3-D Film Archive releases, there’s a wealth of production backstory on their website. A lot of good info is packed into the track, and no doubt there are a few related films listeners might wish to check out, like The Alligator People (1959), in which Beverly Garland plays a jilted fiancée who tracks down her husband and discovers he’s the victim of a weird curse.

Interestingly, The Maze is one of three 3D films to star Carlson; the other classics are It Came from Outer Space (1953) and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Co-star Hurst (The Yellow Balloon, TV’s Sexton Blake) also appears in a short interview where she recalls her first U.S. gig, enjoying the collegiate atmosphere on set with the cast and director, and feeling a little like the odd one out as the only Brit in a cast of Americans performing a story set in Scotland. Hurst also appeared with Michael Pate (who played Gerald’s trusted assistant) in The Royal Rifles (1953) which formed part of Allied Artists’ Maze double-bill.

William Cameron Menzies’s career as art decorator, production designer, and director extended from 1917 to 1956, but as a director, he’s probably best remembered for Invaders from Mars (1953), the striking, child-traumatizing sci-fi classic shot in a weird colour process, the epic Things to Come (1936), and uncredited work on The Thief of Bagdad (1940) and Duel in the Sun (1946).

Titles restored by the 3-D Film Archive include Cease Fire (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953), The Maze (1953), Those Redheads from Seattle (1953), Dragonfly Squadron (1954), Gog (1954), September Storm (1960), The Mask (1961), and The Bubble (1966).

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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