The Maze (1953)William Cameron Menzies directed and was responsible for the art design of The Maze which had its theatrical release in 3D. You’ll actually live it! the film hails.
William Cameron Menzies is known for his visually oneiric classic sci-fi films with dreamlike landscapes.The fantastical (Invaders From Mars)(1953), Things To Come)and the uncredited director of Duel In The Sun and The Thief of Bagdad, and the epic Gone With The Wind)
Dan Ullman’s screenplay gives us some atmospheric scenes that are compelling to watch and although at times The Maze seems prosaic and downright laughable, It’s been a guilty pleasure of mine for years and I think it’s a charming little chiller from the ’50s due to its originality and Menze’s art design. Plus I enjoy watching Michael Pate, always looking like his underwear is on too tight for his gingerbread men.
Richard Carlson (It Came From Outer Space, Creature From The Black Lagoon)plays Gerald MacTeam, a Baronet and next in line to reign at Craven Castle after his Uncle Samuel dies. The isolated and dreaded Craven Castle has held a mystique about it for centuries, up there in the highlands of Scotland, where an ancient curse hangs over the MacTeam clan.
Aunt Edith(Katherine Emery) spends some time narrating the tale to us as if telling us a bedtime story or fairytale.
Gerald is engaged to Kitty Murray(Veronica Hurst). At the beginning of The Maze, we find Gerald and Kitty regaling their engagement in Canne, with Kitty’s Aunt Edith, played by Katherine Emery(Isle of The Dead). Suddenly Gerald receives an urgent telegram telling him to come to Craven Castle immediately, although he has just told the women, that he had not been there in years.
Gerald leaves abruptly with the promise that he’ll contact Kitty once he’s settled. But weeks go by with no contact from Gerald. Her telegrams have all been delivered but there is still no answer from her fiance for several weeks.
Aunt Edith guides Kitty that Gerald’s silence is his answer. But Kitty is determined to find out why Gerald hasn’t contacted her. She’s worried that he’s in trouble, reading the announcement in the newspaper that his Uncle Samuel has passed away at age 45, Kitty insists that she and Aunt Edith go to Scotland to help Gerald who must be in terrible shape not to answer her telegrams.
Kitty is relentless and irritating throughout the film. You don’t admire her determination, rather you resent her ignoring Gerald’s wishes, and not respecting his privacy once they arrive. Prying and questioning all the rules of the MacTeam family. Gerald coldly tells her to leave, yet she insinuates herself into the situation, against his wishes. Kitty even has the audacity to invite their friends to the castle without Gerald knowing about it.
The male servants try everything they can at thwarting Kitty’s inquisitiveness. One of the maids has quit, because she wandered into the maze and was horrified. Gerald insists that from now on, William is to hire only male help.
When Kitty and Aunt Edith arrive at Craven Castle cloaked in the foggy Highland mist, they are greeted by the stoic and stern William played by Michael Pate(The Killer is Loose, Curse of the Undead, an interesting vampire western).
When Kitty sees the changes in Gerald, who looks like he’s aged 20 years, with hair turned white on the sides and his face frozen in a stony expression, she’s shocked. Gerald is furious that she’s come to the castle. He had written Edith specifically telling them that he is releasing Kitty from the engagement. That if he were to leave the castle, it would mean certain death. This line of the note is scratched out in pencil, but Kitty erases it and reads what he has written. This only propels Kitty’s prowess to see her fiance even more. Aunt Edith goes along unwillingly yet for moral support.
Gerald insists that they leave in the morning, putting them in adjoining rooms. Aunt Edith had been forewarned about the strange rules of the castle, but Kitty is unnerved when they are locked in at night. She sees a light under the door, and we hear a strange slithering, dragging noise as it passes by her room. This does not discourage her, she finds a secret passageway to a lookout and watches as a light moves along the maze in the dark. She tells Aunt Edith that something is going on and begs Aunt Edith who merely has the sniffles to feign illness so that they can stay a bit longer to investigate.
The curious rules, the rubber matting on the floors, the steps that are more like platforms, the strange sounds, and lights, and the drastic change in Gerald’s demeanor all work on the spirit of Kitty’s curiosity to find out the truth.
Kitty conspires to send a telegram to her friends in London, one a doctor friend Burt Dilling (John Dodsworth), and invites him and Hillary Brooke as Peggy Lord and another couple to come to the castle under the guise of them stopping by while touring the Scottish countryside. All this is a ruse to get Dr. Burt Dilling to check in on his friend Gerald.
William and the other servants are mysterious and steadfast in their protection of the secret of the MacTeam legacy and why Gerald has turned his back on his modern life, and engagement to the beautiful Kitty. Now the secret of Craven Castle and what lurks in The Maze unfolds in vintage 50’s campy style. The Maze is a lot of fun, it rekindles that childhood memory of being shocked at the time, now it’s just wonderful to watch Richard Carlson a great mainstay of the genre play the tormented Gerald who must now take up the mantle of the family legacy.
There is a bit of Lovecraftian theme to The Maze which seldom translates well enough on screen yet does give this film enough of an eerie quality, in retrospect.
And Cryptozoologists will have a ball at the climax of the film. I only wish I could have seen it in its 3 Dimensional glory!