The Maze (1953) Of Highlands and Amphibians

The Maze (1953)William Cameron Menzes directed and was responsible for the art design on The Maze which had it’s theatrical release in 3D. You’ll actually live it! the film hails.

William Cameron Menzes 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 prozaic and down right laughable, It’s been a guilty pleasure of mine for years and I think it’s a charming little chiller from the 50’s due to it’s 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 bed time story or fairytale.

Gerald is engaged to Kitty Murray(Veronica Hurst). In 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 telling 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, hair turned white on the sides 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 passage way to a look out 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, 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 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 its 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 it’s 3 Dimensional glory!


The Killer Is Loose: Gutsy Crime Noir: Get Lila (1956)

Part of my women in peril series

The Killer is Loose (1956) directed by Budd Boetticher revolves around a bank robbery in downtown L.A. While the police have set up a wiretapping operation it is revealed that the meek bank teller Leon Poole is the inside man. Leon had faked going after the robbers and getting struck by one of them in the process. This impresses his old army Sargent who was in the bank at the time. We learn that the nickname Foggy was given to Leon by his superior officer and the entire company apparently to poke fun at Leon” Foggy” Poole for being a simple minded coward. Starring Joseph Cotten as Detective Sam Wagner, Rhonda Fleming as his wife Lila, and Wendell Corey as Leon “Foggy”Poole.

During the apprehension of Leon, detective Sam Wagner accidentally kills Poole’s young wife who wasn’t supposed to be home, and at Leon’s trial he swears to get back at Detective Wagner, while staring at Detective Wagner’s wife who is present in the courtroom.

This is the inception of the woman in peril theme once Leon sets his gaze on Sam’s wife Lila the object of his hatred fixed on her from here on in.

In a very chilling manner, Leon asks why Sam’s wife Lila should still be alive. Leon’s lack of affect shows us a more deranged man than someone who might be prone to violent outburst, and it is this subtlety of his underlying psychosis that is so frightening.

About three years later, Poole (until then a model prisoner) abruptly takes his chance to kill a guard and escape. It’s clear during the ensuing manhunt that Poole is obsessed in pursuit of a single end; but not quite the end everyone supposes.

After serving 3 years in prison, Leon gets assigned to an “honor” work farm, where because of his mild manner and seemingly model behavior is trusted to go on a ride with one of the prison guards to unload a truck. Leon seizes the opportunity to escape by brutally killing the driver, and then proceeds on his odyssey of revenge. Like a shark that never stops moving, Leon is driven only by his desire to exact the same outcome for Detective Wagner, to target Lila as retribution for the killing of his beloved wife. Leon becomes a killing machine. Going from one opportunistic murder to the next until he can reach Sam’s wife. So begins the full scale manhunt for the killer on the loose.

Budd Boetticher gives us a very bleak yet dramatic landscape of America’s man vs society, cop vs criminal, good vs evil. Like some of the wild west pictures that Boetticher is known for, except here it’s played out in an urban city setting. Leon is a man set on revenge with no other driving desire, and void of a consciousness that we can see.

Killer is uncompromisingly realistic and often brutal in it’s portrayal of the ordinary machinations of a psychotic murderer, especially for it’s time. I’m not a huge Rhonda Fleming fan, but I do love Joseph Cotten in anything even his later cult and horror period like Baron Blood, Airport ’77 and Soylent Green.

The really memorable star of this gutsy Mise en scene police vs criminal noir, is the killer himself Leon “Foggy” Poole played brilliantly by Wendell Corey who defined his sober character with simplicity, and an almost naivete childlike quality. This is what makes the film so compelling. That Leon doesn’t understand why he shouldn’t kill the people who are getting in the way of his fixing Detective Sam Wagner for having inadvertently killing Leon’s wife during a raid on his apartment.

Wendell Corey’s Leon never comes across as unhinged in an overt way, it’s the way he holds back his emotions that makes his killer enigmatic and makes your skin crawl.

There are moments of exasperation in The Killer Is Loose for me. The police often miss the mark when trying to effectively do their job, and I find Rhonda Fleming’s character as Sam’s wife Lila annoying most of the time.I  was more sympathetic for Mary, the wife of Sam’s partner’s Michael Pate (Curse Of the Undead)Detective Chris Gillespie’s played by great character actress Virginia Christine.

Still, The Killer Is Loose is a compelling watch, because of it’s existential informality in some of the more  brutal moments which are powerful. The tone of Killer overrode the failings of this film for me and so  I was able to separate myself from the few things that irked me like Lila’s stubborn harping and the police’s ineffectual fumblings.

There are some other great veteran actors in this film like the always jovial Alan Hale Jr and John Larch who plays Otto Flanders, Foggy’s superior officer in the army who gave him that nickname Foggy as an insult.