B&W, 1953, 80 mins. 23 secs.
Directed by William Cameron Menzies
Starring Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery, Michael Pate, John Dodsworth, Hilary Brooke
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC)
Made at the height of the 3D craze in the 1950s, The Maze is a title far more discussed than actually seen over the years. Its unavailability on home video and very rare theatrical appearances for decades gave it a kind of mystique, helped in no small part by the fact that it was the final film helmed by William Cameron Menzies, the visionary production designer turned director with such films as Things to Come, Invaders from Mars, and Chandu the Magician to his credit. A film that's driven almost entirely by production design right down to its title, The Maze is a strange, highly atmospheric oddity marketed as a supernatural horror film and containing a bizarre monster finale that continues to provoke a wide range of reactions. Whatever you think, it's certainly memorable.
Without warning, Scottish baronet Gerald MacTeam (Carlson, sturdy 3D hero of Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space) takes off to his ancestral home and cuts off his engagement to Kitty (Hurst), a socialite who talks like Grace Kelly. Refusing to take no for an answer and sociopathic in her refusal to think about anyone else, she forces her aunt Edith (Emery) to accompany her uninvited to the MacTeam estate and barges in only to find Gerald significantly aged and more than a little perturbed at her presence. Kitty lies about her aunt having a nasty cold to force Gerald and his servant William (Pate) to let her stay on the grounds despite repeated pleas not to, especially since there are sinister rules in place like being locked into one's room at night and staying away from the large, ominous hedge maze outside. The belligerent Kitty then decides to invite a bunch of friends over for a dinner party without informing Gerald, all a ruse to steal one of his keys and find out what's really going on-- a decision that unleashes unnecessary death and tragedy.
As you can tell from the synopsis above, The Maze features a pretty despicable heroine at its center despite the film's intentions to convince the viewer otherwise, a weird narrative clash that seems even more glaring given how tortured Carlson seems with every minute of her presence. His role seems tailor made for Vincent Price with his seclusion and secretive behavior, complete with a last-minute exposition scene tying everything up that you can almost hear being delivered in Price's voice. Carlson makes for a perfectly good substitute though, and the film ladles on the Gothic horror visuals so heavily you won't even notice how little actual narrative there really is for most of the running time. In 3D it's a particular joy to watch with lots of deep, dark corridors, flickering candles, swooping bats, and of course the maze climax with its monster unmasking that looks much more surreal in three dimensions. Menzies' flair for composition and set design is the real star here with every shot designed to artfully show off the process, using stylized camera placement and interesting angular sets to create fascinating depth illusions in even the most mundane scenes.
Unfortunately the 3D fun of this film has been impossible to appreciate for most viewers, with only a handful of scarce TV airings (flat, of course) and very rare repertory revivals offering any chance to see this at all for a long time. The Kino Lorber Blu-ray release is a real cause for celebration as it finally presents a fully restored 3D version of the film courtesy of the 3D Film Archive (in collaboration with Martin Scorsese and the Film Foundation), whose heroic work has also resulted in 3D presentations of such diverse titles as The Mask, Gog, September Storm, Those Redheads from Seattle, and The Stewardesses. Try to see this in 3D if at all possible; though the U.S. seems to have given up on keeping 3D HD sets in the mainstream, it's really worth the effort to see this and other classic titles as they were originally intended. A flat 2D version is also included (as is a simultaneous DVD release), though it doesn't pack nearly the same punch and looks slightly softer to boot. The DTS-HD MA options include a standard 2.0 mono mix and a restored 3.0 track that features effective split-channel and panning effects throughout, even during dialogue scenes. A fine, very informative audio commentary with monster movie specialist Tom Weaver, Bob Furmanek, Dr. Robert J. Kiss, and David Schecter covers pretty much everything you could possibly want to know about the film including its source novel by Maurice Sandoz, the real Scottish story that inspired it, the involvement of Walter Mirisch, the release history and rocky process of showing films in 3D at the time, and the restoration process. A video interview with Hurst (6m8s) is worth checking out as well as she recalls jumping into the film at short notice with little awareness of how 3D worked, as well as her working relationship with Menzies and Carlson. A terrific 3D trailer (previously seen on the great 3D Rarities Blu-ray) with exclusively shot footage of Carlson is also included.
Reviewed on April 8, 2018.