The Maze [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Kino Lorber
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (11th May 2018).
The Film

Just two weeks before his marriage to British socialite Kitty Murray (The Girl on the Pier's Veronica Hurst), baronet Gerald MacTeam (The Creature from the Black Lagoon's Richard Carlson) is called to the Craven Castle, the forbidding family seat in the foggy, craggy wilds of Scotland by the servants to the deathbed of his uncle who he has not seen or spoken to in fifteen years. When Kitty does not hear from him in six weeks, her aunt Edith (Isle of the Dead's Katherine Emery) thinks Gerald has no intention of honoring their marriage agreement and wants Kitty to forget him. This is not cruelty on Edith's part, as she has come to suspect something odd about Castle Craven from Gerald's stories about how he would be locked in his room at night when he stayed there as a youth and of a labyrinthine maze on the property that he was forbidden to enter. What he did not tell her is that the family title has been passed down solely from uncle to nephew, and that no man that has assume the title lived more than a few years after setting foot in Castle Craven, with the death announcement of the latest lord revealing that he was only forty-five years of age. Kitty resolves to travel to Castle Craven and Edith reluctantly follows. The locals seem afraid of the castle, the only servants William (Howling III - The Marsupials' Michael Pate) and Robert (World Without End's Stanley Fraser) unwelcoming, and Gerald himself – who appears to have prematurely aged years in the space of a few weeks – reluctantly allows them to stay the night, expecting them to leave in the morning. Unlike Kitty, Edith is not at all surprised that they have been locked in their room, but Kitty discovers a secret passage in her room when woken by the sound of someone or something dragging itself down the hall at night. The passage leads to a lookout tower where she is able to see a light in the maze below. Although she is afraid of the castle and perturbed by Gerald's coldness, she still loves him and takes advantage of Edith's cold to insist that they stay a few more days. After Edith makes the mistake of entering Gerald's tower room and sees something horrifying that she cannot recall after fainting, Kitty is convinced that there is someone else in the castle with a hold over Gerald. She sends a letter to Gerald's doctor friend Bert (Loose in London's John Dodsworth) to come to the castle with his wife Margaret (The Old Dark House's Lilian Bond) along with friends Peggy (The Man Who Knew Too Much's Hillary Brooke) and Richard (Dial M for Murder's Robin Hughes) under the guise of dropping in while touring the highlands in order to give his opinion on Gerald's state of health. What Burt observes has him more concerned about Gerald's mental health, suspecting a congenital hereditary disease and possible propensity for violence from what he has been able to learn of the family history. Fearing that Gerald may be unjustly committed, Kitty resolves that night to enter The Maze and discover its secret.

An attempt to exploit the "old dark house" genre for the 3D boom of the early fifties, Allied Artists rehashed a stillborn Monogram Pictures property from the forties based on a novel by Maurice Sandoz which had been published with thirteen pen-and-ink illustrations by surrealist Salvador Dalí. The results are rather creaky in 2D, what with production values better suited to an episode of Thriller, long-take staging with mobile camera more necessitated by the 3D process than establishing atmosphere, and a flashback structure narrated onscreen by Emery – a possible holdover from the novel – necessitating her to be present "escorting" Kitty through the major set-pieces. The old dark house theatrics of the first half are more successful atmospherically than the film's second half (like all 3D films from the period, it has an intermission for eye strain - UPDATE: 3D Film Archives' Bob Furmanek states that the intermission had to do with changing the twenty-four inch reels rather than eye srain) where the small castle sets become cluttered with characters who strive to pad out the film to feature-length with no sense of immediacy despite the threat to Gerald's freedom. As a 3D horror film in the old-fashioned mold, it compares rather poorly to Warner's Technicolor House of Wax or even the later monochrome The Mask, not for its use of the 3D gimmick but for its too sober approach to a story with a denouement that is meant to be poignant but is laughable in execution and possibly when glibly explained on paper. Although no spring chicken next to his forty-five year old uncle, the handsome Carlson is no more convincingly prematurely aged than his servants, but one must give him his due for taking on the final scene monologue with a straight face, as well as Hurst and Emery who provide the sympathetic reactions. All this matters little in 3D, however, in which Invaders from Mars-director William Cameron Menzies's penchant for angular composition and the film's tracking shots cause objects and people to separate from the background, drawing the viewer into shots composed in depth so that the "comin at ya" moments are that much more surprising after one has forgotten the opening dance sequence in which an extremely flexible woman is swung at the camera by two men who use her as a jump rope and Hula hoop, but the final "money shot" is not exactly the height of horror in spite of Hurst's great scream. Finally seen in 3D after years of flat TV prints and screenings, the importance of The Maze lies in its place in the fifties 3D boom as a well-received film that from the smaller Allied Artist that played up against and even in double bills with 3D offerings from the majors.

Video

Unavailable in any official form outside of television since its Allied Artists theatrical release - unauthorized import DVDs are poor quality and 2D - The Maze comes to Blu-ray as a 1080p24 MPEG-4 MVC 1.37:1 pillarboxed fullscreen single encode with 3D or 2D playback dependent upon the compatibility of your player and television. The restoration by the 3D Film Archive from the original left and right camra negatives, fixing alignment issues in the source - which itself had was presumed to have had some alignment issues since the OCN was partially composed of dupe negative - and also restoring the intermission card that was snipped from 2D iterations. The black and white image offers crisp detail thoughout with only some blurring evident in a couple shots of combined camera tracking and rapid character movement. In 3D, depth is apparent from the start with the camera move into the maze and the title card coming at the frame. There are a number of moments of movement towards the frame for jolts - including vampire bats and people - but the depth effects are more enticing to the eye.

Audio

Audio options include a mono track English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono and a restored 3.0 stereo track from the magnetic tracks in DTS-HD Master Audio that gives depth to the music and directional placement to sound effects. There are no subtitle options.

Extras

Extras start off with an impressive audio commentary by Tom Weaver, Bob Furmanek, Dr. Robert J. Kiss, and David Schecter in which historian Weaver discusses the film's trajectory from a Monogram project of the late forties that failed to get off the ground with its initial intention to be filmed in England as part of a three-picture deal with British Pathé - with many trade announcements that spoiled the denoument - to the Allied Artists project. He also offers a synopsis of the original novel and the differences between the text and film (Edith was Gerald's cousin in the film and it is she who comes to the castle to solve the mystery while Kitty remains behind). David Schecter of Monstrous Movie Music appears briefly to discuss the life of composer Marlin Skiles (Dead Reckoning) and the film's score while 3D Film Archive's Bob Furmanek discusses the film's restoration, and film scholar Dr. Robert J. Kiss discusses the film's release in which Allied Artists tried to control its co-features - mainly Disney 3D subjects - where possible, its second run flat screenings, as well as the TV release history. The disc also includes a short interview with star Veronica Hurst (6:08) who recalls coming to Hollywood to shoot this and Monogram co-feature The Royal African Rifles (also with actor Pate), her friendships with Menzies and Carlson - who did not try to seduce her, although Weaver spills that Carlson had an eye for his wife's girlfriends - and the free time between the two films during which she went to San Francisco to visit the family of her boyfriend and future husband William Sylvester (Gorgo). The disc also includes the original 3D theatrical trailer (2:14) which features an exclusive introduction by Carlson who reaches out to grab the viewer. The disc is housed with a reversible cover.

Overall

Finally seen in 3D after years of flat TV prints and screenings, the importance of The Maze lies in its place in the fifties 3D boom as a well-received film that from the smaller Allied Artist that played up against and even in double bills with 3D offerings from the majors.

 


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