Synopsis: Life for the newly-engaged Kitty Murray (Veronica Hurst) and Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) couldn’t be any happier – until Gerald receives a letter notifying him of the death of his uncle. Now it is his duty to take on the role of baronet of Craven Castle in the Scottish highlands. It’s expected that Gerald will settle his business at Craven and then return to Kitty, but soon he makes it clear that he’s not coming back and that the engagement is off. The heartbroken Kitty and her supportive aunt Edith (Katherine Emery) pay an unannounced visit to Craven, where they find Gerald a prematurely-aged and altogether different man. Kitty tries her best to bring back the warm and good-humored Gerald she once knew, but all Gerald wants is for Kitty and Edith to leave Craven Castle. What is affecting Gerald? Could the MacTeam family secret lie in the forbidden hedge maze in the center of the castle grounds?
Based on a novel and originally filmed in 3D, The Maze was the final film by Oscar-winning art director and production designer William Cameron Menzies, who received an honorary award in 1940 for his outstanding use of color in a little picture known as Gone with the Wind. Despite the fact that Menzies had more than twice as many artistic credits as he did directorial roles, he was also at the helm of such notable movies as 1932’s Chandu the Magician and 1936’s Things to Come. For a man who at the time had been in the business for nearly forty years, practically since the beginning of the medium of film itself, Menzies clearly knew what he was doing with The Maze. Although the plot synopsis may make it sound like a schlocky low-budget B horror picture (not necessarily a bad thing!), The Maze is definitely aided by Menzies’ directorial experience and impeccable eye for detail. It’s a beautiful movie with some stunning cinematography; Craven Castle has so many inky, shadowy corners you might think you’re in a German Expressionist film from the ’20s, not an American monster movie from the ’50s. The players, all relatively unknown (to me, anyway), also help add to the spooky ambience of the picture and heighten the mystery. The narrator is Aunt Edith, and while Katherine Emery at this point was an accomplished character actress and stage performer, here she sort of gives you the impression that she’s played by someone’s actual Aunt Edith. It’s distracting but not too much; I suppose it just adds a hint of realism.
It’s good that the atmosphere is so strong, because the film relies on it a lot to pass the time. That’s my way of saying that nothing much happens until the last ten minutes or so. While many reviewers complain that The Maze is too slow, I rather enjoyed the build up of suspense and thought that it helped those last ten minutes really pack a punch. I don’t want to spoil it too much – seeing as how the poster above specifically requests that I don’t give away the ending – but I will say that there is a monster at the center of the maze, and it is definitely worth the wait. I can’t say you’ll be scared, though, but hopefully you’ll be entertained. There’s also some very silly science in the last few scenes which I enjoyed probably too much. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by The Maze, which I had never heard of prior to stumbling across it on Netflix (which predicted I’d give it a very low rating). It’s a wonderfully eery little picture with the perfect hint of schlock thrown in for good measure. I can definitely see adding it to my annual must-watch Halloween roster.
The Maze (1953) – 3.5/5 stars