The Maze, produced at Allied Artists with an obviously modest budget and brief production schedule, still proves to be a moody, involving little thriller, and the 3-D Film Archive has resurrected this shuddery tale with all of its most appealing qualities intact.
The Production: 3/5
Of all the genres that found their way into 3D productions, perhaps the horror films are the ones most fondly remembered today by fans of the process. They didn’t normally have the biggest budgets or the most famous stars, but they seem to be the ones which are most revered now decades after the fact. William Cameron Menzies’ The Maze is a case in point. Produced at Allied Artists with an obviously modest budget and brief production schedule, it still proves to be a moody, involving little thriller, and the 3-D Film Archive has resurrected this shuddery tale with all of its most appealing qualities intact.
Two weeks before his marriage to the lovely Kitty Murray (Veronica Hurst), Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) learns that a distant relative is dying and he is the next in line to inherit the Scottish Craven Castle and assume the title of baronet. After weeks of waiting for word of his return, Kitty is distressed to learn that Gerald is calling off their wedding and assuming a new life as lord of Craven Castle. With her Aunt Edith (Katherine Emery), Kitty sets out for Scotland determined to find out why Gerald has ended their relationship and cut himself off from all of his closest friends. What the two women find is an eerily dismal castle attended by two dour servants (Michael Pate, Stanley Fraser), mysterious sights and sounds that can’t be easily explained, and the new baronet Gerald aged twenty years from the last time they saw him. Kitty is convinced she can win back her fiancé if only she continues to press him about what’s really going on behind the closed doors of the ancient fortress with a foreboding maze at its rear. Cold and gruff, Gerald insists that Kitty and Edith must leave the grounds as soon as possible.
Screenwriter Daniel B. Ullman’s script is adapted from the book of the same name by Maurice Sandoz and remains relatively faithful to the original tale. It’s more Gothic melodrama than outright horror, the major surprise held until the film’s final ten minutes or so. But Oscar-winning production designer William Cameron Menzies helming the movie makes sure the atmosphere is moody and filled with a sense of impending dread, and several sequences are nicely paced, especially Kitty’s initial investigation of a cobweb-infested secret passage, Aunt Edith’s halting snooping around a forbidden upper floor bedroom, and the climactic search of the maze where dim light and deep shadows instill some shudders even with the inevitable less-than-shocking payoff (audiences at the time supposedly were extremely frightened by the revelation though more modern eyes used to the sickeningly grotesque sights capable today with unlimited budgets and new advances in make-up and CGI effects will likely find it somewhat less effective). A designer with the skill of William Cameron Menzies really makes wonderful use of his small budget by using 3D to maximum effect by delivering great depth of field making fairly small real-life sets seem endlessly long and vast in scope (though the depth effect backfires at one point: the cramped inside of the taxi the women take to the castle seems like a luxury limousine in 3D).
Richard Carlson gets top billing in the film as the angst-ridden lord of the manor and plays the contrast from the devil-may-care Gerald in the early scenes to the grumpy, surly baronet with dexterity, but the movie’s real star is Veronica Hurst as the single-minded Kitty who is in more scenes than any of the other actors. With enough pluck for five movie heroines and a pushy nature that simply won’t take “no” for an answer, Hurst’s Kitty is brash and forward, taking liberties against her host’s wishes feeling that doing these things in his best interest makes them right. Katherine Emery narrates the movie as Aunt Edith and performs with restraint excepting one moment when Gerald’s forceful manhandling of her niece sends her on the warpath. Michael Pate has been considerably aged as the dour butler William carrying out his orders and serving as an ever-threatening presence. Among the friends the aggressive Kitty invites to the castle to try to save Gerald from his demons are the underused and always welcome Hillary Brooke and the effervescent Robin Hughes who makes the most of his brief appearances throughout the movie.
3D Rating: 5/5
The movie is presented in its original 1.37 theatrical aspect ratio (the large amount of headroom in many of the shots is explained somewhat in the commentary track) in 1080p resolution using the AVC/MVC codec. Sharpness is excellent through most of the movie, and apart from a few negligible remnants of dust and dirt specks, it’s a clean and appealing image. Grayscale is most impressive with rich black levels and crisp whites, and contrast is spot-on throughout. The movie has been divided into 10 chapters.
The 3D is magnificent throughout. The sense of depth is almost constantly palpable, not just in shots of the maze but in the corridors and staircases of the castle and in various rooms which seem to gain in size by half again in 3D. Objects have been arranged interestingly to take advantage of 3D’s frame compositions, and forward projections do not disappoint: from acrobatic dancers in a nightclub scene kicking over our heads to tables jutting out of frame, a letter being presented before us, bats circling overhead, and a most memorable spiky tree limb which greets us in the film’s second half introduction (yes, the “Intermission” title card is impressively intact, too).
The disc offers audio tracks in both DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono and a reconstituted 3.0 track. Both tracks are wonderfully free from age-related artifacts like hiss, crackle, and pops, and the 3.0 track makes use of most effective directional dialogue across the front soundstage while Marlin Skiles’ marvelously and subtly moody score gets nice placement throughout the mix.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary: film historian Tom Weaver serves as host and primary commentarian offering background on the original book, the film’s tortured history to final production, and background on the key players while also welcoming historians David Schecter to talk about the evocative music of Marlin Skiles, 3-D Film Archivist Bob Furmanek to discuss the 3D restoration of the movie, and Dr. Robert Kiss to note the film’s theatrical 3D, 2D, and television releases. It’s a commentary track packed with interesting information and a must listen for fans of the film.
Veronica Hurst Interview (6:08, HD): the British actress recalls quite fondly her experiences making the film in America.
Theatrical Trailer (2:14, 2D/3D)
Another Golden Age 3D gem The Maze has been redeemed by the 3-D Film Archive for fans of subtle Gothic suspense complete with a really superb 3D rendering, a most effective new soundtrack mix, and some bonus features fans of the movie won’t want to be without. Kudos!