★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
It’s kinda like The Frog Prince, but only kinda.
Directed by William Cameron Menzies.
Known primarily for his art direction, William Menzies earned himself a couple of Oscars in his day. Neither of them were related to this movie.
The Maze was shot during the “golden age” of 3-D movies using the Monogram 3-D stereoscopic method for its 3-D effects. Which means the movie’s in black & white and, like almost all 3-D films of the time, it has an intermission built-in. Back in the day, 3-D films were shown using two projectors simultaneously. This meant theaters couldn’t have the second half of the film spooled up and ready to go when the first projector finished its reel. But, hey! Intermission meant selling more popcorn while two new reels were loaded into the projectors.
The story revolves around young bride-to-be Kitty Murray [Veronica Hurst; The Royal African Rifles (1953), TV’s The Flaxton Boys (1971)] who’s engaged to be married to the handsome and oh-so-charming Gerald MacTeam [Richard Carlson; Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)]. Things are going well until Gerald gets a letter from his estranged relatives in Scotland requesting his immediate return to the old family homestead, Craven Castle.
He zips off to the antiquated castle and leaves poor Kitty to hang out with Aunt Edith [Katherine Emery; The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1946)] and, after weeks pass, the two ladies begin wondering what’s become of him. Convinced he’s in trouble, Kitty and Edith set off for Scotland and the forebodingly-named Craven Castle to find out.
The Maze offers up its story in gothic horror fashion. Doling out bite sized portions of weirdness as the film meanders through the mystery. While I would call this a creature feature, he’s a very shy fella and you won’t see much of him until the end. Partly for narrative reasons, but also partly because The Maze was shot with a low, low budget. Watching the poor critter move around the set — and almost fall down the stairs — wouldn’t have made nearly the same impression if he’d been front and center the whole time.
The entire film was shot in Hollywood and it shows. The actors wander from sound stage to sound stage with lights from their candles occasionally casting shadows of “trees” onto the “sky”. And we won’t talk too much about the extremely awkward scene where Kitty runs into two of the most inflexible and directionally challenged bats in the history of cinema. Veronica Hunt looked positively mortified to be in the same scene as those goofy things.
The musical score is pretty generic, but doesn’t get in the way of things too much. And the film does have a few bizarre narration scenes where Aunt Edith abruptly appears on screen by herself — often crazily framed like the cameraman had a couple martinis more than he should have during lunch — to talk directly to the audience. Luckily, the director abandoned those pretty quickly.
Overall, while the The Maze never seems in a hurry to get to the end, its pacing is deliberate and fits the storytelling style. Veronica Hurst delivers her lines a bit stiffly at first, but she eventually warms up and comes across with an endearing sense of earnest enthusiasm in her quest to help her fiancé. And, for those of you who enjoy completing a project, everything gets conveniently wrapped up at the end with a big speech by Gerald.
Not only that, but it’s a happy ending!
Well, unless you’re a frog.