For most fright film fans, the
disparate elements of The Maze, a nearly uncategorizable
film, are difficult to reconcile. Beginning as something
of a modern-dress gothic romance, it segues into some
genuinely unsettling set-pieces before deteriorating at
last into abject silliness. Admittedly its director, William
Cameron Menzies, a bona fide filmland genius, possessed
an unconcealable flair for the offbeat.
Menzies made his indelible mark
initially as an ingenious production designer. In the
mid-20s, he'd set filmdom on its artistic ear contributing
stunning set designs to Douglas Fairbank's timeless vehicle
The Thief of Baghdad. Throughout the silent era, Menzies
pressed the boundaries of production design into trendsetting
shapes that rival art directors simply couldn't duplicate.
His designs were composed of languorous shapes and copious
shadows that framed the action with an indefinable, sometimes
In 1936, Menzies designed and co-directed
Things to Come, based on H.G. Wells' fatalistic
tome. Menzies wove Wells' steely literary threads into
a compelling futuristic canvas, contrasting the stylized
grit of a society devastated by war, with the soaring
chrome and immaculate machinery of a new breed seeking
to better mankind through inter-galactic exploration.
Two years later, Menzies was hired
by legendary movie mogul David Selznick to design Gone
With The Wind. Hardly a film that requires further
detailing, what with its making every bit the melodramatic
saga the story itself was, Menzies delivered a sweeping,
color-bathed tour-de-force of film design that earned
him a special Academy Award.
film that Menzies worked on is imbued with his unmistakable
vision, but it is the haunting sci fi fairy tale, Invaders
From Mars, for which fantasy fans best remember him.
Oddly lit, surreally tall sets, boldly colored, calculatedly
fake backgrounds, and, another
distinctly Menzian touch, actors who seem to have no idea
what the proceedings are all about. It is this annoying
flaw in Menzies' work, an inability to direct actors,
which further serves to undermine the already tenuous
tenor of The Maze.
The frayed edges of this discount
3-D shock flick are all too apparent, especially in the
early going. A few fancy tables and curtains hope to pass
as representative of the European cafe society in which
leading man Richard Carlson and his bride-to-be exist.
A Parisian floor show consists of a pair of dancers repeatedly
flinging one another at the camera in order to demonstrate
their breathtaking dexterity in 3-D.
Carlson might well be called the
King of 3-D, having appeared in Creature From the Black
Lagoon, It Came From Outer Space and The
Maze, three of the best-liked 3-D films ever made.
He brings a certain panicked credibility to scenes at
the family castle where Menzies is able to more handily
influence the ambience, draping the stone stairways and
marble halls with moody, albeit budget-obscuring, shadows.
Several scenes comprised of dark shapes slithering along
locked doors are genuinely creepy, as are the heroine's
misguided wanderings through the titular tangle of shrubbery
wherein lurks the centuries-old family secret.
The aforementioned descent into
silliness cannot be detailed without revealing a surprise
ending which, on a larger budget, may have been made palatable
by a designer of Menzies' caliber. Menzies refrained from
exploiting the sheer novelty of 3-D, wisely determining
that it would most likely serve to reveal the film's cost-cutting
underpinnings. As it stands, the film is most charitably
described as an interesting curio, a glimpse of a genuine
movie artisan in his final years, forging a few effective
moments from incompatible dramatic elements.