Sunday, November 25, 2012

THE MAZE (1953)

Kitty, her aunt Edith, and Kitty’s fiancé Gerald are vacationing in Cannes when Gerald gets a message to go immediately to Castle Craven, the home of his Uncle Samuel, lord of Craven. Weeks later Gerald sends a cryptic message calling off the marriage. Kitty and Edith read an obituary stating that Lord Samuel has died and they travel to the Scottish castle only to get a frosty welcome from Gerald, who looks like he's aged prematurely. He reluctantly agrees to let them stay while Edith recovers from a cold, but they must follow the rules of the castle to a tee, including letting themselves be locked in their rooms at night—and they hear about a cleaning lady who ignored the rules, was attacked by some kind of creature, and died. Nevertheless, that night when Kitty hears strange shuffling noises, she finds a secret passage that lets her see a strange figure in the garden maze. The next day she sees a wet webbed footprint in the hallway. What exactly is happening and what part does Gerald play in the bizarre goings-on?

This Gothic horror/fantasy film is long on atmosphere but short on horror. I won’t reveal the family secret—though most reviewers do because it is indeed a problematic plot point. It's not really the secret that's the problem, it's the way it's represented visually. If this were made today, CGI would allow a respectably creepy creature to be revealed, but in 1953, all they did was put a man in a ridiculous costume, keep him the shadows as long as they could, then cause a lot of unintended laughter when they had to show him. The film was shot in 3D and there are a number of strange or disorienting shots to highlight that. Richard Carlson (pictured) is OK as Gerald—his character could have been written better—but Veronica Hurst is lackluster as Kitty. This was directed by William Cameron Menzies, an art designer known for the visual style he brought to films like GONE WITH THE WIND and CHANDU THE MAGICIAN, but here he seems to have been stymied by a low budget and a script that promises more than it can deliver. Because I saw this in my youth, I have a soft spot for it despite its letdown of an ending, but I must say, let the viewer beware. [Netflix streaming]

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