An In-Depth Look at

THE MAZE

by Ted Okuda

THE MAZE has been referred to as “A dark fable...invaluably unique for its era” (Jeff Kuykendall, Midnight Only) and “One of the damnedest films ever made...surprisingly moving” (Bill Warren, Keep Watching the Skies!).  These assessments are on the mark and only begin to describe one of the most intriguing 3-D movies ever made.

Allied Artists had its roots in Monogram Pictures, a “Poverty Row” studio (industry slang for an independent operation specializing in low-budget fare) that was founded in 1931.  When television began to capture the public’s fancy during the late 1940s, executive producer Walter Mirisch convinced Steve Broidy, president of Monogram, to begin allocating higher budgets for productions to be released under the new “Allied Artists” banner, to distinguish this output from the usual Monogram fare, which consisted of Bowery Boys comedies, Charlie Chan mysteries, and similarly inexpensive “B” pictures.  By 1953, however, the Monogram label was dropped entirely.  That year also marked AA’s decision to toss their cinematic hat into the three-dimensional ring.



Monogram held the rights to The Maze (1945), a short novel written by Maurice Sandoz, a chemist-turned-author who became one of the leading fantasy writers in Swiss literature.  Sandoz’s stories often had supernatural themes blending practical science with the dark fantasy/horror fiction of H. P. Lovecraft.  The Maze, Sandoz’s best-known work, dealt with a mysterious inhabitant of an old Scottish castle whose background and existence were shrouded in secrecy.  The story was based on the mystery of Glamis Castle, 19th-century Scottish folklore that claimed the House of Bowes-Lyon harbored an unspeakable family secret.

In his autobiography I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008), Walter Mirisch recalled why he felt it was an ideal property for a 3-D movie: “The most interesting thing about the book was that it had been illustrated by Salvador Dali.  The artwork was fascinating.  I thought the title was provocative and would lend itself to a good suspense film."

Famed surrealist artist Dali provided 12 pen-and-ink illustrations for the novel; on February 9, 1953 AA announced plans for the movie that would utilize Dali’s designs as well as the Natural Vision 3-Dimension Process.  (In response to the announcement, columnist George E. Phair quipped, “[Dali] can drive you cockeyed in two dimensions.”)   In mid-February, Mirisch assigned Daniel B. Ullman to fashion a screenplay from the novel.



Ultimately, Mirisch couldn’t come to terms with the Natural Vision Corporation:

“I attempted to negotiate an arrangement with Natural Vision, which had developed the 3-D cameras with which BWANA DEVIL had been made.  It was now leasing its cameras to the major companies.  It asked for a percentage of the gross of the picture, and I thought that was outrageous.  I was on a set at the studio one day, talking to our camera crew about 3-D, and our camera assistant, Maurice ‘Bud’ Davidson, said to me, ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about.  If you want one of those cameras, I’ll put it together for you in a couple of weeks.’  I said, ‘You’re on!  Let’s see you do it.’  And, of course, he did.  He joined two cameras alongside one another, shooting in synchronization.”

Utilizing 3-D camera mounts, Davidson devised a twin camera set-up employing twin mirrors to get the required interaxial.  For his efforts, he received credit as Technical Advisor.


Shooting THE MAZE in CinemaScope, 20th Century Fox’s widescreen process, was also under consideration but those plans were dropped and it was filmed in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1.

On March 25, Variety announced that William Cameron Menzies had been assigned to direct THE MAZE.  Menzies had an impressive track record as an art director and production designer (a term created specifically for him).  He designed dynamic, often dream-like sets for such diverse films as DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920; uncredited), THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924), THE BAT (1926), THE SON OF THE SHEIK (1926), THE DOVE (1927), SADIE THOMPSON (1928), TEMPEST (1928), ALIBI (1929), PUTTIN’ ON THE RITZ (1930), ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1933; uncredited), THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER (1938), OUR TOWN (1940), REBECCA (1940; uncredited), THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES (1942), KINGS ROW (1942), FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS (1943) and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946; uncredited).  In 1929 he won the very first Academy Award given for Art Direction (a single award for THE DOVE and TEMPEST); a decade later he won again for his art direction for GONE WITH THE WIND (1939).



Menzies also directed a handful of movies, including THE SPIDER (1931), CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (1932), THINGS TO COME (1936), THE WHIP HAND (1951) and INVADERS FROM MARS (1953).  (He was also an uncredited director on THE THIEF OF BAGDAD [1940] and DUEL IN THE SUN [1946].)

Four months after completing INVADERS FROM MARS, Menzies filmed two 3-D shorts in late February 1953, ACROBATIKS and FUN IN THE SUN.  They were to be part of producer Sol Lesser's never-completed feature THE 3-D FOLLIES, and are now lost. (More information can be found in 3-D Features and Shorts 1952-1962)

Of Menzies, Mirisch noted, “He had directed THINGS TO COME, based on H. G. Wells’ novel, with which I had been very much impressed...I thought he would be a good choice [for THE MAZE].  The background of the picture was a Scottish castle, and Bill had lived a long time in England and had a good feel for that milieu.”

Salvador Dali had no direct involvement with THE MAZE yet there was, through Menzies, a connection.  Dali had collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on a dream sequence for SPELLBOUND (1945) but producer David O. Selznick, dissatisfied with the results, assigned art director Menzies with the task of taking Dali’s designs and incorporating them into the story-line.  The version that appeared in the final cut reflects Dali’s imagination and Menzies’ stylistic flair.

Some of the crew members on THE MAZE had been associated with Monogram for years, including cinematographer Harry Neumann (THE APE, THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS, THE PHOENIX CITY STORY) and art director Dave Milton (THE APE MAN, CHARLIE CHAN IN THE SECRET SERVICE, RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), who spent his entire career (1941-1961) there.  Both men had worked on FLIGHT TO MARS (1951), the studio’s previous science-fiction production, as had composer Marlin Skiles (GILDA, THE JOLSON STORY, THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS, QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE).

August “Augie” Lohman (LOST CONTINENT, THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS, THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD, JACK THE GIANT KILLER, BARBARELLA, SOYLENT GREEN, THE SHOOTIST) served as special effects artist.  His work on THE LAST VOYAGE (1960) earned him an Oscar nomination.


Filming began on April 20, 1953, with Richard Carlson and Veronica Hurst in the lead roles.  Carlson made his motion picture debut in THE YOUNG IN HEART (1938); other credits included BEYOND TOMORROW (1940), THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940), HOLD THAT GHOST (1941), THE LITTLE FOXES (1941) and BEHIND LOCKED DOORS (1948).  He would later attain cult status for his roles in five science-fiction movies: THE MAGNETIC MONSTER, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (in 3-D) and THE MAZE were all released in 1953, followed by RIDERS TO THE STARS (Carlson’s directorial debut) and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (also in 3-D) the following year.

Hurst, a young English actress under contract to Associated British Pictures Corporation (with which Allied Artists had a co-production arrangement), arrived in the U. S. three days before production started.  She told the press, “The three-dimensional motion picture is very new to me.  Some 3-D films have been shown recently in London and everyone seems very enthusiastic.  But I was so busy these last few weeks I have seen none of them.  I’m looking forward to getting the 3-D initiation treatment this week.  I’m jolly well interested to see how I look in all three angles!”

The supporting cast included a number of actors familiar to movie fans: Katherine Emery (ISLE OF THE DEAD, THE LOCKET, STRANGE BARGAIN), Michael Pate (HOUDINI, HONDO, THE COURT JESTER, THE KILLER IS LOOSE, CURSE OF THE UNDEAD), John Dodsworth (SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN, BWANA DEVIL, THE MAGNETIC MONSTER, THE MOLE PEOPLE), Hillary Brooke (SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH, THE ENCHANTED COTTAGE, THE WOMAN IN GREEN, AFRICA SCREAMS, LOST CONTINENT, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET CAPTAIN KIDD), Lilian Bond (THE OLD DARK HOUSE, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY), Stanley Fraser (TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH, WORLD WITHOUT END, MY FAIR LADY), Owen McGiveney (THE BAND WAGON, BRIGADOON, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH), Robin Hughes (CYRANO DE BERGERAC, DIAL M FOR MURDER, THE COURT JESTER, THE MOLE PEOPLE), Clyde Cook (SERGEANT YORK, ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE) and Bess Flowers (IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, HELLZAPOPPIN’, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH).

Though Daniel B. Ullman’s previous scripts were primarily westerns, his screenplay for THE MAZE retained the novel’s Gothic flavor:

Without explanation, Gerald McTeam (Richard Carlson) abruptly calls off his engagement to Kitty Murray (Veronica Hurst) after he has fallen heir to a Scottish title and castle estate.  Kitty and her aunt Edith (Katherine Emery) go to the castle to learn the reason for Gerald’s abrupt departure.  They find Gerald a changed man, physically and emotionally--he has visibly aged and behaves in a remote and callous manner.  Aided by three servants, William (Michael Pate), Robert (Stanley Fraser) and Simon (Owen McGiveney), he attempts to drive them away but Kitty remains adamant.  Gerald relents and orders his unwanted guests to stay in their rooms at night and are forbidden to venture into the hedge maze on the castle grounds.  Deeply concerned, Kitty summons four of their mutual friends—Dr. Bert Dilling (John Dodsworth) and his wife (Lilian Bond), Richard Roblar (Robin Hughes) and Peggy Lord (Hillary Brooke)—to help unravel the mystery behind Gerald’s strange metamorphosis.  During a night of terror, the secret is finally revealed. 

"Please do not reveal the amazing climax to your friends!"

Despite budgetary limitations, the film benefits tremendously from Menzies’ technical expertise, as he uses shadow, lighting and inventive set designs to evoke a chilling, atmospheric mood.  (The miniature set for the hedge maze is stunning.)  Offbeat camera compositions and set-ups further underscore the surreal ambience.

         
   
              
On April 29, Menzies filmed a 3-D trailer with Carlson. (Available on our 3-D Rarities Blu-ray from Flicker Alley.)





Shooting wrapped on May 4.  Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper reported: “Richard Carlson had quite a day last Monday.  He finished his picture THE MAZE at 7:30 p.m. and went directly to the airport, skipping a party his wife was giving for Jan Clayton.  He had to be in New York to kick off THE MAGNETIC MONSTER, of which he owns a hunk.  Then Universal-International put him on salary to linger in the big city for publicity on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE.”

On May 16, Motion Picture Herald stated: “While the majority of Allied Artists’ accounts are not yet equipped for 3-D and are not likely to be for some time, the company has finished shooting its first 3-D film, THE MAZE.”  It was also noted that the studio was “rushing the film through completion stage for July 23 release.”


The studio contracted with the Westrex Corporation’s subsidiary Sound Services Inc. to mix the mono audio elements into three-channel magnetic stereophonic sound. Sadly, this early stereo track no longer survives.





On June 11 AA optimistically ordered one million Polaroid glasses from Natural Vision Corporation for use during the showings, with pre-release engagements in nine cities scheduled to begin on June 23, one month ahead of the national release.

On June 18, AA vice president and general sales manager Morey R. Goldstein disclosed that THE MAZE set a company record for the greatest number of pre-release bookings, opening in 112 theatres over a five-week period.  The circuits included RKO, Stanley Warner, United Paramount, Butterfield, Fox West Coast, Minneapolis Amusement, Shea, Alliance, Altoona Public and Tri-States.



“Allied Artists has allocated $2,800 for radio-TV ballyhoo for its upcoming L.A. showing of THE MAZE.  It’s the largest such campaign in studio history.   In addition, $800 is being spent on streetcar and bus cards to blurb the 3-D film.  Richard Carlson appears in the TV trailers, to be shown on all local channels from Sunday through July 2 when the film opens at the Downtown Paramount and Hollywood Paramount theatres.  The AM plugs will be simultaneous.  Video campaigns have also been set for St. Louis, Minneapolis, Toledo and Salt Lake City where the pic has been booked for pre-release dates.  AA plans similar campaigns elsewhere.”—Variety (June 24, 1953)

Additional ballyhoo was offered in the form of a 3-D View-Master display cabinet that allowed theatre patrons to view seven “scenes” from the movie mounted on a revolving V-M reel.





When THE MAZE opened at Paramount’s Downtown and Hollywood theatres on July 2, it was the main attraction in a “Big 3 Unit 3-D Show,” supported by a pair of 3-D short subjects, COLLEGE CAPERS (“See the Campus Panty Raids in 3-D”) and DOOM TOWN (“See the Atom Bomb in 3-D—Death of a City by Atomic Destruction”).



THE MAZE was the only 3-D feature to play Broadway's legendary RKO Palace Theatre. When it opened on July 10, accompanying the film were eight acts of vaudeville. There were four shows daily and the ticket prices ranged from 65 cents to $1.50. In their July 15 review, Variety noted: "The Palace vaude is playing to unusually heavy audiences this week mainly because of its first 3-D film, THE MAZE."

To read reviews from Variety and Billboard, go to THE MAZE at the Palace.

Despite having the projection capability, subsequent 3-D features to open at the Palace Theatre along with vaudeville (THE DIAMOND WIZARD, DRUMS OF TAHITI, FLIGHT TO TANGIER, THE GLASS WEB, GOG, JIVARO and SOUTHWEST PASSAGE) were shown flat.

THE MAZE garnered praise for its craft on both sides of the camera and its use of the 3-D format:


“Showmen who have been saying all along the proof of 3-D couldn’t be had until a picture came along that used stereoscopy as naturally as photography, recording, or any of the standard tools of the trade, can stop doubting 3-D now.  For that is the way stereoscopy is used in this finely developed presentation of a story in which a mystery of extraordinary but eminently authentic kind is maintained throughout a methodical building of suspense which explodes in the sharpest audience-response any 3-D film has elicited so far.  There is never a moment of letdown...Terror is created logically, plausibly, and the explanation, when it comes, fully justifies the anticipation.  It would be a fine job of melodramatic narrative in any medium.  It is a finer one in 3-D, and certain to run up a record of box office earnings pleasant to contemplate...William Cameron Menzies, a world-famed stickler for artistic integrity, designed the production and directed its performance, both superlatively...Harry Neumann’s skilled camera made the most of the work of all concerned.”—Motion Picture Herald

“Allied Artists has enough good old-fashioned chills and suspense in its first 3-D film to evoke good boxoffice response in the general market.  Logical use is made of the depth medium to narrate a mystery...it builds to a terrific climax in which 3-D plays a vital part.  An improbable premise motivates the action, but the development lends growing tension to plot unfoldment.  Audience interest is awakened through a series of mysterious occurrences not readily explainable, and which create a sense of curiosity and anticipation as to their meaning.  Under the executive producership of Walter Mirisch, and produced by Richard Heermance, [THE MAZE] has been accorded class production as a mystery film...Carlson is convincing in his role and Miss Hurst, imported from England, makes an impressive American debut.  Miss Emery registers excellently, too, and others fit well into the mystery, including Michael Pate and Stanley Fraser, family retainers in on the secret, and John Dodsworth, a doctor called in by Miss Hurst when she believes Carlson is mentally ill.  William Cameron Menzies, who also handled above-average production design, is responsible for good direction which keeps story moving.”—Variety




“With this horror drama, Allied Artists enters the 3-D sweepstakes, and a significant entry it is.  Because the picture boasts production values considerably above those usually found in AA features and, more importantly, because of the use of the new photographic technique, the film is sure to be accorded more important programming than the company’s average product, an evaluation already established by initial bookings.  The offering should determine whether the fast-growing and profit-assuring legion of 3-D fans are prepared to accept the process without the action that has characterized most earlier films that utilized it, because herein the chills and suspense are essayed through dialog and good performances, rather than movement and tempo.  This results in a leisurely pace leading up to a scream-evoking climax.”--Boxoffice

“So long as 3-D pictures continue to draw crowds, THE MAZE will undoubtedly do its share of business, for it has been produced well and has good exploitation values...it generates enough suspense in the development of the plot to keep one interested throughout.”—Harrison’s Reports  

“Natural combination of horror and 3-D in suspense shocker.  Uses depth medium to good effect.  Will scare the daylights out of audience...will have audiences shrieking...3-D scare effects may be too much for those with weak stomachs, but horror fans will lap it up.”—Film Bulletin

“Chiller-diller...You’ll be amazed at THE MAZE.”—New York Journal-American



On July 9, Hillary Brooke appeared on The Betty White Show (KLAC-TV) to promote the film, and did the same on Platterpanel (KNXT-TV). 

Encouraged by the huge success of THE MAZE, Allied Artists made plans for follow-up 3-D productions.  On July 16, AA announced four upcoming titles for 3-D and widescreen filming: DRAGONFLY SQUADRON, HOUSE IN THE SEA (later changed to HIGHWAY DRAGNET), HOLD BACK THE NIGHT and RIOT IN CELL BLOCK 11.  However, by the time they were ready to begin production in mid-August, 3-D lensing was dropped on three of the four titles.  Interest in the process was beginning to decline and the studio noted it would adopt a “watch and wait policy,” proceeding with caution where new technical systems were concerned.




The London premiere of THE MAZE was scheduled for October at the London Pavilion Theatre, following a pre-release engagement on September 7 at the Astoria Theatre in Brighton, England and subsequent advance runs in Manchester, Oxford, Bristol and Cambridge.  Norton V. Ritchey, president of Monogram International Corporation, remarked, “England is more receptive to 3-D pictures than it has been given credit for.”

Upon his return from England in early October, Steve Broidy remarked that the studio “will use 3-D or CinemaScope as the market demands and our program is flexible enough to permit us to move very quickly in any direction.”  He added, proudly, “When we decided to make THE MAZE in 3-D, we delivered the picture within nine weeks from the day the decision was reached.”

Late in 1953, when 3-D bookings had run their course, AA allowed exhibitors the opportunity to book the film flat and prepared a new ad campaign for the 2-D release.

THE MAZE turned out to be Allied Artists’ only theatrically-released 3-D production, as DRAGONFLY SQUADRON was released flat only in 1954. It was also William Cameron Menzies’ final feature film and his unique visual style produced one of the most stunning three-dimensional productions of all time. While other 3-D movies can boast higher budgets and more prestigious pedigrees, none can equal its inspired mix of mystery, science-fiction and Lovecraftian horror.




Playing in New York City on 42nd street at the New Amsterdam Theatre. Paramount's first 3-D feature
SANGAREE is coming soon to the Lyric Theatre across the street.












 
 




THE MAZE will be restored this fall in 4K from original left/right 35mm archival elements by Kino Lorber Studio Classics and the 3-D Film Archive!


The stereoscopic image restoration will be handled by Archive technical director Greg Kintz; dirt and damage clean-up will be done by digital artist Thad Komorowski and the lost three-channel stereophonic sound will be restored by audio engineer Eckhard Büttner.

  A 3-D Blu-ray release is coming soon...