magic lanterns

Between the Blue & the Red

3-D films never truly had a lasting legacy

Posted

Though many films (Avengers: Infinity War is one big example) continue to be released in 3-D, most of them are post-converted. For film historians, the actual Golden Age of 3-D was very short-lived, beginning in June 1952 with the release of Bwana Devil and concluding in March 1955 with Revenge of the Creature. Altogether, only 50 English-language feature films were made during this period, some of them major productions by giants in the field-like Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, John Wayne's Hondo and the musical Kiss Me Kate.

For a while, spurred primarily by the success of James Cameron's Avatar in 2009, it looked like there might actually be a 21st-century renaissance for films in "stereoscopic vision." Alas, the dream was short-lived. Last year, Sony, Samsung and LG all announced they would no longer manufacture 3-D TV sets.

The silver lining in the cloud of gloom for us die-hard fans is that 3-D discs continue to be released for home viewing, not only the latest blockbusters but, occasionally, the Golden Age classics. The latest restoration by the good folks at 3-D Film Archive is The Maze (1953), directed by William Cameron Menzies and starring genre favorite Richard Carlson, who is also on video fighting The Creature from the Black Lagoon in glorious 3-D.

The Maze has a bare-bones plot. On the eve of his wedding to Kitty Murray (Veronica Hurst), Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) is suddenly, mysteriously summoned to his ancestral Scottish manor in the Highlands. After weeks of silence and unanswered questions from his doting fiancée, the newly titled Sir Gerald abruptly calls off the wedding.

Plucky Kitty, along with her no-nonsense Aunt Edith (Katherine Emery), promptly makes an unannounced call at Craven Castle to find out what's what. Visibly aged, Gerald begrudgingly makes them welcome. Still, the ladies note the furtive glances between their host and his servants, and wonder about the mysterious maze abutting the castle and its nocturnal visitants who prowl by candlelight.

The original 3-D trailer is included on the disc (as well as the film in standard 2-D), its solemn-voiced narrator intoning questions: "What fearful secret was hidden from the world for 200 years? Why was every door in Craven Castle locked at night?" Before the climactic revelation, Aunt Edith glimpses "something horrible ... the most horrible thing I have ever seen," yet she's unable to give any details.

The trailer also includes a plea from star Carlson for those who've seen the movie to not reveal the "secret of the Maze" to the uninitiated, "for we feel it is truly amazing!"

Yeah, well ... not really. In fact, the "monster" here may be one of the most ludicrous in horror film history, rivaling even the ridiculous Tabonga the Walking Tree Stump in 1957's From Hell It Came.

Maze is a visual mini-gem in its own right, though. The real star is its production designer/director, the great William Cameron Menzies. Maze was his first and only 3-D film, and his last feature film as director. He died in '57 at the age of 60.

Menzies might not be familiar to younger viewers, but he was one of the masters of cinematic art and design. One of his earliest achievements was the stunning visual framework for the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks version of The Thief of Bagdad, followed by the first Academy Awards for Art Direction, for 1927's The Dove and '28's Tempest.

In 1940, Menzies was given an honorary Oscar "for outstanding achievement in the use of color for the enhancement of dramatic mood in the production of Gone with the Wind."

As a director, Menzies is best remembered today for his forays into science-fiction, specifically the 1936 adaptation of H.G. Wells' Things to Come ('36) and the original Invaders from Mars ('53). Things, scripted by Wells and produced by Alexander Korda, is a highlight of '30s British films and a brilliant example of sci-fi- as both prophecy and philosophy. As for Invaders, anyone who saw it in the '50s may never forget the iconic sand-pool and fence-lined dune marking the Martians' landing site.

Tobe Hooper's 1986 remake, by contrast, was anemic, unimaginative and totally forgettable.

Both Menzies films, despite budget limitations and today's special-FX wizardry, are masterpieces of design, revealing the filmmaker's initiation into film during the Silent Era, when a picture was literally worth 1,000 words.

The same is true of Maze. Though budget constraints are obvious, Menzies exhibits his ingenuity with set design and his brilliant use of 3-D, in both depth and range of vision. Fans of '50s sci-fi and horror should check it out. And 3-D fanatics have probably already bought it.

No comments on this story | Add your comment
Please log in or register to add your comment