MAURICE SANDOZ – The Maze. Doubleday Doran, hardcover, 1945. No paperback edition.

THE MAZE. Allied Artists, 1953. Richard Carlson, Veronica Hurst, Katherine Emery, Michael Pate. Screenplay by Daniel Ullman. Directed by William Cameron Menzies.

   I love it when learning one thing leads to learning another.

   When I mentioned to Ray that I was reading /watching this, he mentioned right back that it was based on a true story. This prompted a bit of research that led me to the story of Glamis.

   Glamis Castle in Scotland is a place of legend, the setting of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, reputedly the scene of a card game between the laird of the manor and Satan himself, and the seat of an impenetrable mystery involving a secret room and an unseen denizen half-haunting the manse. This was the basic material that Maurice Sandoz took for his short novel, The Maze.

   Like a classic ghost story, Maze is set in a frame, as an unnamed narrator tells of a chance meeting with Edith Murray, the kind of spirited old lady familiar to readers of this sort of thing. It seems that some years ago, Edith’s niece Kitty was engaged to marry Gerald MacTeam, who, as we get into the story, is related to the MacTeams of Craven Castle, which has a mysterious history and odd ways with its guests, who are forbidden to enter parts of the house and grounds and are locked in their rooms at night.

   Sandoz throws in a few more teasers like this and promptly moves the plot along as an uncle dies, Gerald inherits the estate, goes to the castle to settle things, then abruptly breaks off the engagement with a letter that (fittingly for this sort of thing) foreshadows a grim tale to come and throws Kitty into tearful confusion.

   But not for long. Aunt Edith isn’t the kind of lady to see young love go unrequited, and not many pages have turned before she’s a guest in the castle and busied with the usual night-time perambulations through twisty corridors and sinister paths, to a conclusion in the mysterious maze of the title.

   I have to say though that I closed this book with a sense of mild disappointment. It’s smoothly written, suspenseful, and the illustrations (by Salvador Dali) are just dandy, but overall it lacked any real drama, and the resolution seemed just a bit too pat and convenient. Worth reading, but hardly memorable.

   The film, on the other hand, is definitely worth your time. Directed by William Cameron Menzies (Things to Come, Invaders from Mars, etc.) in his best off-kilter style, it fairly drips with menace and gives real, visceral feeling to the creepiest elements of Sandoz’s book: the sound of something unworldly moving through the castle halls, the thing half-seen in the shadows which sanity must reject, and the palpable sensation of persons keeping a secret they wish they didn’t know.

   Writer Daniel Ullman, who did his best work in B-Westerns, rings in the changes one would expect from Hollywood; here it’s young and attractive fiancée (Veronica Hurst) who instigates the investigation and heads it up when Aunt Edith (Katherine Emery) wants to back off. And when the end comes, it’s with a fine flurry of activity and jump-in-your-seat scares.

   Richard Carlson, that reliable stand-up guy of 1950s sci-fi puts in his usual earnest performance, and Michael Pate, the vampire gunslinger of Curse of the Undead (1959) adds a bit of depth to his sinister butler part, but the film really belongs to Menzies, whose striking visuals and sense of pace keep things going wonderfully.