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CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (directors: William CameronMenzies/Marcel Varnel; screenwriters: Barry Conners/Philip Klein/based on the radio serial by Harry A. Earnshaw, Vera M. Oldham and R.R. Morgan; cinematographer: James Wong Howe; editor: Harold D. Schuster; music: Louis De Francesco; cast: Edmund Lowe (Chandu/Frank Chandler), Irene Ware (Princess Nadji), Bela Lugosi (Roxor), Herbert Mundin (Albert Miggles), Henry B. Walthall (Robert Regent), Weldon Heyburn (Abdulah), Virginia Hammond (Dorothy Regent), June Vlasek (Betty Lou Regent), Nestor Aber (Bobby Regent), Nigel De Brulier (Yogi Teacher); Runtime: 72; MPAA Rating: NR; Fox Film Corporation; 1932)
“This silly fantasy sci-fi adventure film is based on a popular radio serial.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This silly fantasy sci-fi adventure film is based on a popular radio serial that ran between 1932 and 1936 (and was later revived in 1948-9). The popular radio serial was written by Harry A. Earnshaw, Vera M. Oldham and R.R. Morgan. The movie is scripted byBarry Conners and Philip Klein. It would, in my opinion, make a visually pleasing half hour sci-fi television show (reminding me of the 1950s Captain Video), but the thin material seems a stretch for a feature movie. Co-directors William Cameron Menzies (“Invaders from Mars”) & Marcel Varnel (“Ask a Policeman”) keep it substandard, one of the poorer versions in the serial, but create some neat aesthetic sets.

Frank Chandler is Chandu the Magician (Edmund Lowe), a turban wearing spiritualist trained in magic and hypnotism (his powers include the ability to create illusions and a double of himself) by a great yogi (Nigel De Brulier) to rid the world of evil.His London-based teacher sends the American to Egypt to save his humanitarian scientist brother-in-lawRobert Regent (Henry B. Walthall), who invented a death ray to help mankind survive and is taken prisoner by the evil Egyptian Roxor (Bela Lugosi). Roxor wants the European white man, Regent, to give him the secret formula of his death ray, which has the ability to destroy the world. When Regent refuses,Roxor has his henchman Abdulah (Weldon Heyburn)trick Regent’s family into visiting him in the jail cell in the temple where the patriarch is held prisoner. Roxor then holds them all captive and threatens to kill Regent’s family if he’s not given the secret of the invention. It’s up to Chandu to escape Houdini-like from a closed coffin, where he was bound in chains and tossed into the Nile by Roxor’s minions after a tear gas attack. That Chandu escapes and stops Roxor from being the master of the world, proves his teacher was right in choosing him for this mission. While in Egypt, Chandu also meets the lovely Caucasian Arab Princess Nadji (Irene Ware, Miss America of 1929), someone he was in love with three years ago in Paris. Nadji rejected him because an Egyptian princess can’t marry a western foreigner. But in the end, the heroic Chandu gets the intelligent and pretty heroine, as they kiss in the desert after he makes the clouds cover the moon.

Comic relief was inserted through character actor Herbert Mundin as Albert Miggles, Chandu’s alcoholic orderly–who whenever he took a drink, Chandu fixed it so he saw a little man version of himself warning him not to drink.

It dutifully serves as lowbrow entertainment for the masses and for children, who at the time were very much engaged with the innovative escapes from the episodic cliffhanger serials that were heard on the radio.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”