Chandu the Magician

05/25/2022 06:46

Film: Chandu the Magician

Year: 1932

Director: William Cameron Menzies and Marcel Varnel

Writer: Barry Conners and Philip Klein

Starring: Edmund Lowe, Irene Ware and Bela Lugosi



This is a movie that I never heard of until looking for horror movies from 1932 on Letterboxd. My interest was piqued seeing Bela Lugosi starring in this one. Other than that, I didn’t know much about this aside from it involving magic from the title.

The synopsis is: when delusional madman Roxor (Lugosi) kidnaps a scientist in hopes of using his death ray to achieve world dominance, he is opposed by Chandu (Edmund Lowe), a powerful hypnotist and yogi.

We start this off with Frank Chandler being inducted into the order of the yogi. I’m not entirely sure if this is in line with those that do yoga like in the real world or if this is a made-up thing for the world of this movie. I have played video games where magic users are called magi, so I don’t know if that is a play on that. Regardless, Frank is given the name of Chandu.

He then is taken into another room with his teacher and he is shown through a crystal ball his rival, Roxor. Chandu has not heard of him, but he is fated to fight this other magician. He is also shown his family. Chandu’s sister is Dorothy Regent (Virginia Hammond). She is married to Robert (Henry B. Walthall). What is interesting here is that he is painted as a mad scientist who has created a death ray. Roxor is out for this weapon and kidnaps Robert.

The problem is that he won’t give over the secret to make this work. Roxor’s henchmen take all the components, but there is something missing. Roxor is forced to kidnap Robert’s family as a way to blackmail him. This would be his daughter Betty Lou (June Lang) and son Bobby (Michael Stuart). Chandu shows up before they can. It doesn’t stop them from trying, but Chandu uses his powers to save them.

It then becomes a hunt to find Roxor before it is too late. This will bring Chandu to Princess Nadji (Irene Ware). The two of them are interested in each other. Chandu also enlists the aid of a man he met in the military who served under him, Albert Miggles (Herbert Mundin). He has a drinking problem and Chandu uses hypnotism to keep him sober. It won’t be an easy journey to get this death ray from this villain, but they do what they can to prevent the destruction of major cities.

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introductions to the characters. Settling in to write this review, I didn’t realize that this was based off a radio play. I’m not shocked by that as quite a bit from this era of films were from novels or stage productions. Being that it is from this radio play, I do think this movie jumps right in assuming that the audience knows this character. I don’t mind seeing the ritual of him being inducted into the order, so we are skipping the training and knowing that he can use his powers already. It was a bit jarring, but not enough to ruin the movie. Something else here I wanted to include is that this feels like a serial with how things play out. I’m not shocked to see that is where the series would go. It also felt like watching a movie based off a comic book as well.

To delve a bit more into what we are getting here, this is horror in the loosest since. Fans today of the genre wouldn’t consider this if it was released today. I feel like this fell in due to the era since we have a villain like Roxor looking to destroy major cities with this death ray. Some of the things with the magic could also push it closer to the genre. We get an intriguing scene in an Egyptian temple with a statue coming to life. There is also torture hinted at, but we don’t see it on the screen. I would also fall in that camp that if it was made today, we wouldn’t consider this in the genre.

Where I’ll then go would be the acting. The concept is what would get people into the theater, but I think the acting is what carries this. Lowe does well as our hero. I like him and he has charisma to fit the character. He does sway Princess Nadji quickly. They did meet prior to the events of the movie so that works. I would say that Ware is fine as her. She isn’t given a lot to work with. I’ve noticed that quite a bit as she feels like she is here as the love interest. There is also Abdulah (Weldon Heyburn) who wants her. Lugosi is probably the best performance. He plays this villain so well. Mundin adds comedic value, especially since he sees a smaller version of himself that scolds him when he tries to take a drink. The rest of the cast was fine in rounding this out for what was needed. No one is great, but they work.

The last things to go into would be the cinematography, effects and soundtrack. For the former, I think it is shot well. We are getting mostly static shots, but that is the era. The set pieces we see are cool. There’s the temple that I brought up earlier as well as Roxor’s hideout. I also like what they do when the death ray is looking for a target to destroy. That was interesting as well as how this movie ends. Moving with this would be the effects. We aren’t getting a lot, but what we do are solid. They use in camera effects due to the era. I did like what they did with Albert and seeing a smaller version of him. That I’m assuming is superimposing. It works. The things with the ray were fine. The only other thing would be the soundtrack which didn’t stay out but worked for what the movie needed.

In conclusion, this movie was fine for what it was. I think we have interesting concepts that are introduced and paved the way for different characters. I don’t mind our villain of Roxor and even our hero is fine. This just feels like a serial or a radio play so it is hampered by its own confines. Lugosi is good and the rest of the cast is fine. The movie just feels too safe. I acknowledge that this movie isn’t for me, so I won’t hold it against the movie too much. I do think this is well made overall though. I just want more from the story. What we do get is interesting though. I would say that after this first viewing, this is over average for me. It is just lacking elements for me to go higher.


My Rating: 6 out of 10