Forgotten Films: Chandu the Magician (1932)
This is the 26th in my series of Forgotten Obscure or Neglected Films
This week’s film is a quiet piece from 1932 which stars Edmund Lowe as Chandu the Magician, a white man who has learned the magic secrets of the Yogi. He has the power to separate his astral self into a visible form and to hypnotize up to 144 people at a time and have them see that which he desires. Sort of vaguely Shadow-ish, with the power to cloud men’s minds. Helping along in this film are Irene Ware as the Egyptian Princess Nadji and Bela Lugosi as the evil Roxor. I caught this on Turner Classic Movies (the “greatest cable channel known to Man” per Ivan Shreeve Jr at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear) as part of their month long salute to Arabs portrayed in the cinema.
The story is fairly simple. It is based on a radio serial and one of the two directors was William Cameron Menzies who was no stranger to science fiction films. Robert Regent (Henry B. Walthall) has perfected a new death ray which Roxor has stolen. Unfortunately, Roxor cannot get it to work so he kidnaps and tortures Regent. When that does not work, he tries to kidnap Regent’s family but Chandu enters the scene. A former military man known as Chandler, Chandu has completed the rigorous training of the Yogi and can hypnotize, do the Indian rope trick, do the astral body things and generally provide amusement. Regent is his brother-in-law and he arrives to try and keep the family safe and thwart Roxor’s evil plans.
Assisting Chandu is Princess Nadji who was Chandler’s love interest before he went ascetic and into training. The two love each other but this is forbidden in the Hollywood code of the time as they are two races – white and Arab.
Anyway, Roxor gets an assist from Abdulah (Weldon Heyburn) who wants to add Nadji to his harem since she has rejected his advances. Nadji helps the Regents in an escape but Betty Lou (June Lang in her first billed role, though it is as June Vlasek in the credits) is kidnapped from her sleeping chamber and taken to a forbidden city where, clad in a diaphanous nightgown, she id to be auctioned off as a slave if her father does not reveal the death ray’s secrets to Roxor. Her father does not agree and Betty Lou is auctioned off to a disguised Chandu who pays for her with what looks like a bag of gold but eventually turns into a bag of frogs.
There are thrills and chills galore and special effects which were probably state of the art at the time. At 71 minutes it keeps you entertained except in the moments when the comic relief is provided by Miggles (Herbert Mundin, a good character actor who died in 1940 at age 40) as Chandu’s tippling Man Friday. His shtick got old fast.
All in all, I had a good time with the film and hope you get a chance to see it yourself.
Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.