Chandu the Magician (9/18/1932) The first time I saw this picture I really didn’t appreciate it. A special effects buffet served up by William Cameron Menzies, he utilizes EVERY trick in the book: miniatures, dry for wet, optical tricks, double exposures, rear screen projection, glass paintings, practical stunts, Tesla coils!….everything but the kitchen sink. For a busy little film, it succeeds nicely due to the simple plot. Bela’s Bond villain wants to use Chandu’s brother in law’s death ray to take over the world and Chandu uses his magic tricks to stop him. The electromagnetic weapon’s were all over the news in the 20s & 30s, everyone claimed to be in the verge of creating them, so Roxor’s plan wouldn’t have seemed all that crazy in 1932. What is unbelievable is that Chandu could have learned all that magic in three years, but then Stephen Strange did it in less time, but who am I to judge?
Try as a I might I can’t find anything to roll my eyes at, not even the comic relief. None of the characters are written badly, you can’t scream at the screen and say ‘don’t open that door’ ‘don’t go down that corridor!’ Chandu is basically a super hero, he has powers beyond those of mortal men, but he could have used a much better tailor. The turban I can get past but the quasi military riding outfit including cape seems a good way to get heat stroke in the desert. Bela’s supposed to be Egyptian…why not? he’s actually quite debonaire in this one, no crazy eyebrows, not even the brylcremed hair and he gets to chew a little scenery, especially at the climax. Irene Ware’s Princess is nicely written, she doesn’t seem to be waiting around for Chandu show up, more than willing to grab a gun and some jodphurs and follow him into to secret caves into the villains lair.
I am glad I pulled this out. I had forgotten about the nearly pornographic slave auction of Chandu’s niece, I had forgotten about the practical effects where the floors open up in the prisoner cells to dump them down into the river below. I had forgotten about the astral projection and remote viewing effects which come in very handy when breaking in and out of secret lairs. I had forgotten about the Egyptian statue guards that come to life and chase comic relief Miggles through the cobwebby temple. I had forgotten that I liked it very much.