Chandu the Magician (Edmund Lowe) is a swami who’s been called upon by his teacher to stop a madman named Roxor (Bela Lugosi) who’s hell bent on destroying the world with a death ray that he stole from a scientist named Robert Regent (Henry B. Walthall), who also happens to be a personal friend of Chandu’s.
Assisted by his beautiful love interest Princess Nadji (Irene Ware), Chandu must stop the evil Roxor before he can wheedle the secret of operating the death ray out of his captive, who will go to any lengths to acquire it. Will Chandu be able to stop him in time? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.
Chandu the Magician plays and looks much like a combination between an old silent film and one of the classic serials, even though it isn’t either of those things. With elaborate sets, visual effects and costumes, it sets a mood and a tone that will have any fan of classic films drooling right out of the gate. However, there’s one small problem. This film would have worked better as a silent film, because the acting is over the top melodramatic, and the script is so poorly written in some ways that it detracts from what otherwise could have been a really great film.
Here’s an example. The scientist is kidnapped and his death ray is stolen. His wife, son and daughter are all sitting around in their castle (for lack of a better word) destraught and not knowing what to do. In walks Chandu, who’s a long time family friend, and suddenly he’s smiling, the family are smiling and they’re all happy to see each other. It was almost like he came over to eat KFC and watch wrestling rather than him showing up after three years away to help deal with an incredibly horrible situation. He also hires a guy to help them on their expedition who’s both an alcoholic and a coward and turns out to not be much help at all. He apparently knew this guy from past experience with him and tricked him into not drinking on the expedition by making him see a little version of himself that nagged him about not drinking. Why would he even bother hiring the guy? Oh right…comedy relief.
As I stated above, the sets, the costuming and the set design are all magnificent, so there’s no complaints there. The visual effects are pretty standard for that era, so again, no complaints. My only real complaints about this film are how melodramatic it is and how slow the pacing can be at times, especially at the end during the final confrontation. Oh, and then there’s Princess Nadji, who’s supposed to be an Egyptian princess, but she’s a straight up American white girl who supposedly knew Chandu from years ago in Paris and has a huge crush on him. Still trying to figure that one out.
For special features, this new release from Kino Lorber includes audio commentary from Bela Lugosi biographer Gregory William Monk, a featurette called Masters of Magic: The World of Chandu, a restoration comparison, and film trailers. The restoration looks good, though I did notice a good amount of grain and speckling, which I’m not used to seeing in restored films from Kino Lorber. That tells me that the original source film they used was probably pretty bad to start with. The restoration of that film however is quite well done and very watchable. It does however lack subtitles, which should be a standard part of every film release.
While it’s slow and overly melodramatic, Chandu the Magician is also visually spectacular and a fun romp through a world where science and mysticism collide, and it’s definitely one you’ll want to add to your collection.