Combustible Celluloid
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With: Edmund Lowe, Irene Ware, Bela Lugosi, Herbert Mundin, Henry B. Walthall, Weldon Heyburn, June Vlasek, Nestor Aber, Virginia Hammond
Written by: Barry Conners, Philip Klein, based on a radio drama by Harry A. Earnshaw, Vera M. Oldham, R.R. Morgan
Directed by: Marcel Varnel, William Cameron Menzies
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 71
Date: 09/18/1932

Chandu the Magician (1932)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Death Ray 1932

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The ridiculousness of the story of Chandu the Magician is trumped by its wonderful design, its impressive "magic" effects, and its many terrific miniatures, all designed by William Cameron Menzies, and by the lush, shadowy cinematography by James Wong Howe. If not for those things, the story about a scientist who has invented a death ray, which is then stolen, would be just a forgettable bit of "B" trash. (I mean, honestly, what scientist invents a death ray that can reach HALFWAY AROUND THE WORLD and then is surprised when a supervillain steals it?)

Anyway, Chandu is really Frank Chandler (Edmund Lowe), who has studied magic and hypnotism in India. When he learns about the death ray and the scientist -- who is married to his sister -- he goes to do a bit of superheroing, and at the same time, tries to win the heart of an Egyptian princess. Bela Lugosi plays bad guy Roxor, which when pronounced by the actors, sounds either like "rockstar" or "rocksalt," who needs to torture the scientist in order to learn how to turn on the death ray. I'd venture to say that this is one of Lugosi's best roles, and he throws himself into it with maniacal glee.

Herbert Mundin plays comic relief sidekick Albert Miggles, whose chronic alcoholism is the source of much merriment (Chandu conjures up a small "Albert," which appears every time the real Albert sneaks a drink). Weirdly, Lugosi returned -- as the hero, Chandu, in a sequel/serial -- called The Return of Chandu (1934). Meanwhile, Kino Lorber has released a magnificently restored Blu-ray edition of Chandu the Magician, which highlights that rich cinematography. Lugosi biographer Gregory William Mank provides a commentary track, and there is a featurette, a restoration comparison, and trailers.

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