Frank Chandler (Edmund Lowe) has been studying in India with Yogis to learn the art of Eastern magic. He has mastered the ability to mesmerize others and project his image appearing and disappearing. Having completed his studies he is given the name Chandu. His teacher sends him out to do good and conquer evil.
Chandu and his teacher gaze into the crystal and see a madman who is bent on destroying cities and becoming master of the world. The man in the crystal ball is Roxor (Bela Lugosi). He lives in the Rock Temple of Madu. Roxor has kidnapped Chandu’s brother-in-law Robert Regent (Henry B. Walthall) and is forcing him to build a death ray that can reach half way around the world. Chandu’s sister Dorothy (Virginia Hammond) and her children Betty Lou (June Lang) and Bobby (Michael Stuart) are also in danger.
Chandu appears at his sister’s house in time to rescue his niece from being kidnapped. Through his hypnotic powers he learns from the would-be kidnapper that Roxor sent him. He also tells Chandu where Roxor currently is.
In the meantime Roxor is meeting with Princess Nadji (Irene Ware). He wants the princess to become his ally. He tells her that if she refuses he will destroy her people. When she tries to flee Roxor keeps her captive. Roxor plans on sending her to his evil co-hort Abdulah (Weldon Heyburn) as a slave. Chandu rescues the princess who happens to be an old flame of his. Enlisting the aid of comic sidekick Albert Miggles (Herbert Mundin) Chandu, the princess and the Regent family flee to the princess’ houseboat.
Temporarily safe Chandu now needs to come up with a plan to find and save Robert. But there are spies among Princess Nadji’s servants reporting to Roxor. No one is really safe unless Chandu can stop Roxor from more attempts to capture Robert’s family. Roxor believes that he can use them to force Robert to comply with his wishes and power the death ray. But Roxor is more than matched by Chandu and underestimates how far Robert will go to maintain the secrets of the death ray.
“Chandu the Magician” was released in 1932 and was directed by William Cameron Menzies. It is an American pre-Code adventure fantasy film with a science fiction aspect. The film was based on the radio play “Chandu the Magician”. The radio series was broadcast from 1932 to 1933. Fox obtained the rights hoping the film would appeal to its original fan base. In 1934 a twelve part serial was made using the Chandu character called “The Return of Chandu”. This time Bela Lugosi played the yogi Chandu.
The pre-code aspect of film has scenes concerning white slavery.
The movie has a serial feel to it which makes it even more fun since you get several climaxes in one 71 minute movie. Although the film is portrayed as having a science fiction component it also has mysticism and spiritualism as its base. The movie is a fun romp through exotic temples with lots of Egyptian flavor. The sets are really good for the 30’s and the special cinematography effects are impressive. Lugosi is one of the highlights of the film. I don’t know if it’s his acting style or his accent or both but he has a way of drawing your focus and making you delight in his evil glimmer.