Discovery is one of the great pleasures of being a film buff, especially if it is not anticipated. A couple of years back I bought a box-set of Lugosi movies and included in this set was THE RETURN OF CHANDU starring Bela Lugosi. The film was pretty routine serial stuff whose only distinction was it starred Bela Lugosi and no film with Lugosi in it is ever a total loss. So, when I heard that the recent box-set of 20th Century Fox horror films included the earlier CHANDU THE MAGICIAN I didn't get that excited. I was very tired the first time I tried to watch it and fell asleep during the first few minutes of the film so it was with a heavy heart that I settled down to watch it again. Wow! was I wrong? CHANDU THE MAGICIAN is a real gem. It is a precurser of such films as the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and Universal's recent remake of THE MUMMY. Unlike its sequel were Lugosi played the hero Chandu, this time around Bela is much more at home as Roxor, a super villain bent on world domination by means of a death ray.
Further more this is prime Lugosi - he's lean and mean, looks sensational and delivers each line with blood curdling relish. Edmund Lowe is a likeable but totally uncharismatic actor who really doesn't stand a chance playing the hero against Lugosi's scenery chewing villainy. The action comes fast and furious and is imaginatively staged by that genius William Cameron Menzies (the dialogue scenes are mainly the work of French director Marcel Varnel) who also designed the movie and supervised the wonderful model work (watch for the amazing tracking shot through a model tomb - I still can't figure how it was done!) which is photographed by the great James Wong Howe. CHANDU THE MAGICIAN is superb and comes with a good commentary, a really informative documentary and, for once, an exceptionally good stills gallery. Rating ****