BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
“Now are you ready to tell me the secrets of the death ray,” snarls Bela Lugosi as the all-black wearing villain in Chandu the Magician. He plays Roxor, an evil mastermind hell-bent on ruling nations with the destructive power of a new invention. And only one man can stop him. Chandu the Magician is a pre-code fantasy picture and it’s as much fun as it sounds. Based off one of the longest running radio serials, the movie is breezy and well paced, never once boring its audience with needless exposition.
Melodrama is the rule of thumb throughout the tale. And with great plunging shadows, good comedy/adventure beats alike, and lots of visual effects from director William Cameron Menzies (The Thief of Bagdad), Chandu the Magician is a certified blast from the past. With a solid cast of actors and large, looming shadows threatening to drown out the supernatural aspects, the film is a solid slice of b-grade cinema. Menzies’ use of models throughout the film and the first-person POV shots of the people running through tunnels and hallways is definitely ahead of its time.
There are booby traps galore sprinkled throughout the picture that Lugosi uses to get the information out of Robert Regent (Henry B. Walthall) concerning the operation of the death ray. Of course, all of the traps backfire as, once committed, there’s no stopping do-gooder Chandu (Edmond Lowe, Dinner at Eight) – who has mastered the art of the yogi in India and can control minds - in his efforts to stop Roxor and save the Regent family.
People have essentially forgotten about this movie. It is over-the-top Lugosi and an absolute classic of old school Hollywood. The special effects are wide-ranging. From miniatures to optical effects, the visual effects make an always engaged and mesmerizing experience. And the film, operating as a sort of out-of-time fairy tale, just looks great. The death ray reveal is simply incredible. With flashing lights and bolts of electricity zapping across the background, the machine adds a layer of science fiction that is only topped by Lugosi’s command of the material and the visual punch of the film.
Directed by William Cameron Menzies and Marcel Varne, Chandu the Magician is full of elaborate effects since it obviously deals with magic. It is shocking to see just how visually stylized the film is. The mix of miniatures, and optical effects continues to work in delivering a supernatural mood to audiences. Menzies handles these scenes and he does so with his usual swagger. Varne, noted for his comedic chops, handles the humor and the scenes involving Herbert Mundin as Albert Miggles and the hilarious discovery of the miniature version of himself.
Lugosi is in peak form here. He’s thin. He’s active. And the closing scene in which he is frozen and can’t do a damn thing to stop Chandu from saving the day is a classic forgotten moment in villain history; the expression on his face says everything. Overall, the black-and-white movie – effects and all – is damn impressive and makes for a fun night in at the movies. It operates like fairy tale and yet it has horror elements in it.
Fade to black on that closed mouth kiss. Ah, Hollywood., magic never looked better than with 1932’s Chandu the Magician.
MPAA Rating: Not rated.
Runtime: 71 mins
Director: William Cameron Menzies, Marcel Varnel
Writer: Barry Conners, Philip Klein
Cast: Edmund Lowe, Irene Ware, Bela Lugosi
Genre: Action | Adventure
Tagline: Radio Broadcast Thriller
Memorable Movie Quote: "If Nadji opposes me, and you serve me well, there shall be a new slave in your harem."
Distributor: Fox Film Corporation
Release Date: September 18, 1932
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: August 23, 2016
Synopsis: When delusional madman Roxor kidnaps a scientist in hopes of using his death ray to achieve world dominance, he is opposed by Chandu, a powerful hypnotist and yogi.
Available on Blu-ray - August 23, 2016
Screen Formats: 1.37:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD-25)
Region Encoding: A
For this Blu-ray release, Kino has licensed the film from MGM with winning results. The film is presented here in 1080p HD and is as crisp as can be expected. Framing and compositions looks fitting and accurate throughout, while the black & white image is very pleasing. The transfer is rich in detail with excellent contrasts, black levels are deep and grey scales are also replicated nicely. Overall, the transfer has an attractive, filmic appearance to it, and any fleeting instances of blemishes only give it character. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio English track is quite clear from start to finish.
- Provided by Bela Lugosi’s biographer Gregory William Mank, the commentary adds a lot of background information for the film, Lugosi’s involvement in it, and lauds appreciation upon its shoulders. It is much appreciated.
There’s a brief making-of that should please fans of Lugosi and those who simply marvel at the film’s special effects. Even Ray Harryhausen weighs in on those. There is a restoration comparison from 2008 and trailers for other Kino/Lugosi offerings.
- Masters of Magic: The World of Chandu Featurette (15 min)
- Restoration Comparison (1 min)
- Trailers for The Black Sleep and White Zombie