This is easily my favourite early talkie-film. The dashing Frank Chandler, alias Chandu the Magician (Edmund Lowe), must use his secret yogi training in order to save the world from the evil rival magician, Roxor (Bela Lugosi) who has kidnapped brilliant scientist, Robert Regent, to take over the world. This movie has everything you might want, magic, intrigue, amazing sets…
And, of course all of your Bela Lugosi needs.
This has all of the gorgeous opulence of 30s films – the sets are large and beautifully crafted, with fantastic special effects (both practical and added through film techniques). I can honestly say that the effects stand up and impress – I can only imagine what it would have been like to see this when if first came out – at a time when things were rough for just about anyone, it would have been real dynamite.
Also – there are some super sweet costume changes.
Approaching evil Egyptian living statues? Sorry I was just busy rocking my pith helmet, thank-you.
All joking aside, the costumes are phenomenal – luxurious fabrics, stunning “exotic” silhouettes – I can imagine all the work to sew on all of those shiny little paillettes… Amazing! Mostly, this film is beautiful to look at, so it should come as no surprise that you can see it’s visual influence in Doctor Strange comic books – especially in the early, Steve Ditko era. The visual effects, like size changes and ghostly figures are a triumph of the best technology of the era, and can definitely be seen in later film work, such as Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Coppola makes nods to old-fashioned film effects in many of his earlier films, but that’s a whole other discussion).
The performances are also great. You can see the influence of silent film in the pantomime-like movements, dramatic staging, and the performances of iconic film tropes like the “young ingenue” Betty-Lou, the drunken sidekick Miggles, the sultry foreign princess Nadji, and the always enjoyable scene-chewing evil of Bela Lugosi as Roxor. The writing is also quite good, with an interesting parallel between advances in science versus the magic of Chandu. With colour films, we really have lost the kind of symbolic play of light and darkness in movies.
This is a great adventure picture, which makes full use of all the cinematic tricks to pull the audience in. Altogether, I would say that this is a very accessible piece to any sort of viewer – not just for a fan of the oldies.