Bela Lugosi was a mainstay of the horror movie industry, but The Missing Link explores Chandu, one of his lesser known horror film appearances.
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Chandu the Magician (1932)
CHANDU
THE MAGICIAN


(1932/Twentieth Century Fox) 74mins. BW. US.
Credits: Dir: Marcel Varnel & William Cameron Menzies; Sc: Philip Klein & Barry Conners; Ph: James Wong Howe; Ed: Harry Schuster; Art: Max Parker; Electrical Fx: Kenneth Strickfaden; Mus: Louis de Francesco.
Based on the radio play by Harry A. Earnshaw, Vera M. Oldham & R.R. Morgan.
Cast: Bela Lugosi, Edmund Lowe, Irene Ware, Herbert Mundin, Henry B. Walthall, June Lang, Weldon Heyburn, Virginia Hammond, June Vlasek, Nestor Aber, John George, Dick Sutherland.

Chandu originated from a children's radio programme in 1931 and was brought to the silver screen by Fox after they obtained the rights, hoping the film would appeal to a ready-made audience.

Frank Chandler, (Lowe), better known as Chandu the Magician, fights with the evil Egyptian villain known as Roxor, (Lugosi), who has kidnapped Chandu's brother-in-law, Robert Regent, (Henry B. Walthall--an actor with a prodigious output beginning with a screen appearence in 1909), an inventor who has developed a death ray with a range that covers half way round the world.

Bela Lugosi menaces Irene Ware in Chandu the Magician (1932)Chandu, played rather limply by Fox's long-term leading man Edmund Lowe, seems powerless against the evil Roxor, and despite his possession of supernatural Yogi abilities, Chandu's sweetheart Nadji is kidnapped while Chandu is placed in a sarcophagus to be buried alive. However, true to serial formula, Chandu escapes, mesmerises Roxor to the spot while the death-ray mechanism whirrs to life. The machine explodes destroying Roxor's stone temple and all those within. Naturally Chandu and Nadji escape harm and end the film with a screen kiss before a gathering throng of press cameramen who are amazed when the couple mysteriously disappear before they can take any pictures.

The film's saving grace is co-director William Cameron Menzies' superb set suggestions and excellent camera trickery. Menzies had become one of the most sought after art directors after his impressive work on Douglas Fairbanks' ROBIN HOOD and The Thief of Bagdad spectacles. He went on to direct Things to Come (1936), Invaders From Mars (1953), and the 3-D frog extravaganza The Maze (1953).

In addition, without Lugosi's contribution the running time of 72 minutes would have seemed like an eternity. As it is, the dialogue is fairly trite, but Lugosi is fortunate to deliver most of the choice lines.

Frenchman Marcel Varnel later came to prominence as a director of British comedy classics starring Will Hay, Arthur Askey, The Crazy Gang and George Formby.

Chandu would return once more in 1934's The Return of Chandu serial, this time with Lugosi in the non-villainous role, a distinct improvement over Lowe's portrayal.

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Poster and lobby card stills courtesy of Ronald V. Borst


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