Before Superman and Batman ever appeared and started beating the crap out of each other just to make a few bucks at the box office, there was Chandu the Magician. Made by Fox in 1932 and based on the popular radio serial, Chandu the Magician was the archetype superhero, armed with mystical powers and fighting an evil super villain for the fate of the world.
The story starts with Frank Chandler aka Chandu (Edmund Lowe) having trained for three years with yogis and mastering a variety of powers. Hypnotism, astral projection, telepathy and teleportation are just some of his powers. Frank is renamed Chandu.
After mastering these powers his master tells him to go out into the world and battle evil. Meanwhile Chandu’s brother-in-law Robert Regent (Henry B. Walthall) has just invented a death ray and the evil Roxor (Bela Lugosi) has kidnapped Robert to force him to show Roxor how to use the death ray. When Robert refuses, his wife and daughter are kidnapped and used to force him to tell Roxor everything. Also Chandu’s love Princess Nadji (Irene Ware) has been captured too in an effort to slow Chandu down. Chandu fights off many death traps set up by Roxor including getting trapped in a coffin and tossed into water. But Chandu overcomes all the obstacles and tries save everyone and stop Roxor from destroying the world.
This is a fun, entertaining movie. Lugosi is hammy as Roxor but his evil speech near the end is pure super villainy. Chandu would return in 1934 in the form of an action serial that would star Lugosi as Chandu in one of his few heroic roles. The serial was later re-edited into two movies. Chandu would see radio revivals in the 1940s and 1950s and he would influence several future super heroes including Marvel’s Dr. Strange. With Dr. Strange hitting theatres in November maybe it’s time for someone to bring Chandu back.