The Return of Chandu

Bela Lugosi and Maria Alba star in the 1934 12-chapter serial "The Return of Chandu." File

Video Rewind is a review of an avant-garde, cultish, or otherwise odd film that has a small or large following. That means, by its fans, it can be watched over and over with greater enjoyment. We will feature films that can be accessed either via Netflix, OnDemand, or other sites such as YouTube or Hulu.

“The Return of Chandu” (1934) is certainly not Bela Lugosi's greatest serial of the 1930s. I give my vote to “The Phantom Creeps” (1939) mostly because of the giant, evil robot in the serial. Many Lugosi fans cite “SOS Coast Guard” (1937) as his greatest.

The Chandu character began as a radio drama star before 1934. MGM produced a big-budget Chandu film in 1932 entitled “Chandu The Magician.” Chandu was played by Edmund Lowe in that film. Lugosi played his archrival, Roxor, a mad scientist.

In this film, Lugosi plays Frank Chandler, alias Chandu The Magician. Chandu is protecting the princess of Egypt, Nadji, as she visits Beverly Hills, California. A religious cult leader named Vindhyan, played by Lucien Prival, is determined to kidnap Nadji to use her as a sacrifice to bring back to life the goddess Ossana of Ubasti.

Nadji is kidnapped by the cult and taken to a South Sea island of Lemuria. Here we see a number of sets that were used just a year earlier in “King Kong” (1933). Natives open giant doors leading into Lemuria, the same doors that held back Kong. The natives worship a giant sculpture of a cat.

The entire serial is a back and forth of kidnapping and rescuing of Nadji. In an attempt to rescue Nadji, Chandu battles villians in jeweled turbans, a tiger pit and even a giant paper mache rock that is lowered on him in chapter 11.

Unlike many serials that followed in the 1940s, “The Return of Chandu” lacks edge -of-your-seat action and fisticuffs. The serial is very leisurely paced. In chapter three when Nadji is first kidnapped and placed in a mummy's coffin, Chandu uses his magical ring to help guide his vehicle to the hideout of the kidnappers. Chapter 10 spends lots of time showing flashback sequences of previous chapters. This technique was used in many serials to pad out the length of time a chapter would last. Even the Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s used this technique.

Principal Pictures Corp. not only released “Chandu The Magician” as a 12-chapter serial, but also as two separate feature films. The first feature was of the same title of the serial, and was a condensed version of the first four chapters. The second feature used the remaining eight chapters, and changed the title to “Chandu On Mystery Island.”

For further information about The Return of Chandu and other classic serials of the 1930s, refer to Hank Davis' book, Classic Cliffhangers volume 1 (1914-1940) and the book, Sinister Serials by Leonard J. Kohl, both published by Midnight Marquee Press.

Of course, as with all Video Rewind-reviewed films, you can enjoy “The Return of Chandu” on your WiFi television via YouTube. The first chapters are at http://tinyurl.com/grdx4g9 and the final six at http://tinyurl.com/godsbru.

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