Based on the radio serial of the same name, Chandu the Magician is a veritable rollercoaster ride of thrills and terror, boasting some of the best special effects of its period. Edmund Lowe stars as suave Frank Chandler, better known to his enemies as Chandu the Magician. Though he tries to keep his supernatural powers a secret from his beloved sister Dorothy (Virginia Hammond), niece Betty Lou (June Vlasek, aka June Lang) and nephew Bobby (Nestor Aber), Chandu's hand is forced by megalomaniacal villain Roxor (Bela Lugosi at his ripest). Holding Dorothy's scientist husband Robert Regent (H. B. Walthall) captive, Roxor hopes to force Regent to reveal the secret of his death ray (created, of course, "for the good of mankind") by kidnapping the scientist's wife and kids. Chandu manages to remain one step ahead of Roxor, performing all manner of miraculous magical feats to confound his enemy, but even our hero temporarily falls victim to the villain's machinations when Roxor abducts Chandu's sweetheart, Princess Nadji (Irene Ware). The production-design expertise of co-director William Cameron Menzies is never so obvious than when Chandu and his friends are subjected to the various serial-like perils imposed upon them by Roxor; some of these cliffhangers would seem to have been the inspiration for similar situations in Steven Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark. Counterpointing the excitement is the comedy relief of Herbert Mundin, cast as a bibulous valet who is bedeviled by a remonstrative, pint-sized "alter ego." Two years after Chandu the Magician, the film's villain, Bela Lugosi, was offered the rare opportunity to play the heroic Frank Chandler himself in the exhilarating 12-part serial The Return of Chandu.
by Hal Erickson synopsis