The Black Magic cult of Ubasti, based on the isle of Lemuria, believes that Nadji, a princess of Egypt, is a reincarnation of their long-dead goddess, Ossana, and intend to sacrifice Nadji so that Ossana may be resurrected. Nadji has taken refuge at the California home of Frank Chandler, an American raised in the east and possessed of White Magical powers, who calls himself "Chandu". Vindhyan, high priest of the cult's California outpost, learns of this and ultimately succeeds in placing her in a trance which Chandu cannot easily break, propelling him to move her to safety, choosing the port of Suva in the South Seas. There, aided by his sister Dorothy, nephew Bob and niece Betty, Chandu is able to revive her and deal with Vindhyan, only to have the evil Voice of Ubasti, highest of the high priests, spirit her to Lemuria through the magic Circle of Ola. Chandu, Dorothy, Bob and Betty set out in pursuit but end up shipwrecked on Lemuria itself, with his family also now held for sacrifice while Chandu is plunged into the endless maze of caverns beneath the evil Temple of Ubasti, shrouded from his own powers by the full forces of Black Magic...
Running Time: 208 Minutes
MPAA Ratings: PG
I won't try to convince you that the old, 1934 adventure serial "The Return of Chandu" with Bela Lugosi is the greatest serial of all time. Far from it. But it is the first adventure serial I can remember watching as a youngster from start to finish, all twelve episodes. Now, before you wise acres out there start questioning just how old I must be to have accomplished such a feat, let me assure you that I watched it on television, on the very first TV set my family ever bought, in fact. It was around 1952, and I was about eight.
Oh, I had seen adventure serials before at the movie theater on Saturday mornings with my dad, but because my dad and I didn't go to the movies every week, we'd often miss a lot of the in-between chapters. However, I remember watching the "Chandu" serial religiously, week in and week out on television. Funny, though, going back to it now after more than fifty years, the only things I could actually recall were Lugosi's character being able to disappear, Lugosi standing by an open car, and a villainous chap in a turban seated in some sort of cave on an island somewhere and talking to his followers, whom I remembered were plotting to take over the world or something.
Incidentally, for those of you too young to remember or who were never informed, an adventure serial was a movie invention that flourished in the late 1920s, 30s, 40s, and into the early 50s. It was a multipart story told in chapters of fifteen-to-twenty minutes each that could be played by a theater one week at a time along with other children's fare, the serial bringing the youngsters back time and again to see what would happen next. The term "cliffhanger" was used to describe the endings of the chapters because they always concluded suspensefully in order to draw the viewer back for the next installment. Sometimes the hero would be literally hanging from a rope off the side of a cliff, with the villain cutting the cords! Would this be the end of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Captain Marvel, Dick Tracy, Mandrake, Zorro, the Phantom, Jungle Jim, Congo Bill, the Masked Rider, the Green Hornet, or Commander Cody?
I really enjoyed the dreamlike spookiness of CHANDU and I assume PRINCIPAL Pictures were absorbed into REPUBLIC the following year along with Monogram and Mascot. I was watching each chapter or two with a smart 3 year old and we eagerly looked forward to the next episode, probably in the right spirit as it was meant to be seen. For a cheap production using leftover sets it has some really effective eerieness and apprecizated the MUMMY - like pagan witchcraft on offer. We both loved the wizardy cat costumes, the cardboard temples and madness that pervaded each chapter. The opening titles and the Gong intro is wonderful. CHANDU almost works because of the mangy production values and is very enjoyable on any level.
Bela Lugosi gets to play one of his rare good guy roles in a serial based upon the long running radio hit (which was also the source of a feature film where Lugosi played the villain.) Lugosi cuts a fine dashing figure and its sad that he didn't get more roles where he could be the guy in command in a good way. Here Chandu returns from the East in order to help the Princess Nadji who is being hunted by the leaders of the cult of Ubasti who need her to bring back from the dead the high priestess of their cult. This is a good looking globe trotting serial that is a great deal of fun. To be certain the pacing is a bit slack, more akin to one of Principals (the producing studios) features then a rip roaring adventure, but it's still enjoyable. This plays better than the two feature films that were cut from it because it allows for things to happen at their own pace instead of feeling rushed or having a sense that "hey I missed something". One of the trilogy of three good serials Lugosi made, the others being SOS Coast Guard and Phantom Creeps
CAST & CREW:
Clara Kimball Young
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