Monday, November 30, 2009


Have I mentioned my problem with old-fashioned movie serials? I like the idea of them, but I have a hard time getting through them. I've tried the original way of watching one chapter a week, I've tried watching a bunch at a time, and I even tried watching one all the way through, but I just can't get into the swing of them (though I did finish DRUMS OF FU MANCHU and one of the Superman serials). This movie is made up of the last eight episodes of the serial THE RETURN OF CHANDU, which I tried watching but couldn't get very far in. This feature-length distillation of a serial, which gets rid of the repetition and cuts right to the chase, is the way to go. Bela Lugosi is Chandu the Magician, a student of the mystical way of the Yogi, who is protecting the Princess Nadji (Maria Alba) from the cat worshipping Cult of Ubasti who is out to kidnap her, believing that she can be sacrificed to resurrect their dead priestess. Despite Chandu's best efforts, she is snatched away off of a ship and transported via a Magic Flaming Circle to the island of Lemuria, home of the Ubasti people. Chandu loses his magic powers but, with his young sidekicks Bob (Dean Benton) and Betty (Phyllis Ludwig) and some help from a Master of White Magic and a disembodied Yogi mentor, Chandu manages to save her at the last minute. The cliffhangers work even better here than in the serial since we don't have to sit through minutes of repeated and padded footage. Among the scraps from which our heroes escape are a shipwreck, a pit with a hungry tiger, a "pit and pendulum" device, and a huge stone meant to slowly crush the victim. Though this is clearly a B-level production, the sets (including one that looks a lot like KING KONG's Skull Island gate) and costumes are properly atmospheric. I especially like the huge, fierce statue of Ubasti the Cat God. It's a little disorienting to see Lugosi, who played the villain in the first Chandu movie, playing a good guy, but he's fairly good when you get used to him. He certainly out-acts anyone else here, with Alba being a particularly wooden damsel in distress. The mild-mannered Benton displays a nice physique in his brief shirtless scene. There is a strange drum sound which can be heard whenever the bad guys are around, a device used in the later Fu Manchu serial. The disc from Alpha Video is missing the crucial moment when Chandu is saved from the giant stone but is otherwise in OK shape. [DVD]

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