Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. USA, 1932. Fox Film Corporation. Screenplay by Barry Conners, Philip Klein, based on the radio drama by Harry A. Earnshaw, Vera M. Oldham, R.R. Morgan. Cinematography by James Wong Howe. Music by R.H. Bassett, Peter Brunelli, Louis De Francesco, Glen Knight. Production Design by Max Parker. Film Editing by Harold D. Schuster.
If you’re looking for the kind of movie that was being parodied in The Purple Rose of Cairo, you need look no further. A white Englishman has passed all the requirements of becoming a powerful yogi and then makes his way to Cairo, where he has discovered that his sister and her family are in terrible trouble. His brother-in-law has created a death ray that has fallen into the hands of an evil criminal (Bela Lugosi) who plans to use it for world destruction and domination, holding the inventor hostage in a remote location. Chandu teams up with a beautiful Egyptian princess and takes her barge down a scenic river to rescue the man and defeat the bad guy, his powers of hypnosis getting him out of some pretty tight spots along the way. It’s a silly adventure with some wonderfully inaccurate mixings of cultural details (all pretty much “The Orient” without logic), but what it has going for it is some of the best art directing work of William Cameron Menzies’ career. Giant temples and stunning art deco interiors pop out at you in every scene, while the visual effects are very impressive for the time (and even our time), the actors making the most of their comic-strip characters and giving committed performances. It’s pure silliness, the kind of thing George Lucas would draw on for his Indiana Jones adventures, but it is diverting and pleasant.