Lost Horizon is one of those movies that can aspire any person to open their mind and welcome the possibilities of all things strange. I first saw this movie when I was twelve and was completely mesmerized by the story and glorious, abet black and white, scenery!
I encourage anyone that has not seen this movie to either rent it, purchase it or watch it on PBS. You can also purchase the original story written by James Hilton, on which the movie is based, through Amazon.com. I highly recommend both the DVD and the book.
If it wasn't for the fact that the story is set in the Himalayas mountains of Tibet where the temperature is definitely sub-zero most of the time and blizzards are as common as daylight, I might have followed in the footsteps of the those intrepid adventurers who were brought to Shangri-la.
To purchase the DVD through Amazon.com
To purchase the book through Amazon.com
Lost Horizon (1937)
This one is a "lavishly-produced classic about the enchanted paradise of Shangri-La where time stands still." They say that the set was supposedly the largest ever to be constructed in Hollywood and that it cost the modern-day equivalent of "$30-$40 million."
The Frank Capra adapation of James Hilton's popular novel, Lost Horizon, was
somewhat controversial in its day, not polticality but because of its length
(several reels were removed after a disasterous preview), and its production
design, which many critics found unattractive. Now, in its restored version,
we can see the film pretty much as it looked when it came out. Scenes that
have not been found are represented by still photographs over which we hear
the original dialogue. This is therefore not exactly the movie that was
released to the theatres, but a fairly close approximation of
The story concerns a planeload of passengers hijacked during a violent
uprising in China who find themselves ultimately in Tibet, where the plane
crashes, and are met by guides who lead them up a steep mountain to the
valley of Shanri-La. In Shangri-La the weather is always perfect. There is
no war or violence because the people's motto is 'be kind', and they live up
to it. In other words, they are in paradise. The valley has a history, too
complex to go into in any great depth, and the perfect climate enables its
inhabitants to live very long lives.
As one might imagine, there is trouble in paradise, and some of the visitors
decide to leave. Shangri-La does not automatically make people happy. One
still has to work at it, albeit under extraordinarily favorable
The movie is far from flawless, and the middle section, with the usual
romantic stuff, is none too inspired; but it begins with a bang and very
nearly ends with one, too. In the chaotic, early scenes there is a palpable
sense of danger; and the generous budget enabled Capra to use large crowds,
and he makes the most of them. Rarely, on screen, have large numbers of
human beings, whether screaming, shooting or pushing, seemed so frightening.
The airborne part of the film is likewise very satisfying. There's a good
deal of exposition here, but it's so well done that one can scarcely find
fault. The scenes of refueling in a remote village are eletrifying, and one
isn't sure at first what's going on. Are they being attacked? No, but it
takes a while to figure this out. The soaring over the clouds is mesmerizing
in its simple beauty; while the crash-landing of the plane at what appears
to be the foot of the mountain that leads eventually to Shangri La, is
highly effective. And Capra, ever the master of film climate, offers us,
briefly, a quite pretty and at the same time literally chilling sense of
what it would be like to die, snowbound, in the Himalayas.
But Capra's greatest triumph is the scene of hero Conway's departure from
the peaceful valley, with his brother and girl-friend in tow. Conway does
not want to leave, but his younger brother is in love with a Russian girl,
who is unhappy in paradise and talks aginst the locals. As Conway is
discussing the matter with his brother, inside, we hear wordless chanting
outside, in what sounds like a religious ceremony, as robed figures carrying
candles form a long line that surrounds the building, then pass on. As the
talk inside becomes more heated, the voices (and accompanying music) grow
louder. By the time Conway has made his decision to leave, and is walking up
the hill to the opening in the rocks that will lead him from the warm,
friendly valley to the freezing tempratures of the outisde world, the music
rises in intensity, to a kind of lugubrious, hynoptic crescendo, providing a
perfect auditory counterpart to the journey Conway is embarking on, and his
mixed feelings about it. The result is one of the single most moving and
lovely scenes in movies, technically and emotionally devastatingly
effective. Ronald Colman's heartbreak as he gazes back, with as soulful
expression as has been seen in movies, is worth seeing the rest of the
picture for, and one of the highlights of American film.
Story sources: imdb.com.
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