Lost Horizon (1937) – Frank Capra

Lost HorizonAlong with Woody Allen’s Sleeper, Lost Horizon is another movie recommended to me by fellow blogger Badfinger20. It is a Frank Capra film based on the 1933 novel of the same name by James Hilton.

IMDB storyline: British diplomat Robert Conway and a small group of civilians crash land in the Himalayas, and are rescued by the people of the mysterious, Eden-like valley of Shangri-la. Protected by the mountains from the world outside, where the clouds of World War II are gathering, Shangri-la provides a seductive escape for the world-weary Conway. But is it the miraculous utopia it appears to be?

I was a little bit skeptical coming into this since I wouldn’t have exactly classed myself a doting fan of Frank Capra. I found his movies a little bit too saccharine for my tastes. Despite my dubiousness Badfinger20 urged me towards trying this early Capra piece. It is an almost impossible task to discuss this movie without revealing the biggest spoiler of them all which is the answer to the question (which would have all audiences pondering): Is Shangri-la the miraculous utopia it appears to be? 

Firstly, Lost Horizon is a big film production for its time. It took 10 months to shoot and the film well exceeded its original budget. In fact the first cut of the film was six hours long. The studio considered releasing it in two parts, but eventually decided the idea was impractical. The version of the movie I saw was the complete 123-minute soundtrack. Some of the film was badly degraded and useless, so the restorers used sills to fill in the missing minutes. I only found it partially distracting but moreover I felt the scenes with the audio and sills were necessary to the story.

The sets they used in Lost Horizon were astounding. I doubt Capra’ vision of Shangri-la could even be replicated by today’s production standards. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia: Harry E. Huffman, owner of a chain of movie theaters in downtown Denver, Colorado, built a replica of the monastery depicted in the film as a private residence in 1937, calling it Shangri-La which still remains to this day. Honestly, I don’t know how Capra and his team pulled it off. Also the avalanche and mountain trekking scenes are outstanding even by today’s standards of hammy computer effects.

Ronald Colman was fabulous in the demanding lead role. It’s difficult to think of another actor who could have filled the shoes of the alluring Robert Conway as well as he did. He truly made it his.  The three supporting beautiful actresses were stellar as well.

High Lama Lost HorizonThe mystical and captivating High Lama who we learn was in fact the founder of Shangri-la 200 years before explains to our protagonist Robert Conway that his presence at Shangri-la is by no way an accident. On a side note, the High Lama’s dazzling speech to Conway is almost prophetical as he describes his vision of forthcoming destruction. The prophecy would nearly eventuate two years after the movie’s release with the invasion of Poland and later the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Shangri-la is essentially a Christian missionary’s version of paradise. It’s been attempted many times in history. I had only seen more sober takes on the reality of attempting such quests such as De Niro in The Mission, Scorsese’s Silence and Peter Weir’s Mosquito Coast.  Half way through the movie I thought I was in Conway’s dream or even his after-life after his plane went down in the Himalayas.

Lost Horizon is a wonderful movie. Probably few movies demonstrate like Lost Horizon just how movies used to be made – a little bit of blood, sweat and tears, and that in itself is its crowning achievement. You can envisage just how much work went into this movie to bring you this endearing tale. It definitely had me by the short and curlies when Conway’s brother brings a young female Shangri-la resident to Conway to convince him to escape with them from the idyllic Shangri-la.

‘I believe it (Shangri-La) because I want to believe it’

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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Posted in Movies and TV
18 comments on “Lost Horizon (1937) – Frank Capra
  1. badfinger20 says:

    Thanks for the link… I am glad you liked it. I also like Thomas Mitchell’s character and how he comforts Gloria, who is transformed through the film.
    There is one thing that Capra was really good at…picking solid character actors.

  2. Never heard of this! Something new to know.

  3. spacecortez says:

    Excellent review! I haven’t heard of this film, and will definitely be looking for it now! Thanks!

  4. selizabryangmailcom says:

    So the missionaries got it all wrong again, even in Shangri La, eh?! Otherwise why are people trying to escape, lol !!
    Thanks for the link, Matthew. Your description of the sets and the climbing scenes are intriguing–I’m always interested when someone thinks people today would have “a hard time pulling the same thing off.”
    And how odd that that Harry guy duplicated the monastery and used it as a residence! I had to look up Harry Huffman and find pictures of the house. If those walls could talk…
    Gotta try to dig this one up.

    • So you were the one person who read my review Hehe. Thanks Stacey.
      I don’t know if the missionaries got it all wrong in that case rather that humans natural tendency towards cynicism prevailed. I don’t blame them since whenever I hear someone proclaiming a ‘utopia’ I go running lol

      ‘A hard time pulling it off’ since very few movies are made like that these days – whereby people build actual life-size sets to recreate the drama. Although the latest Australian ‘Mad Max’ seemed pull it off.

  5. selizabryangmailcom says:

    Mad Max Fury Road? I guess you’re talking about the caves where Immortan and the War Boys live…..
    Love that movie! The chase ending in the dust storm……. so beautiful.

    • I’m so glad I saw that movie at the cinema. No, I was referring to special effects and real stunts.

    • I can understand the confusion when I mentioned Mad Max Fury road with respect to real sets etc. My point was what you see on screen is what happened, like what they did in movies when CGI didn’t exist etc. Raiders of the Lost Ark is probably a better comparison to Mad Max with regards to the authenticity of the stunts and effects. Old school as they say not this green screen Transformer crap. lol

  6. selizabryangmailcom says:

    Ah, yes. I agree. Like one critic said: It’s like a monster-truck motocross competition staged by a more nihilistic version of Cirque du Soleil, where the stakes are life and death.

    Nihilistic Cirque du Soleil–I love it! The guys on the poles swaying up and down…
    Fantastic.

    • Yeh that movie was a blast! I can’t remember a better recent action movie I’ve seen in the cinema. I like the circus elements you mentioned. Speaking of circus I just finished updating my post for tomorrow about Dylan’s trapeze act ‘All I Really want to Do’.

  7. selizabryangmailcom says:

    Omg, lured hubby into watching Lost Horizon with me this past weekend!
    You weren’t kidding about the sets and the lavishness and even some of the hiking scenes and how well done it all was. Of course you know (now having read some of my blogs, lol!!) I couldn’t help but note how “Europeans” came into this territory and “taught” the natives (taught them what? They’re in their own land!) and how the founder and other Europeans were living large in the big mansion while the villagers were still “getting water from the well”, etc. But those were the times and the mindset, so putting that aside, I did enjoy the epic-ness of the story and its overall positive message. The only thing that wasn’t very clear was why Maria was so tired of living there and wanted to get out. I think she mentioned loneliness, so maybe that was it, although I would think there’d be plenty of dateable men among the villagers. Ah, well, poor Maria………….

    • Your poor husband! How did he cope with the movie? Haha I’m glad you admired it for its production design.
      Yes missions like this were like a closeted form of colonialism, were they not? I can’t remember exactly Maria’s reasons for wanting to escape. I imagine being compelled to live in an Utopian society forever wasn’t her ideal? Who would like that? Dateabale men lol

  8. selizabryangmailcom says:

    He saw it years ago and remembered a lot of it and actually enjoyed the viewing, so… a good time was had all around!

    • Sometimes watching old movies like that again can be very enjoyable because of the nostalgia associated with them. I’m looking forward to seeing two Bogart movies again. ‘Casablanca’ and ‘Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ .
      I hope you’ve had a good week Stacey and life is treating you well.

  9. selizabryangmailcom says:

    It’s been busy but fruitful.
    Hope you’re having a nice weekend!

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Matthew Kick

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