Lost Horizon Movie Review

The weirdest film by Frank Capra, this epic was adapted from James Hilton's bestselling novel about a plane full of passengers stranded in Tibet who are brought to the imaginary utopia Shangri-la. (Hilton's sensational fantasy was inspired by mountaineering trips to the Himalayas -- pretty much unknown then -- and it probably still influences how people in the West think about Tibet.)

Lost Horizon is a strange but haunting mixture of drama, long expository passages, and romance, with lavish, Xanadu-like sets set against stock footage of icy mountains -- but the performance of Ronald Colman carries the movie. Colman's character is a Brit who decides he doesn't mind hanging with the Buddhists and enjoying the quiet life, but some of his companions are unhappy in the worker's paradise and debate whether to try to escape. Sensuality is provided by the young Jane Wyatt, later the matron on TV's Father Knows Best (Wyatt's character is even shown in a distant frontal nude scene, a wink at the Hays Code).

Years after its release, Lost Horizon became slightly controversial because the depiction of Shangri-la had communist overtones (it was also accused of being pro-Chinese, which seems ironic... if anything, it would be pro-Tibetan). Some important scenes were cut out in response to criticism and some have never been found and restored, so available versions now show several minutes of still photographs where there is no surviving print while the audio plays. Bizarre methodology, but strangely, it works (several minutes is not a big chunk of this long film, which originally ran over three hours).

Actually, the subtext of Lost Horizon is not utopian: the stated purpose of Shangri-la is to create an island of civilization amid the social decline and wars to come, and to someday provide the nucleus for a "new renaissance" (a sci-fi trope later borrowed by Isaac Asimov's Foundation stories). This is a pretty serious theme -- chilling when you consider that the film was released only two years before Hitler began marching across Europe, and still relevant today.

Though it's often slow-paced and the only surviving versions are fragmented, Lost Horizon is a strangely dreamlike, intelligent cinematic vision; more than most classic films, it has stayed with me over time.

Cast & Crew

Director :

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Comments

Lost Horizon Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: NR, 1937

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