Lost Horizon (1937)

“Did you ever go to a totally strange place and feel certain you had been there before?”

A diplomat (Ronald Colman) helps a group of Westerners — including his brother (John Howard), a financial felon (Thomas Mitchell), a paleontologist (Edward Everett Horton), and an ailing prostitute (Isabel Jewell) — flee an attack in China by boarding a plane which lands in a remote Tibetan paradise known as Shangri-La, where they are welcomed by a serene old man (H.B. Warner). After meeting with the founder of Shangri-La (Sam Jaffe) and learning more about its magical properties, Colman — who has fallen in love with a beautiful teacher (Jane Wyatt) — is tempted to stay and live in paradise, but Howard and his new love (Margo) are desperate to leave. Where will Colman’s loyalties land?


Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary begins his review by noting that “archivists are still looking for lost footage” of Frank Capra’s film, which was “originally 130 minutes”; thankfully, a restored version is now available, albeit with stills used in some places a la the restoration of A Star is Born (1954). However, as Peary writes, this “classic” — based on the 1933 novel by James Hilton — “has dated badly”, with “the most exciting scenes” coming before the troupe “reach the utopia in the Himalayas”; he notes that “the time the characters spend in this land where people are healthy, exist in harmony, and live for 200 years is dull in comparison”. Peary’s review is spot on: the opening scenes during the revolt are thrilling and fast-paced, but Shangri-La itself comes across as little more than a beautiful spa; plus, it’s distressing seeing the “happy natives” all working or in school while the whites live in luxury. I’m also not a fan of Jaffe’s casting as the High Lama, though he does come across as appropriately deluded. The twist near the end is exciting, and Joseph Walker’s cinematography is gorgeous — but otherwise, this film is primarily of interest as a historical document.

Note: According to Wikipedia, the film “exceeded its original budget by more than $776,000, and it took five years for it to earn back its cost.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The exciting opening get-away sequence

  • Majestic sets

  • Joseph Walker’s cinematography

  • H.B. Warner as Chang

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time viewing. Selected in 2016 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.


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