A simple, small town man inherits a massive fortune, making him the target for scammers and publicity-seekers. Overwhelmed by the turn his life has taken, and awoken to another use for his new-found fortune, he makes a momentous decision.
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.Written by
Marg Baskin <email@example.com>
Sondra and Lovett do not appear in James Hilton's novel. They were added to the screenplay for romantic interest and comic relief. See more »
When Lovett and Henry debate directions, Lovett has the box in front of him, and in the next cut his coat and arms are on top of the box. See more »
In these days of wars and rumors of wars - haven't you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a struggle but a lasting delight? / Of course you have. So has every man since time began. Always the same dream. Sometimes he calls it Utopia - Sometimes the Fountain of Youth - Sometimes merely "that little chicken farm." / One man had such a dream and saw it come true. He was Robert Conway - England's "Man of the East" - soldier, diplomat, ...
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Bob Gitt of the UCLA Film & Television Archives claims the original opening sequence in 1937 had title cards "Conway has been sent to evacuate ninety white people before they're butchered in a local revolution" was changed in 1942 for a special reissue during WWII. The title cards read "before innocent Chinese people were butchered by Japanese hordes." This was to bolster propaganda against the Japanese. See more »
The original ending shown in theaters had Sondra waiting at the cave entrance for Conway, waving to him as he comes down the mountain, and sending one of the villagers to notify Chang that Conway has returned. After just a few days in theaters, the ending was replaced with the one of Conway coming down the mountain and seeing the entrance to the cave leading to Shangri-La, but no one is there waiting for him. See more »
The second half of the 1930s saw the return of the big picture - bigger budgets, grander ideas, longer runtimes in which to tell a story. But the 30s were also a decade of highly emotional and humanist cinema, fuelled by the hardships of the great depression. Lost Horizon sees what was for the time a rare marriage between burgeoning picture scope, in what was "poverty row" studio Columbia's most expensive production to date, and poignant intimacy in the source novel by James Hilton.
Thank goodness for director Frank Capra, who seemed really able to balance this sort of thing. Capra could be a great showman, composing those beautiful iconic shots to show the magnificent Stephen Goosson art direction off to best advantage. But he also knows how to bring out a touching human story. In some places Capra's camera seems a trifle distant, and is almost voyeuristic as it peeps out through foliage or looming props. But rather than separate us from the people it is done in such a way as to give a kind of respectful distance at times of profound emotion, for example when Ronald Colman comes out of his first meeting with the High Lama. The camera hangs back, just allowing Colman's body language to convey feelings. At other times Capra will go for the opposite tack, and hold someone in a lengthy close-up. In this way we are given to just one facet a character's emotional experience, and it becomes all the more intense for that.
Of course such techniques would be nothing without a good cast. There couldn't really have been anyone better than Ronald Colman for the lead role. Now middle-aged, but still possessed with enough charm and presence to carry a movie, Colman has a slow subtlety to his movements which is nevertheless very expressive. His face, an honest smile but such sad eyes, seems to be filled with all that hope and longing that Lost Horizon is about. Sturdy character actors H.B. Warner and Thomas Mitchell give great support. It's unusual to see comedy player Edward Everett Horton in a drama like this, and comedy players in dramas could often be a sour note in 1930s pictures, but Horton is such a lovable figure and just about close enough to reality to pull it off. The only disappointing performance is that of John Howard, who is overwrought and hammy, but even this works in a way as it makes his antagonistic character seem to be the one who is out of place.
Lost Horizon is indeed a wondrous picture, and one that fulfils its mission statement of being both sweeping and soul-stirring. It appears that Capra, always out for glory, was out to make his second Academy Award Best Picture. But history was to repeat itself. In 1933 he had had his first go at a potential Oscar-winner with The Bitter Tea of General Yen, only for that picture to be ignored and the more modest It Happened One Night to win the plaudits the following year. Lost Horizon won two technical Oscars, but bombed at the box office, but in 1938 the down-to-earth comedy drama You Can't Take it with You topped the box office and won Best Pic.
Lost Horizon was in no way worthy of such a dismissal, and is indeed a bit better than You Can't Take it with You. It was perhaps more than anything a case of bad timing. Audiences were only just starting to get used to two-hour-plus runtimes, especially for movies with such unconventional themes. If you look at contemporary trailers and taglines, you can see it was being pitched as some kind of earth-shattering spectacular, whereas it is more in the nature of an epic drama. For later releases the movie was edited down to as little as 92 minutes. Fortunately, we now have a restored version. The additional material that has been reconstructed is vital for giving depth, not only to the characters, but also to the setting of Shangri-La itself. With hindsight, we can look back on Lost Horizon as a work of real cinematic beauty.
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