Lost Horizon

Lost Horizon

4.6 8
Director: Frank Capra

Cast: Frank Capra, Ronald Colman, Edward Everett Horton, H.B. Warner


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It took British author James Hilton six weeks to write his visionary novel Lost Horizon. It took director Frank Capra two years-and half of his home studio Columbia's annual budget-to bring it to the screen. After a lengthy preamble, inviting audiences to imagine their own ideas of Utopia, the film opens on a chaotic scene at a Chinese airfield. As hordes of…  See more details below


It took British author James Hilton six weeks to write his visionary novel Lost Horizon. It took director Frank Capra two years-and half of his home studio Columbia's annual budget-to bring it to the screen. After a lengthy preamble, inviting audiences to imagine their own ideas of Utopia, the film opens on a chaotic scene at a Chinese airfield. As hordes of bandits approach, hundreds of refugees scramble to board the last plane out. Only five people make it: Mildly disenchanted Far Eastern diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman), his hotheaded younger brother George (John Howard), embezzler Barnard (Thomas Mitchell), dithery fossil expert Lovett (Edward Everett Horton) and consumptive prostitute Gloria Stone (Isabel Jewell). As the plane flies off towards the Himalayas, Robert realizes that he and his fellow passengers are heading in the wrong direction. They are, in fact, being kidnapped-but why? And where to? The plane crash-lands in the snowy Tibetan interior. The pilot is killed, but the passengers are safe. By and by, a strange caravan approaches, led by an enigmatic Chinese named Chang (H. B. Warner). Joining the caravan, Conway and his party are led through a treacherous mountain pass and into a land of temperate weather and dazzling beauty. This is Shangri-La, the idyllic lamasery presided over by the aged, wizened High Lama (Sam Jaffe). In this fertile valley, people are not encumbered by such exigencies as crime, dictators and hatred; instead, everyone is devoted to the pursuit of wisdom and self-improvement-and best of all, the aging process has been slowed to a walk, allowing people to live well past the two-century mark. Though he still does not know why he was brought here, Conway is quicker to adapt to Shangri-La than his wary fellow passengers. He even falls in love with Sondra (Jane Wyatt), an attractive, intelligent young woman. Finally granted an audience with the High Lama, Conway discovers that the old man is actually Father Perrault, the Belgian missionary who founded Shangri-La-over two hundred years earlier. Dying, the High Lama has selected Conway, whose idealism and even-handedness is world famous, to succeed him-and hopefully spread the "love thy neighbor" edict of Shangri-La to the rest of the war-torn world. Conway is willing to assume leadership, but younger brother George, his mind poisoned by spiteful Shangri-La resident Maria (Margo), insists upon escaping to the outside world. The older Conway warns that, despite her youthful appearance, Maria is well past sixty and will surely perish once she leaves Shangri-La; but Maria retorts that the high lama is insane, and that everything he has told Conway is a lie. Disillusioned, Conway agrees to leave with Jack and Maria. The trek back to civilization is a grueling one, especially for Maria, who-true to Conway's prediction-shrivels from age and dies. Appalled that he has been misled, George kills himself. Weeks later, and amnesiac Conway stumbles into a Tibetan mission, where he is rescued and brought back to England. When his memory is restored, however, Conway runs back to Shangri-La, and into the arms of Sondra. When Lost Horizon was shown to preview audiences, it ran nearly three hours-and it was a disaster. In his autobiography, Capra claims to have rescued his pet project by merely burning the first two reels and opening the film with the evacuation scene; In fact, while Capra did remove the film's "flashback" framework, he made most of his cuts in the body of the picture. The release length of Lost Horizon was 132 minutes, pared down to 119 when it when into general distribution. When it was reissued in the 1940s and 1950s, it was rather clumsily pared down to anywhere from 95 to 100 minutes. Only in the mid-1980s was Lost Horizon restored to its original length, with stills used to illustrate certain scenes for which only the soundtrack existed. While not the enormous hit Capra and Columbia had hoped it would be, Lost Horizon was popular enough to allow the name "Shangri-La" enter the household-word category. In 1973, producer Ross Hunter felt the urge to inflict a wretched musical remake onto an unsuspecting public.

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Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Frank Capra's Lost Horizon belongs to a genre that reached its heyday in the 1930s: the philosophical drama. Usually based on plays, films such as Street Scene, Death Takes A Holiday, On Borrowed Time and The Petrified Forest dealt with driving issues of the day and embraced weighty questions of life and death. Adapted from the novel by James Hilton, Lost Horizon proved more popular and enduring than any of them, principally because the filmmaker pulled out all the stops in translating the material to the screen. It was the grandest production ever attempted by Columbia Pictures, a studio which, for all of its renown and respect, was little more than a Poverty Row outfit when financing was concerned. Aided by Dimitri Tiomkin's outsized score, Capra created an utterly convincing screen portrayal of Shangri-La, and his audience's suspension of disbelief was such that no one even thought to ask how the inhabitants of Shangri-La could have gotten their grand piano over those mountain passes. The most compelling element of the film, however -- proof of Capra's keen sense of public mood -- was its message. At the time of the movie's release, it was clear that the First World War, still very much in peoples' minds, had been fought in vain; the world was preparing to tear itself apart anew. Lost Horizon offered a notion of hope, based in fantasy, that it was essential for good men to keep themselves at the ready, to lead when the carnage ceased. In a sense, the movie was a not-so-distant cousin to a British production of the same era, Things To Come, which presented a similar idea in science-fiction terms. Capra's choices in casting were uncanny, particularly Ronald Colman as disillusioned diplomat Robert Conway and John Howard as his brother -- Howard had taken over the role of Bulldog Drummond from Colman in a series of films from the same period, and they looked enough alike that they might've been brothers.

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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Ronald Colman Robert Conway
Edward Everett Horton Alexander P. Lovett
H.B. Warner Chang
Jane Wyatt Sondra
Sam Jaffe High Lama
John Howard George Conway
Margo Maria
Thomas Mitchell Henry Barnard
Isabel Jewell Gloria Stone
Hugh Buckler Lord Gainsford
David Torrence Prime Minister
Beatrice Curtis Actor
Val Duran Talu
Neil Fitzgerald Actor
Hall Johnson Choir Actor
Jeremy Irons Assistant Foreign Secretary
Boyd Irwin Assistant Foreign Secretary
Milton A. Owen Fenner
Norman Ainsley Actor
Chief John Big Tree Porter
Wryley Birch Missionary
Beatrice Blinn Passenger
John Burton Wynant
George Chan Chinese priest
David Clyde Steward
Denis D'Auburn Aviator
Mary Lou Dix Passenger
Willie Fung Bandit leader
Lawrence Grant 1st Man
Noble Johnson Leader of porters
Richard Loo Shanghai Airport official
Margaret McWade Missionary
John Miltern Carstairs
Henry Mowbray Englishman
Leonard Mudie Senior Foreign Secretary
John T. Murray Meeker
Wedgewood Nowell Englishman
Max Rabinowitz Seiveking
Ruth Robinson Missionary
Carl Stockdale Missionary
John Tettener Montaigne
Eric Wilton Englishman
Victor Wong Bandit leader
Arthur Rankin Passenger

Technical Credits
Frank Capra Director,Producer
Edward Bernds Sound Mixer
Ganahl Carson Special Effects
C.C. Coleman Asst. Director
Roy Davidson Special Effects
Ernest Dryden Costumes/Costume Designer
Stephen Goosson Production Designer
Gene Havlick Editor
Babs Johnstone Set Decoration/Design
Gene Milford Editor
Robert Riskin Screenwriter
Max Steiner Musical Direction/Supervision
Dimitri Tiomkin Score Composer
Joseph Walker Cinematographer

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