Frank Capra's classic romantic fantasy leaves the standard "Capraesque" middle-class milieu of most of his most beloved masterpieces for a vividly realized world of strange adventure and fantasy. Faithfully adapted from James Hilton's popular novel, the film opens as Robert Conway (Colman),
a gallant but world-weary British diplomat, author and Far Eastern historian, comes to the aid of some refugees from a Chinese revolution. The group takes off in a small passenger plane, the motley collection including Conway's younger, impressionable brother (Howard); a swindler on the lam
(Mitchell); a tubercular prostitute (Jewell); and a fussy, fossil-hunting scientist (Horton). Conway notices that the plane is not headed for safety but climbing into the snow-topped Himalayas and into Tibet, "the Roof of the World." Moreover, the passengers discover that the pilot is not the
European they had believed him to be, but an Asian. The plane crashes and the passengers struggle out of it, but awaiting them is the beautiful, snowless, sun-filled world known as the Valley of the Blue Moon, looking down upon the majestic landscapes that make up the lamasery of Shangri-La. Taken
to a magnificent structure and given luxurious rooms, the Europeans soon discover the marvelous tranquility of this hidden, unknown land where nothing is known of greed, war, hatred or crime.
LOST HORIZON came to epitomize its audience's image of Utopia. Capra's paradise on earth--with its pure air, bright sun and untroubled centuries of blissful life--became so entrenched in the public imagination that Shangri-La became a household word. Though Hilton wrote the novel (published in
1933) in six weeks, Capra took two years to transfer the tale to celluloid. The magnificent Shangri-La set constructed by art designer Stephen Goosson was the largest ever built in Hollywood. For two months, 150 workmen labored to build the 1,000-foot-long, 500-foot-wide lamasery, with its deep
flights of marbled stairs and huge patio, broad terraces, rich gardens, lily-coated pools, and main building influenced by art deco and Frank Lloyd Wright. Little Columbia Studios and its tough boss, Harry Cohn, staggered under the burden of the film's $2.5 million cost, which amounted to half of
the company's entire yearly budget.
All of the painstaking care Capra took with LOST HORIZON shows; the film is directed with swift pace, inventive shots, and splendid acting. Capra was at a high point in his career. Two reels were eliminated after a problematic preview screening. LOST HORIZON was released in a cut version at 118
minutes to universal applause. Columbia had itself a box-office blockbuster which returned many millions to its depleted coffers and remained popular in re-release for decades. Everything about LOST HORIZON reflects quality work, from Robert Riskin's bright and literate script to Dimitri Tiomkin's
stirring music, the outstanding special effects and Joseph Walker's evocative soft-focus photography.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Frank Capra's classic romantic fantasy leaves the standard "Capraesque" middle-class milieu of most of his most beloved masterpieces for a vividly realized world of strange adventure and fantasy. Faithfully adapted from James Hilton's popular novel, the fi… (more)