Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Jane Wyatt and Ronald Colman
LOST HORIZON (1937). Director: Frank Capra.

Author and foreign secretary Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) winds up shanghaied by plane with his brother, George (John Howard), and several other passengers: fussy paleontologist Lovett (Edward Everett Horton); possible embezzler Barnard (Thomas Mitchell); and a dying, hard-boiled young lady named Gloria (Isabel Jewell of She Had to Choose). The group winds up in the lost city of Shangri-La, which is run by a man named Chang (H. B. Warner of Kidnapped) and ruled by the supposedly wise and benevolent High Lama (Sam Jaffe of The Accused), a 200-year-old priest who discovered and founded the place. The High Lama tells Conway that the most important thing is to "be kind,' but it never occurs to him that it's not exactly "kind" to literally kidnap a bunch of innocents just because the lovely Sondra (Jane Wyatt) has seen Conway's books (and, presumably, his author photo) and developed a yen for him. Understandably, George wants to get back to his own life, while the others find happiness of a sort in Shangri-La. George doesn't believe the High Lama's story, and takes off with a "young" woman, Maria (Margo) in tow with unexpected -- or rather expected -- results. I haven't read James Hilton's novel in a while (I did review certain portions of it after watching the film) but it has to be better than this movie, which takes an interesting premise and dumbs it down to an incredibly superficial level (there are significant differences between the book and the film). Learning that the pilot is dead, the emissaries from Shangri-La -- the guy's own people -- have absolutely no reaction. Presumptuous Sondra has no guilt that her adored one's brother has been dragged along against his will -- after all, why would anyone want to live anywhere besides the rather dull Shangri-La? -- and Robert seems selfishly absorbed in his love for Sondra. The main problem with Lost Horizon isn't that the hypocritical High Lama preaches love and sanity (he also prophecies WW2 and the atom bomb!)  but it never occurs to anyone that running away from the world's problems is hardly the way to solve them -- an influential man like Robert simply wants to drop out! Portraying George as a hot-head, the movie tries its damnedest to strip the character of any dignity or sympathy, and of course Maria has the temerity to lie about her age. [The man who desperately wants to escape from a land that others worship was later borrowed for a plot point in Brigadoon.] The first half of Lost Horizon is quite entertaining, and there are some good adventure scenes in the snowy terrain surrounding Shangri-La, but the movie becomes irritatingly stupid in the second half, so anti-intellectual, in fact, as to be mind-numbing. As in most movies about lost cities, whether in Africa or Tibet, there's a scene when everyone has to walk along a narrow cliff with a mile-high drop inches away -- surely after centuries they would have found a safer way to travel? Capra's direction is swell, but the wrong-headed script ...! The cast, however, is uniformly good. NOTE: This review is of the restored, mostly complete version.

Verdict: Watch the first hour and then turn it off! **.


angelman66 said...

Can you believe I've never seen the original? Need to getting around to see it someday. I think I had an aversion to Ronald Colman or something when I was a kid. According to your review, this is not one of Capra's best...but I do like his uplifting messages in It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington...

William said...

Those two films are great movies! Funny, I remember not being a particular Colman fan in my youth, either, though I'm not certain why. Something "affected" about him ...? Who knows?