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


Peter Finch seems to be asking: how did I get in this movie?
LOST HORIZON (1973). Director: Charles Jarrott. Produced by Ross Hunter.

A plane carrying several passengers, including peace envoy Richard Conway (Peter Finch) and his brother, George (Michael York), wind up kidnapped to a lamasery called Shangri-La in this musicalized remake of the 1937 Lost Horizon. Larry Kramer [The Normal Heart] seems to have ignored (or never read) the source novel and simply turned in a very slightly modified version of the original screenplay. For instance, in both film versions the two main male characters are brothers, which is not true in the novel. In the book the sole woman on the plane is a prissy missionary, while in both films she's a world-weary gal who's either dying or tired of living; in the color version she tries to commit suicide. This version eliminates a scene when Catherine (Liv Ullmann), who lives in Shangri-La, tells Richard how she wanted him brought to Shangri-La; in fact Ullmann gets few dramatic scenes. Olivia Hussy [Black Christmas] essays Maria (played by Margo in the first version) and is slightly more dimensional than in the original film. George Kennedy's character is very similar to Thomas Mitchell's, but Edward Everett Horton's comedy relief paleontologist has been replaced by an entertainer played by Bobby Van. James Shigeta has a very small role, while John Gielgud and Charles Boyer, of all people, are even better than the actors who played Chang and the High Lama, respectively, in the original film. All of the actors are quite good, in fact. And then there's the music.

Actually aside from a couple of numbers about to be mentioned, Burt Bacharach's score is not bad. His frequently dissonant dramatic music adds much to the picture, and the songs, which might be described as more like lyrical minor arias than show tunes, are generally lilting if on the downbeat side (which may be why so few liked them). Although Liv Ullmann [Cries and Whispers] sang on Broadway in Richard Rodgers I Remember Mama, her songs in this --  "The Circle" and a duet with Finch -- appear dubbed, and so is Finch. Sally Kellerman [Reflection of Fear] seems to be doing her own singing, but I'm not sure about Olivia Hussey when they do a creditable duet, "List of Things I Will Not Miss," in which the former tells of how glad she is to be away from civilization and the latter pines for all the places she's never been (if only more had been made of this aspect of the film). "Peaceful Joys" is a nice enough number, but the decided low-lights of the score include Kellerman's forgettable song, "Reflection," sung to George Kennedy, and Bobby Van's terrible "Question Me An Answer," which is not Van's fault but Bacharach's; this is one number that should have stayed inside his piano bench. Hal David contributed the awful lyrics. [One doesn't expect another "Getting to Know You," but this is just too much!]

The snow/adventure scenes in this are actually inferior to the ones in the original movie, although the trip to Shangri-La seems a bit more realistic. Essentially Lost Horizon in any form comes off like a paean to small-town mentalities, and the High Lama, who has people kidnapped to repopulate his dying city, is not much better than Fu Manchu. The biggest trouble with the movie isn't "Question Me an Answer" but the fact that in both movies -- and I daresay Hilton's novel -- none of the often interesting ideas are explored with any depth.

Verdict: The same length as the original film, although both seem twice as long. **.


angelman66 said...

This is one of my very favorite bad movies! But reading your very detailed review highlighting its positive aspects, Bill, maybe it's not quite so terrible after all. True, the plot and premise are not examined deeply enough for it to be a transcendent film, but there are some worthwhile elements in it...truly good actors, above all. And though I have always made fun of the music and still believe it is the nadir of the Bacharach/David canon, many of the tunes are catchy and stay in your head.

I forgot that Liv Ullman DID sing on Broadway, and wonder why she was dubbed..."The Circle" is among the most ludicrous scenes of the film, a camp homage to The Sound of Music, South Pacific, King and I and all of Rogers & Hammerstein.

A herculean effort by all, falling flat with a dud. But so so much fun and a cinema treasure! LOL

William said...

I watched this on your recommendation, and it goes from bad to worse, LOL, but I absolutely had to see it! (You DID warn me!) I reread your excellent write-up on the film and it's funny how we have diverse opinions on exactly which scenes and songs we think are good and bad -- but that's what makes things interesting!

You are not alone in liking "Question Me an Answer" -- there are admirers of the song on For me, the tune of the "List" duet keeps going through my head, for better or worse, ha. I can't remember anything else!

When they did the Broadway "cast" album of Rodgers' "I Remember Mama" Ullman was replaced by Sally Ann Howes. There's a message there!