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Lost Horizon

Entry updated 30 January 2017. Tagged: Film.

1. Film (1937). Columbia. Directed by Frank Capra. Written by Robert Riskin, based on Lost Horizon (1933) by James Hilton. Cast includes Ronald Colman, Edward Everett Horton, Sam Jaffe, Thomas Mitchell, H B Warner and Jane Wyatt. 133 minutes, cut to 118 minutes, then to 109 minutes; but 128 minute print (some lost footage being represented by stills) available from 2000. Black and white.

In this memorably sentimental, deft, trite, compellingly dreamlike, enormously popular Utopian/Lost-World film set in the Himalayas, survivors of a plane crash find that they have been abducted to the mysterious, tranquil City of Shangri-La [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], a name coined by Hilton. It is seemingly governed by a kindly old buffer, who tells them that war and disease do not exist here and that if they remain in the city they will attain extreme old age (see Immortality). After some time the diplomat-hero (Colman) is introduced to the true High Lama, a two-hundred year old monk who appoints him his successor – his main task being to maintain Shangri-La through the Holocaust to come – and dies. Under great stress, Colman nevertheless leaves with his brother and a long-resident Russian woman, who ages with appalling speed away from her refuge. After a brief return to civilization, Colman realizes that he has abandoned true happiness – a conclusion authenticated within a Club Story frame by the diplomat whose year-long search for his colleague had ended in failure – and is last seen, hauntingly, struggling through the snow and in long shot, reaching the gate of the forbidden city as the bells ring out.

2. Film (1973). Columbia. Produced by Ross Hunter. Directed by Charles Jarrott. Written by Larry Kramer. Cast includes Charles Boyer, Peter Finch, Sally Kellerman, George Kennedy, Liv Ullman and Michael York. 150 minutes, cut to 143 minutes. Colour.

Long, lush, sluggish remake with banal songs (by Hal David and Burt Bacharach) and much stilted dialogue in Hollywood's philosophical vein. The original interbellum escape fantasy was orchestrated by Capra with skill and conviction; this unmagical version was a box-office failure. [JB/PN/JC]


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