Lost Horizon (1937) Poster

(1937)

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9/10
`Lost Horizon' is indeed a remnant from the golden age of cinema.
ilovedolby22 May 2003
There is an aura that seems to surround classic films made before the days of computer generated visual effects and intense marketing campaigns. It was a time when motion pictures depended on grand stories, superb performances, and great direction to catapult their success. This was exactly the case of `Lost Horizon,' a film from director Frank Copra (`It's A Wonderful Life'). With elaborate set designs, excellent performances by Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, John Howard, Thomas Mitchell, and Edward Everett Horton, `Lost Horizon' is a story of survival and ultimately finding a way home, that cannot be forgotten. `Lost Horizon' is a tale of five castaways who inadvertently find themselves in Shangri-La after their plane crashes in the mountains of Tibet. They are lead into the place of eternal youth, natural beauty, and free from strife by members of the region. They are treated as guests, and although they want to leave and find their way back to the world as they know it, porters are hard to find. It all leads to a notion that none of them want to admit; that they were meant to be in Shangri-La. Out of the thousands of movies that have been produced in the past 100 years, only a few afford of the privilege of remembrance. What's more, only a few seem to survive due to the nature of celluloid prints breaking down over time. A similar problem plagued `Lost Horizon,' in that after decades of worthy theatrical re-issues, the prints depreciated, with many withering away. As such, a preservation program was set in place to save copies of the film. Thanks to the works of countless individuals, this classic has been restored, to a certain degree, with some of the footage missing, replaced by still shots of the actors and recorded dialogue. From a critical standpoint, `Lost Horizon' has stood the test of time to be one of the greatest adventure classics ever produced by Hollywood. What is astonishing about this film is the attention to detail. As the film begins, a battle is taking place somewhere in China where we meet our protagonist, Bob Conway (Coleman). As the film continues, the scene changes to a scene on an airplane where our characters are trying to leave the war torn region. At one point, the crew is at a high altitude where the temperature is very cold. As such, we can see their breath in the shot as they speak. Normally, this kind of feature is ignored as the scene is short, but it adds a touch of realism that can't be denied. Incredible detail went into the creation of Shangri-La. With its large sets, beautiful costume design, the film takes on an epic proportion only rivaled by the grand designs of such Biblical epics as `Ben-Hur,' and `The Ten Commandments.' Truly, director Capra wanted to create an image that audiences would be astounded by…and he truly succeeded.

One can't help but admire the characters-they are all a bit naïve, but all intriguing in their own ways. Conway (Coleman) is a British diplomat and explorer whose fame is well deserved. His brother, George (Howard) presents a great deal of fear for the unknown Shangri-La. The characters of Henry Barnard (Mitchell) and Alexander P. Lovett (Horton) add a real sense of humor to the film. There are some minor inconsistencies in the story and various tasks that the characters try to pull off, but it's hardly worth complaining about because the film is such a treasure among other films. After 66 years, `Lost Horizon' remains far better than most of the adventure films that play in cinemas nowadays. One can only wish that they could have been present to see this in a theater during its original run. How amazing it would have been to see this epic tale of survival and the human struggle against itself back in 1937. `Lost Horizon' is indeed a remnant from the golden age of cinema. ***1/2
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8/10
"I believe it because I *want* to believe it.."
darkpixie198017 June 2005
"I believe it because I want to believe it". This one line speaks volumes about what the movie (and the original novel) was trying to say. The concept of Shangri-La, a place where people work and live in peaceful harmony, is as relevant today as it was in the post-World War I era that James Hilton wrote 'Lost Horizon', where the world was still in turmoil following a devastating war and another was on its way.

In these days of war, humanitarian devastation and disease, how many people are there who dream of getting away from it all and living out their lives in a remote paradise just like Shangri-La? The High Lama's words to Conway resonate strongly even today.

"Look at the world today. Is there anything more pitiful? What madness there is! What blindness! What unintelligent leadership! A scurrying mass of bewildered humanity, crashing headlong against each other, propelled by an orgy of greed and brutality." On a more cinematographic note, the movie is visually stunning in an age before CGI and astronomical budgets. The beauty of Shangri-La, the stunning mountain landscapes and the overall settings of the movie make us believe that such a wonderful place can exist. All the actors are commendable in their portrayals (though some characters are different to those in the original novel) and their interaction with each other add a real sparkle to the movie.

'Lost Horizon' is a beautiful adaptation of James Hilton's masterpiece and captures the very feeling of the novel and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has ever dreamed of escaping from the hectic world in which we live.
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10/10
Colman of Tibet: An attempted key to "LOST HORIZON"
theowinthrop9 October 2005
Along with A TALE OF TWO CITIES, THE PRISONER OF ZENDA, and THE LIGHT THAT FAILED, LOST HORIZON represented the best performance possible out of Ronald Colman. And his Robert Conway is the most modern of them (up to the time the films were made). LOST HORIZON is set (as James Hilton intended) in the 1930s, in war torn China. It is not the only reference in the story to the 1930s that Hilton puts into his fable of a paradise on earth.

Hilton had reason to fear about the world he lived in. The Great War (as the First World War was generally called in the 1930s) was still a savage and recent nightmare. The 1920s and 1930s saw dictatorships seize control of European and Asian state, and Democracy retreating everywhere. "Look at the world", says the High Lama (Sam Jaffe), "Is anything worse?" The High Lama is correct - the world is collapsing, and the so-called panaceas (Communist Russia, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Spain, Imperial Japan and it's "Greater Asiatic Co-Prosperity Sphere") are worse than the seeming ineptitude and drift in badly divided France, weakened Britain, and recovering American.

Hilton took Conway, his brother George, Professor Edward Everett Horton, suspiciously quiet businessman Thomas Mitchell, and consumptive Isabel Elsom to an oasis (possibly the oasis) on that troubled old earth - Shangri La, or "the valley of the Blue Moon") where contentment and peace reigned and people could live, if not forever, far longer and more happily than in say 1937 Germany, Britain, France, Russia, Italy, the U.S., or Japan.

On the whole Capra catches the spirit of the novel - his sets were dismissed as being far to simplistic, but as simplicity is the hallmark of life at Shangri-La the critics seemed to miss the point. As a matter of fact, his sets (in a temperate valley in the Himalayas - a real impossibility) are more acceptable than the idiocies of the future world in the contemporary science fiction film THINGS TO COME, where H.G.Wells believes we should live in cities built in caves.

The acting is very good, particularly Sam Jaffe's ancient High Lama (always shot in shadows). Remember, he is over two hundred years old. Today, because Jaffe had a long career in Hollywood (despite being blacklisted in the 1950s), we think of him as an old man in THE ASPHALT JUNGLE or as "Dr. Zorba" in the series BEN CASEY. So we think he must have looked old in real life when LOST HORIZON was shot. Actually, he was in his thirties or forties, so he was not that old. But he gave a performance that suggested he was an old man.

Another member of the cast that I would wish to bring up for consideration is John Howard. He is not recalled by film fans too much, but Mr. Howard was a good, competent actor. That he played Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond in a series of "B" features in the late thirties makes it ironic that he played the younger brother of Ronald Colman here, who had begun the talking picture segment of his career with the same role. Howard does not have a British accent, but he does show the adoration of the younger brother for his famous sibling, and the growing anger and contempt he develops when brother Robert fails to plan for their leaving this prison they were dragged to - note how he wants to return with a bomber to destroy Shangri-La. It is one of the two roles in major films that John Howard is remembered for, the other being "George Kittridge", the erstwhile fiancé of Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, who is pushed aside by both Cary Grant and James Stewart.

As it is one of Howard's best roles, it is nice that when the film was restored (as well as possible) in the 1980s, Howard (one of the three surviving cast members) was able to appreciate it - many of the missing sequences were his scenes. Howard was very happy at the restoration result.

Now, one or two notes that may help appreciate the film a little more. Who is Robert Conway supposed to be? He is called, by the High Lama, "Conway, the empire builder." He is supposedly able to do impossible things - hence the admiration of his brother. When he returns to Shangri-La at the end, the comment of the man telling the story is that Conway's journeys by himself back to his valley was beyond what ordinary men could do. So who is Conway? Well, in 1937, the model for Robert Conway was dead, from a motorcycle accident, for two years. It was, of course, Thomas Edward Lawrence "of Arabia", who had never been in Tibet (officially, anyway) but had served time in the Indian subcontinent area on government business in the 1920s. Quite a model for an empire builder.

The character played by Thomas Mitchell is also based on a real person. Harry Barnard's real name (which I have forgotten) is that of an international financier whose vast empire collapsed ruining thousands of investors. It turns out Mitchell's character is based on Samuel Insull, a mid western utilities empire builder (out of Chicago) whose financial doings brought about his collapse in the Great Depression. Insull fled in disguise to Greece, but was found on a dirty freighter, and returned to the U.S. (where he would stand trial for fraud, but be acquitted). Edward Everett Horton's anger at Mitchell when he learned the latter's identity is understandable. Mitchell's involvement in installing new pipes in Shangri-La mirrors Insull's early days, when he was an electrician, and an assistant to Thomas Edison.

The use of these two real figures as the basis of the characters helped contemporary audiences to accept the background of the plot of the film.
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8/10
Painstaking Restoration of a Rarely Seen Classic Reflects True Vision
EUyeshima29 December 2005
One of my favorite books growing up was James Hilton's classic 1933 book, "Lost Horizon", and I believe it motivated a great deal of my current wanderlust. Even though I have had the misfortune of seeing the disastrous 1973 musical remake when I was young, the original 1937 film adaptation has been a film I have wanted to see for years, but for whatever reason, it was next to impossible to uncover. Apparently, bastardized versions have shown up on TV through the years. Now we are fortunate to have this 1999 restoration spearheaded by UCLA film archivist Robert Gitt to match as closely as possible to Frank Capra's original 132-minute running time.

Similar to what was done with George Cukor's "A Star Is Born", "Lost Horizon" is presented with its complete soundtrack, but missing footage had to be found through other sources, even 16-mm prints recorded from TV broadcasts, and in a few scenes, production stills were sadly the only option to fill in the gaps. Consequently, there is a variable quality to the print, but when one thinks that much of this footage could have been completely lost, the visual lapses are more than forgivable. Now that I have seen Capra's vision of the book, I can now understand why it's a cinematic classic though I have to concede not as timeless as one would hope.

The fanciful plot centers on Robert Conway, a top-level English diplomat about to become the Foreign Secretary, who helps refugees and assorted others from war-ravaged China. A motley crew of passengers led by Conway boards a plane that is skyjacked toward the Himalayas where it crash lands in a desolate spot of Tibet. They are eventually met by a sect of locals who takes them to a paradise called Shangri-La. The focus of the story then becomes how each of the plane survivors responds to this utopian existence. With his instantly recognizable mellifluous tone, Ronald Colman is perfectly cast as Conway, the only one who embraces this seemingly perfect haven from the outset. He captures the natural curiosity and open romanticism of his character with his trademark erudite manner.

The rest of the cast is a gallery of stock characters fleshed out by the variable quality of the performances. H.B. Warner plays Chang with the requisite serenity of his vague, mysterious character; and Jane Wyatt - two decades before playing the perfect suburban wife and mother in "Father Knows Best" - is surprisingly saucy as Sondra, the young schoolteacher who has Conway brought to Shangri-La. She even has a brief nude swimming scene. John Howard unfortunately overplays the thankless role of Conway's obstreperous brother George to the point where I groan every time he appears on screen. A similar feeling comes over me when I see Edward Everett Horton's overly pixilated and fey turn as Lovett and Sam Jaffe's bug-eyed, ethereal High Lama. Isabel Jewell and Thomas Mitchell fare better as a dying prostitute and a fugitive swindler, respectively.

The set designs for the Shangri-La lamasery by Stephen Goossón are intriguing in that they look like a post-modern tribute to Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie architecture, though one could argue that the exteriors also resemble a fancy Miami Beach resort hotel. I also imagine that the isolationist philosophy espoused by the High Lama may have been at odds with pre-WWII patriotic fervor, though the more lingering problem is the racism apparent in the casting (e.g., non-Asians like Warner playing inscrutable Asians) and the portrayal of the Tibetan porters as gun-toting derelicts. However, for all its flaws, the movie has some really stunning camera-work by Joseph Walker, surprisingly masterful special effects (for a near-poverty row studio like Columbia), Dmitri Tiomkin's stirring musical score and a powerful sense of mysticism that gives the film a genuine soul. It is no accident that Capra, the most idealistic of the master filmmakers, helmed this movie because a more cynical mindset could have easily sabotaged the entire venture.

The DVD is a wonderful package. First, there is a fascinating photo montage documentary with narration provided by film historian Kendall Miller, which gives a true feeling of how Capra approached the production. Gitt and film critic Charles Champlin provide audio commentary on an alternate track of the film with Gitt very informative about the exhaustive restoration process and Champlin more in awe of the result. There is even an alternative ending included that Columbia chief Harry Cohn insisted on filming and using upon release, but it had thankfully been dropped two weeks later. This is a genuine treat for cinemaphiles, as there are few films that make such a compelling case for seeking out one's personal utopia.
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9/10
Happy Valley
telegonus3 October 2001
Warning: Spoilers
The Frank Capra adapation of James Hilton's popular novel, Lost Horizon, was somewhat controversial in its day, not polticality but because of its length (several reels were removed after a disasterous preview), and its production design, which many critics found unattractive. Now, in its restored version, we can see the film pretty much as it looked when it came out. Scenes that have not been found are represented by still photographs over which we hear the original dialogue. This is therefore not exactly the movie that was released to the theatres, but a fairly close approximation of it.

The story concerns a planeload of passengers hijacked during a violent uprising in China who find themselves ultimately in Tibet, where the plane crashes, and are met by guides who lead them up a steep mountain to the valley of Shanri-La. In Shangri-La the weather is always perfect. There is no war or violence because the people's motto is 'be kind', and they live up to it. In other words, they are in paradise. The valley has a history, too complex to go into in any great depth, and the perfect climate enables its inhabitants to live very long lives.

As one might imagine, there is trouble in paradise, and some of the visitors decide to leave. Shangri-La does not automatically make people happy. One still has to work at it, albeit under extraordinarily favorable circumstances.

The movie is far from flawless, and the middle section, with the usual romantic stuff, is none too inspired; but it begins with a bang and very nearly ends with one, too. In the chaotic, early scenes there is a palpable sense of danger; and the generous budget enabled Capra to use large crowds, and he makes the most of them. Rarely, on screen, have large numbers of human beings, whether screaming, shooting or pushing, seemed so frightening. The airborne part of the film is likewise very satisfying. There's a good deal of exposition here, but it's so well done that one can scarcely find fault. The scenes of refueling in a remote village are eletrifying, and one isn't sure at first what's going on. Are they being attacked? No, but it takes a while to figure this out. The soaring over the clouds is mesmerizing in its simple beauty; while the crash-landing of the plane at what appears to be the foot of the mountain that leads eventually to Shangri La, is highly effective. And Capra, ever the master of film climate, offers us, briefly, a quite pretty and at the same time literally chilling sense of what it would be like to die, snowbound, in the Himalayas.

But Capra's greatest triumph is the scene of hero Conway's departure from the peaceful valley, with his brother and girl-friend in tow. Conway does not want to leave, but his younger brother is in love with a Russian girl, who is unhappy in paradise and talks aginst the locals. As Conway is discussing the matter with his brother, inside, we hear wordless chanting outside, in what sounds like a religious ceremony, as robed figures carrying candles form a long line that surrounds the building, then pass on. As the talk inside becomes more heated, the voices (and accompanying music) grow louder. By the time Conway has made his decision to leave, and is walking up the hill to the opening in the rocks that will lead him from the warm, friendly valley to the freezing tempratures of the outisde world, the music rises in intensity, to a kind of lugubrious, hynoptic crescendo, providing a perfect auditory counterpart to the journey Conway is embarking on, and his mixed feelings about it. The result is one of the single most moving and lovely scenes in movies, technically and emotionally devastatingly effective. Ronald Colman's heartbreak as he gazes back, with as soulful expression as has been seen in movies, is worth seeing the rest of the picture for, and one of the highlights of American film.
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10/10
A Wonderful Fantasy /Drama - - Just As Good 68 Years Later
guidon710 June 2005
I have seen this film many times over the years and it never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps other Capra films are better known, but I don't think they can hold a candle to this one. The cast, every one, turn in stunning performances. In his secondary role as Ronald Colman's brother, I believe John Howard's performance was superb, even among this stellar cast. His career consisted of leads in "B" films (Bulldog Drummond) or usually the second man in "A" films (such as The Philadelphia Story). A talented, highly underrated actor in my view, he was of the opinion that he deserved better roles, such as those of Ronald Colman. I agree. And how about that musical score! THE BEST OF ANY FILM, in my humble opinion. What a treat it is to watch a real gem - - Lost Horizon. Incidentally the film is far better than the book by James Hilton. Could another actor have portrayed Robert Conway as Ronald Colman has? I doubt it, even in that age of excellent actors. The scene where his brother George, aided by the Russian girl, try to convince him that Shangri-La is not what it is, is remarkable for Colman's reaction. He turns away and his face changes from disbelief to uncertainty then to acceptance of their arguments. All this without dialogue. Shortly after he turns to look at Shangri-La for the last time before plunging into the outside world and again, silently, his emotions touch us all. (At least they touch me!) We are very fortunate to have this masterpiece available to us. Now, will future generations recognize this film for what it is? Judging from today's "hits" I really wonder.
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For those who have not lost hope
alexander_caughey30 March 2004
I watched this film for the first time as a 10 year old and its effects on my willingness to be a optimistic idealist have always been led by my memories of this hope inspiring tribute to the need for the human being to find Heaven in this life. Perhaps Lost Horizon could have been that spark that enabled me to find just that. Like all films from another era do not judge this film for its apparent imperfections, rather for what it offered the audiences of that time (1937), hope that all would be well when man would recognize that his time is always better spent broadening his horizons of understanding. Frank Capra's guides his audiences through danger and turmoil to that place which dreams are made of, when we all make the effort to make it happen.
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10/10
Another Capra gem
Calysta16 January 2000
This is not another of Frank Capra's sophisticated, stylish comedies of the era. That might explain the reason that "Lost Horizon" takes a back seat today to "It Happened One Night" and "Mr Deeds Goes to Town", the immensely critically acclaimed comedies of the time. With the theme of the small man triumphing over the big, good over evil, perhaps here Capra was trying to explain idealism over humanity. He believed in the book. In his own words, "It held a mirror up to the thoughts of every human being on earth".

Ronald Colman is perfect in his role of Robert, an English diplomat and a leader of the people. Edward Everett Horton was again great in a seemingly bubbling, comic role and Sam Jaffe, later the professor in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" gives a memorable performance as the High Lama, establisher of Shangri-La, the perfect world high above in the Himalayas.

Some of the cinematography was absolutely amazing. It was a shame that the film was cut to the extent that footage was lost and stills had to be used in the missing sound track places. The imagery that Capra stirs up for the viewer has certainly fulfilled his vision. The film is a bit long in some parts, but it certainly does not fail to entertain, it merely takes its time to tell a great story.

Is there another film from the period that sums up the great human ideal, a perfect world, a better one than the one we already exist in? "Lost Horizon" with its ideals is the film for the thinking person. It thrives on its themes for humanity, of kindness and moderation, stripping away the pretense of our lives. The message is as clear as anything, but maybe we all don't want to realise it, or perhaps we can't.

I hope that this movie is never remade for a third time. It is a story that could only be preserved in its own time, for this version has the message that still rings clear today, unspoilt, endearing, so simple. Hollywood will never again be able to recapture what has been already crafted. Capra's neglected movie could scarcely have been more effectively filmed.

Rating: 10/10
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Lifelong Inspiration.
hitherejimbo-19 June 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I was 15 years old when I first read the book "Lost Horizon." At that age one is just emerging from the cocoon of the family in which one spends one's childhood and moving out into the big wide world beyond. I did not like what I saw - the Great Depression, countries trying to recover from the Great War and yet preparing for a new one. I was electrified by the theme of "Lost Horizon" - " haven't you ever dreamed of a place where there was peace and security, where living was not a last struggle but a lasting delight?" Four years later the movie came out and, although it made some changes in the book, it still presents the message effectively. Frank Capra's direction is masterful and the acting is excellent except for a few cases of over-acting by John Howard and Isabel Jewell. I preferred the ending of the film where Conway finally succeeds in returning to Shangri La to the ambiguous ending of the book. Ronald Colman is perfect as Conway and his sessions with the High Lama are transfixing. I'm 93 now and just watched the movie again. I realized that the dream of Shangri La has always been with me and, as Lord Gainsford says in the final scene of the movie, "I believe in it because I want to believe in it." By the way, if you like the book and the 1937 movie, stay away from the monstrous 1971 remake in which "Lost Horizon" was turned into a musical. I walked out on this. Why can't Hollywood leave the classics alone?
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Pure movie magic of a rare kind
fred-8314 May 2000
I think I was about seven or eight years old when I first saw this film, and has always lingered in the back of my mind. This is pure movie magic of a rare kind, and it is surprising how well it holds up today. The story is handled with just the right balance of seriousness and humour, with fine performances throughout, and the timeless message it sends is truly profound. The middle part may be lacking a bit in pacing, but it is a minor quibble, since this, for my money, is a masterpiece. And it still looks great, with impressive set design and an abundance of atmosphere. The finale is simply sublime, and stays in the mind for a long time afterwards, one of my favorite movie moments of all time. A movie everyone should see.
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9/10
"The other side of the hill"
Steffi_P1 July 2011
The second half of the 1930s saw the return of the big picture - bigger budgets, grander ideas, longer runtimes in which to tell a story. But the 30s were also a decade of highly emotional and humanist cinema, fuelled by the hardships of the great depression. Lost Horizon sees what was for the time a rare marriage between burgeoning picture scope, in what was "poverty row" studio Columbia's most expensive production to date, and poignant intimacy in the source novel by James Hilton.

Thank goodness for director Frank Capra, who seemed really able to balance this sort of thing. Capra could be a great showman, composing those beautiful iconic shots to show the magnificent Stephen Goosson art direction off to best advantage. But he also knows how to bring out a touching human story. In some places Capra's camera seems a trifle distant, and is almost voyeuristic as it peeps out through foliage or looming props. But rather than separate us from the people it is done in such a way as to give a kind of respectful distance at times of profound emotion, for example when Ronald Colman comes out of his first meeting with the High Lama. The camera hangs back, just allowing Colman's body language to convey feelings. At other times Capra will go for the opposite tack, and hold someone in a lengthy close-up. In this way we are given to just one facet a character's emotional experience, and it becomes all the more intense for that.

Of course such techniques would be nothing without a good cast. There couldn't really have been anyone better than Ronald Colman for the lead role. Now middle-aged, but still possessed with enough charm and presence to carry a movie, Colman has a slow subtlety to his movements which is nevertheless very expressive. His face, an honest smile but such sad eyes, seems to be filled with all that hope and longing that Lost Horizon is about. Sturdy character actors H.B. Warner and Thomas Mitchell give great support. It's unusual to see comedy player Edward Everett Horton in a drama like this, and comedy players in dramas could often be a sour note in 1930s pictures, but Horton is such a lovable figure and just about close enough to reality to pull it off. The only disappointing performance is that of John Howard, who is overwrought and hammy, but even this works in a way as it makes his antagonistic character seem to be the one who is out of place.

Lost Horizon is indeed a wondrous picture, and one that fulfils its mission statement of being both sweeping and soul-stirring. It appears that Capra, always out for glory, was out to make his second Academy Award Best Picture. But history was to repeat itself. In 1933 he had had his first go at a potential Oscar-winner with The Bitter Tea of General Yen, only for that picture to be ignored and the more modest It Happened One Night to win the plaudits the following year. Lost Horizon won two technical Oscars, but bombed at the box office, but in 1938 the down-to-earth comedy drama You Can't Take it with You topped the box office and won Best Pic.

Lost Horizon was in no way worthy of such a dismissal, and is indeed a bit better than You Can't Take it with You. It was perhaps more than anything a case of bad timing. Audiences were only just starting to get used to two-hour-plus runtimes, especially for movies with such unconventional themes. If you look at contemporary trailers and taglines, you can see it was being pitched as some kind of earth-shattering spectacular, whereas it is more in the nature of an epic drama. For later releases the movie was edited down to as little as 92 minutes. Fortunately, we now have a restored version. The additional material that has been reconstructed is vital for giving depth, not only to the characters, but also to the setting of Shangri-La itself. With hindsight, we can look back on Lost Horizon as a work of real cinematic beauty.
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7/10
Adventure exciting, utopia boring
Karl Self28 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The movie starts off as a great adventurous tale of a group of Englishmen (and one woman) being airlifted from a murderous revolution in the Chinese boondocks. Still in the air the next morning they realise that their plane is headed the wrong way. When they alert their pilot they find out that he has been replaced by an armed Chinaman -- they are being hijacked! The plane lands in a desert, is refueled from canisters by a wild tribe or horsemen, continues its journey, until its fuel is spent, and crash-lands in the mountains, killing the mysterious pilot. The five passengers find themselves in a subzero wasteland, with the scantiest chances of survival. And that's where the story begins for good ...

Up until this point I loved this movie. Then the story of Shangri-La unfolds, a utopia of moderation, temperance and abundance, and the story inescapably becomes naff and boring because paradises always are. Still, the movie conveys an exciting vision of adventure and parallel reality long before the age of sophisticated SFX and CGI. It's also fascinating to see how every utopia is shaped by the day and age that spawns it -- the idea, for example, that abundance eliminates crime seems naive by modern standards.
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10/10
Hilton, Capra and Riskin: The Perfect Match and Great Acting Performances in Idealistic Masterpiece
faterson10 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This is Frank Capra at his best (and he's "at his best" in so many of his classics!), and he gets even better when his source material for a movie is as exquisite as James Hilton's famous original novel. You can feel there's a *lot more* behind this movie than what got into the final cut usually shown today -- the restored version of around 127 minutes. There's an overabundance, richness and depth of material to choose from -- after all, the initial cuts of the movie were 3.5 hours, or even 6 hours long. Too bad none of that footage is available today -- it would be a delight to watch.

Capra, his screenwriter of many movies Robert Riskin, and Hilton are all "tuned to the same wave length", so what comes out is undiluted joy and harmony. Even if you don't know that Capra sometimes took *days* to shoot a single scene of a few minutes' length (overshooting his budget outrageously, and almost bankrupting Columbia studios), the tremendous care on his part is palpable throughout: he pays as much attention to action-packed scenes, as to properly leading the actors in every piece of dialogue.

The actors' performances are as spectacular in _Lost Horizon_ as is the snow-deluged, but then again sunny and paradise-like, scenery. Ronald Colman is riveting as Robert Conway, and you can see why Capra only counted on him to play the role; there is, in particular, one pivotal scene of about 40 seconds' length, with the character of Conway considering whether to stay in Shangri-La; there's absolute silence throughout the scene -- but the play of expressions on Colman's face is fascinating; his face is like a mirror of his mind, or like the sky with clouds passing over it; I'm not sure if all of that was just Colman's improvisation or Capra's direction, but the scene may be the movie's top highlight.

The other two actors present in that pivotal scene, John Howard (as the leading character's angst-ridden brother) and Margo (as the Russian "girl" Maria), are thoroughly convincing, too; the *intensity* with which they enact the two characters, is overpowering. So much so, that watching _Lost Horizon_ becomes incredibly suspenseful, surprising the viewer at every turn -- there seems to be a "new twist" every 5 minutes or so (particularly towards the end), as if _Lost Horizon_ was a mystery movie. You have a central leading character here (Robert Conway), in between two opposed sets of characters, each group trying to pull him in a different direction, claiming that *that's* where *true civilization* lies. Which way is Bob going to go? You're never really sure! The credit for that must go to both Colman and the fantastic actors portraying both sides of the divide -- you're as apt to "fall for" each of the two groups, as Bob's character did, at one stage or another.

There are magnificent performances from others, too. It's as if Capra was able to squeeze the best out of every actor -- regardless of whether they only appear on the screen for a few minutes. Hugh Buckler only gets a few minutes of screen-time towards the end as Lord Gainsford, but how compelling is he!

Thomas Mitchell has so many top-shelf movies to his credit, including possibly the greatest movies of all time (such as _Gone with the Wind_ and Capra's own _It's a Wonderful Life_), but nowhere have I seen him -- primarily a character actor -- shine so much as here in _Lost Horizon_ as the swindler Barnard. Isabel Jewell is similarly affecting as a terminally (?) ill patient getting rejuvenated by Barnard's (virtuously redirected) energy.

H. B. Warner is wonderful as Chang, and makes the miracle of Shangri-La seem believable. His statement on the Westerners' celebration of birthdays is delivered unforgettably, as are others. The most difficult role in _Lost Horizon_ was that of the High Lama, played by Sam Jaffe. It's not surprising Capra went to extreme lengths (even swapping actors at one point) to get the High Lama's scenes right, and he eventually did. Although during _Lost Horizon_ previews the audience laughed at scenes meant to be serious, which drew Capra into depression, I believe that in the restored version of _Lost Horizon_ commonly shown today, the High Lama scenes strike just the right point to be perceived as serious and moving, while avoiding (just barely, but they do!) slipping into the ridiculous.

The movie, besides being visually spectacular despite only being shot in black-and-white, also seems surprisingly fresh and bold for the standards of 1937 when it was made. Capra certainly didn't hesitate to show whatever he wanted to show: a naked Jane Wyatt (another great performance!) cavorting in a stream; a horde of naked children; and the High Lama extolling "Christian" virtues -- neither of which features would probably be considered politically correct today.

The character of Sondra, enchantingly played by Jane Wyatt, is particularly admirable in that it was the film-makers' invention -- Sondra does not appear in Hilton's original book. On the superficial level, it's *just* the type of character that you might expect a clichéd Hollywood production to insert into the screen version of a novel, to make it more conventionally appealing; but in Riskin's and Capra's capable hands, clichés turn into magic, pure gold. See not only the nude bathing scene, but also the "Why?!" scene with Conway playfully "wringing the neck" of his beloved.

Watching _Lost Horizon_, even 70+ years after it was made, is like getting a breath of that fresh mountain air that is alleged to keep you forever young in body and spirit in Shangri-La. Watching _Lost Horizon_ makes you feel as if you paid a visit to Shangri-La yourself -- can there be a higher achievement for an artist in any type of art?
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9/10
A nearly perfect film...in my top 10
vincentlynch-moonoi4 April 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of those rare films where the original story (in this case by the wonderful James Hilton) is improved by the movie script. Conway in the film (Ronald Colman) is a successful diplomat and probably next Foreign Secretary. That works very well in the story...making him the target of the kidnapping. Having a love interest is, of course, nearly mandatory for a film, while there is none in the novel. Hence we get a delightful performance from Jane Wyatt (much later of "Father Knows Best").

As civil strife erupts in 1935 China, Colman helps many Westerners escape, before escaping himself on a plane with a handful of others...only to be kidnapped in mid-air. While it is a shame that we did not get to see the early scenes shot by Capra due to extensive editing, this is a very exciting beginning to the film. The plane crashes in the Himalayan Mountains, with scenes filmed in a giant ice house so that one would see the breath in the blizzardy weather. The group is rescued by Chang (H.B. Warner), of a local lamasery. Of course, it's a set-up -- the remarkable head lama (Sam Jaffe) knows he is about to die, and he wants Colman to become the new high lama. Colamn and his troupe find the beautiful Shangri-La, an idyllic valley where people live very long lives. Stay, or return to "civilization"? I cannot imagine an actor who could play this role so perfectly as Ronald Colman in a sort of pensive manner. Perfection in acting. Sam Jaffe -- brilliant as the high lama, although his screen time was short. Edward Everett Horton as the comical paleontologist who lets his hair down a bit in Shangri-La. Thomas Mitchell as the swindler turned philanthropist. Jane Wyatt great as the love interest. And notably H.B. Warner as the assistant to the high lama...a role for which he was nominated for an Oscar; nice to see him in a heftier role than usual.

But I can't compliment everyone. Margo did not impress me. John Howard...well, here he's guilty of either bad acting or over-acting...either way he detracts from the picture. And Isabel Jewell demonstrates a it of overacting, as well as the unhealthy prostitute brought back to health (and interestingly played the seamstress who Colman went to the guillotine with in "A Tale Of Two Cities"). There three performances are the only reasons I don't give this film a "10".

There are few films that I describe as a "masterpiece". This is one, and in my view, one of the 10 greatest films, particularly considering the year it was made...1937. It is clear that the director over-reached here. His "director's cut" lasted 6 hours!!!!! Particularly interesting since Hilton's novel is not particularly long. The documentary accounts on the DVD are very interesting to watch. Very highly recommended film for both watching and having on your DVD shelf!

And, the recent (I'm amending this in 2018) Blu-Ray anniversary edition looks great!
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Try Not to Get Lost.
tfrizzell3 July 2002
British diplomat Ronald Colman and brother John Howard crash a plane with several civilians including Thomas Mitchell deep in the Himalayas and find Shangri-La. The place is literally heaven on Earth, but is it really what it seems? H.B. Warner received an Oscar nomination as the man who runs the beautiful but strange place. Frank Capra's film is really a bit dark and disturbing compared to his other famous ventures. Light-hearted in many ways, but filled with strange undertones and images, "Lost Horizon" is one of those odd films from the late-1930s that conveys some deep messages in unconventional ways. The case could be made about the film's support for communism due to several of the sequences. Good and definitely interesting, "Lost Horizon" remains one of Capra's lesser-known films that still packs a punch 65 years later. 4 stars out of 5.
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Maligned classic
eibon0428 November 2001
Fantasy filled film that shows the different facaets of human nature. Beautifully conceived by Frank Capra whose brilliant at making films with sentlemenity as main force. A masterpiece which was brutally cut during its threaitcal run and only recently has the film been somewhat restored. Thus, the complete version of Lost Horizon(1937) is one of many lost classics in history of film. Acting is excellent with everyone giving deep performances. An wonderful story with intriquing spirital symbolisms. Ronald Colman does a marvalous job as the good natured and tolerate Robert Conway. Personally I perfer Lost Horizons(1937) over Its a Wonderful Life(1946) because the main character in the former is more complex.
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10/10
One of the all time under rated greats
aandmbird4 August 2005
A truly wonderful film. I first saw this aged about 6 or 7 in a butchered version on TV nearly 40 years ago. Even then it held me entranced. Now in its almost full version the true beauty of the piece is properly revealed. It is a perfect example of what film can be as an art form which entertains, embraces your imagination and makes you think that there could be a better world. I won't elaborate on the plot as it is well described in other comments / reviews. It should be viewed in the context of its time, after one catastrophic war and with another one already appearing imminent. Yes the plot is unrealistic, yes it is sentimental, but so what!! and to criticise it for this is entirely missing the point. I can find realism (or what philistines think passes for realism) and cynicism in a thousand other grossly inferior movies. I am a middle aged Englishman whose stiff upper lip still quivers in those last few scenes as we cheer Ronald Colman's character to his destiny. There should always be room for films such as this, and it is good to see from other comments that there will always be an audience for it.
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7/10
Shangri-La.
AaronCapenBanner10 October 2013
Frank Capra directs this appealing fantasy that stars Ronald Colman as British diplomat Robert Conway, who is evacuated from a troubled country by plane with other refugees. They get to know each other en route, but unfortunately the plane is sabotaged, and it crash lands in the Himalayas, where they later discover an Eden-like society hidden by mountains called Shangri-La, where everyone is cared for, and all outside conflicts(like the looming world war) are irrelevant. Most of the refugees settle down to this place, and Robert even meets the high lama(played by Sam Jaffe) whom he has great respect for. Problems arise when one of them is determined to leave, and takes an unhappy citizen(played by Margo) with him. Robert feels obligated to go with them, but a terrible truth about staying there will be learned, as Robert vows to later return to Shangri-La, no matter how long it takes...

Moving and appealing film is beautifully directed and acted, showing us a wonderful place that anyone would want to stay in, making Conway's desperate fight to return there quite compelling. Unusual film isn't without flaws, but is still most worthwhile, with a welcome ending.
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10/10
A British statesman on the eve of WW-II retreats from the world that has lost its horizon.
lewwarden5 June 2012
Last night I watched a DVD rental of the restoration of this classic movie, and was reminded of how I and the other students of San Luis Obispo High School had been privileged to watch what, in retrospect, was a pre-release test by the studio for teen-agers' reactions. This took place at the Elmo theater and probably occurred in 1936, the first half of my senior year.

Which are deductions on my part resulting from the fact that in February 1937 our high school coach had ordered me to pay for my shiny new orange and black basketball uniform which the team's star had stolen from my locker, and sent me to the principal when I indignantly declined to do so. The principal ordered me to leave school and not return until I paid.

In 1937 they mailed me my diploma and I was able to enroll at Cal Poly. In the meanwhile I had a number of jobs and wonderful days on the beach and evenings at the Stag pool hall and a voyage to Japan working on a Swedish oil tanker.

Our high school also got to see Romeo and Juliet, which was released in 1938, and reinforces my conclusion that we were a testing location for the studios. I recall one of our high school wags, at the play's most dramatic scene, "Romeo,my Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo," calling out, "Heah ah is, Sunshine." Which brought down the house. God only knows what the studio execs made of this.

Curiously, we are just about ready to publish a novel titled "Paper Doll," about a half baked psychiatrist who, along with several of his patients, lost their horizons in their struggles for dominance with a young hooker.
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Be Kind -- I feel like I have always been a part of Shangri-La.
Squaredealer3311 May 2006
I rented the restored version of this film. The restored version contained Capra's ending. There isn't that much difference between the two endings, but Capra's is better. Capra creates saccharine films that get in the way of the story, or maybe that's just a 2006 viewpoint. I still enjoyed this film. Others on this board have referenced the darkness in the book, and have peaked my curiosity about the book. Maybe Capra just isn't inclined to show darkness in his films. No matter, it's a wonderful film.

I certainly would not classify this movie as an old movie, because there is nothing else like it. I would suggest the High Lama's main speech is a radical interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount, and you don't find many movies with similar themes. The restored version contains those portions of the speech that were edited in other versions. The liner notes reference the film as too much of a peace statement at the time of its making. It's too much of a peace statement in 2006. The commentary included in the DVD states the film was first show at a length of 3 ½ hours. I would have liked to have seen all that footage.

Unfortunately the restored version was pieced together and we see variations in the footage, variations that call attention to the difference. Too bad. Joseph Walker's and Elmer Dyer's filming is beautiful. These "black and white" guys new what they were doing. There work is timeless. Thank you all (Robert Gitt of UCLA and Sony) who patiently restore their work. For me, movies LIVE in 35 mm, black and white. This one did not disappoint, although as mentioned, some of the original negative has been lost. Fitting, really, for a movie titled, "Lost Horizon". I see Capra's last shot – it's beautiful!
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9/10
Warning for idealistic types: You will love it!
chinafree321 December 2005
This comes from a most idealistic person that still strives to believe in the possibility of a really human world where the man stops being a wolf to the man (Hobbes, I think). I rediscovered this movie last year in Xmas day, and the message resonated all inside my heart and soul. Anyone writing about utopias should check this out, although the book probably is more extensive. I haven't read it yet, I am afraid.

At some point when all of the Europeans are discussing the good OR the evil of Shangri-La, I could see the scenification of the intellectual discussion taking place at the time (1937) in difficult times for the world. That was between the faith and trust or the cynical and sceptical point of views, to simplify it. Bertrand Russell words came to mind, and the realisation that even if utopia would find a place in our world, there would be those that would not want to take place, that would find the struggle and the rat race attractive probably out of inexperience.

And definitely Capra makes his statement about the upcoming war. Chapeau, Frank!! I love the so-called capra-esquire films because of their intense belief in the strenght of the human being when he decides to do to the neighbours as he would like to be done onto him. Deeply spiritual message, the conscience that we are all one.

From a human being struggling in this world...
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9/10
"There are moments in every man's life when he glimpses the eternal."
utgard146 January 2016
Frank Capra classic about a group of British citizens, led by diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman), who flee a rebellion in China only to have their plane crash in the Himalayas. They are taken to Shangri-La, a magical place isolated in the mountains where people can leave behind the worries of civilization. They learn they will live for hundreds of years there but only if they never leave. The world-weary Conway is intrigued by the promise of this utopia but not everyone in his group feels the same way.

It's an ambitious undertaking for Capra, who made no other movies on the scale of this one (or with the budget). The costumes and Art Deco sets are beautiful. Great script from Robert Riskin, adapted from James Hilton's novel. Lovely, haunting score from Dimitri Tiomkin. Ronald Colman, an exceptional actor who never did a bad job that I've seen, gives a moving, sincere performance that ranks among the best of his impressive career. Sam Jaffe is also excellent in his small but important role as the High Lama. The rest of the wonderful cast includes John Howard, Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton, H.B. Warner, Isabel Jewell, and Thomas Mitchell (the first of four movies he did with Capra). Jane Wyatt's swimming scene is probably the sexiest thing she ever did on film. The opening scenes are exciting and the climax is powerful. The middle of the film is where many people complain that it's slow or that it loses focus. I admit there is a chunk of the middle of the film, dealing with Colman and Wyatt falling in love, as well as everyone adjusting (or not adjusting) to Shangri-La that drags just a bit. But I never felt bored and I don't think it derails the film at all. The dialogue and performances in these scenes is still great. The original cut ran much longer and I can only imagine whether that version would be better or worse. As it is, seven minutes of footage is still missing from the current version. The dialogue for these scenes is intact, with production stills in place of the missing footage.

It's escapism, pure and simple. Many viewers will poke holes in the idea and philosophy behind Shangri-La, calling it naive and childish. Perhaps they're right; perhaps the cold, cynical reality of selfish human nature means such a utopia is impossible. But the thing about most of Frank Capra's films, and why he is probably my favorite director ever, was that he believed in telling uplifting, optimistic stories about us helping each other overcome our baser nature; that good can triumph over evil and there are such things as happy endings. While Lost Horizon is not really one of his "Capra-corn" movies, I think the basic Capra elements are still there, right down to the final shot. Most other directors would have likely gone for the sad or tragic ending, but Capra gives us one that is hopeful.
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6/10
Not Capra's best by a mile but...it's a Capra so it's worth watching
nomoons111 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I have the fortune of knowing 2 things about this movie before I watched it. Lost Horizon was the first book I consciously remember reading as a kid...and....I have seen the hour long interview with Capra that Dick Cavett did with him back in the late 60's where he talks about this film at length.

First off I'll say this is not even close to Capra's best work. This film suffers from a lot of tedium to say the least. It just drags on and on. In the interview he did, he mentions this film being screened at 3 1/2 hours long. Can you imagine this film being 3 1/2 hours originally? Well it was and he mentions at the end of the screening that the majority of the comments on the cards at the end were negative. He thought he had created a masterpiece but the audience just didn't get it. Well I can certainly understand because this film was made only 3 years after he book was released and I'm bettin' that most of the audience hadn't read the book before seeing this movie. The audience just didn't understand what the movie was about. Well, he mentions that he decided to just chuck a couple of reels of the film and he was left with what we see today, the 132 minute version. It seemed to work.

To me there are no real standout performances in this because the movie just meanders from one thing to another. The start of the tedium is the beginning where the aircraft is stolen. I bet they spend a good 12 to 15 minutes with this aircraft sequence. It's just too darn long. I was lookin at the clock sayin..."when's this scene gonna play itself out?"

As good as Ronald Colman is as an actor, he's just secondary to the "idea" of the film. The idea being the concept of living in a place where there's no war..no crime..no hate..no poverty etc. The whole time your watching your trying to wrap your head around it but if you wanna get a better idea of it and really grasp the concept, read the book. It's much better.

I was really looking forward to seeing this finally but by the middle of it I was surfing the net and just looking at the screen here and there. It was a film that just didn't capture my attention. I think a lot of it also was that the casting wasn't too special. With the exception Colman and Wyatt, there were no stand out actors. You never really get to know any of the actors well enough because there are so many of them it would have taken the original 3 1/2 hour film to flush it out. Even I wouldn't have wanted to see that cause I can imagine, it would have been even more tedious.

This film was well made without a doubt but it was just dead boring to me. I think many tend to think Capra and say well it's him and all is stuff is good but IMO, this was a misfire in his career. It's at the bottom of his list for quality.

Read the book then see this film and you'll understand the differences...and my point.
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7/10
A beautiful film
mattymatt4ever13 January 2003
Many people may not be drawn to a film like this because it doesn't involve a lot of conflict, and that lack of conflict does make it slow-going at times, but it's still a beautiful film. The sets are wonderfully designed for a modestly budgeted (though it was a big budget at the time) motion picture. Ronald Coleman is a terrific actor, with a dominant screen presence and a certain strength in his voice. The film delivers a good deal of life lessons, and Shangri-La really does look like a great place to live. They believe in doing everything "in moderation," which is a fine philosophy. No wars, very little conflict, everyone's in good health. Can't complain about a place like that. The ending is especially poignant. One minor flaw is the lack of development of the prostitute. She's the only character who doesn't have an arc, and holds much contempt throughout the whole film. I wanted to know the source of her contempt. I never gathered why she was so whiny.

If you want to see a beautiful, feel-good movie with great performances, then "Lost Horizon" is the one to see.

My score: 7 (out of 10)
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8/10
Dated, but with a strange fascination
bkoganbing7 October 2005
Probably of all of Frank Capra's successes from the Thirties this is the most dated. Dated simply because we know so much more about Tibet than we did in 1933 when James Hilton's book came out. Hard to watch it now and realize that probably the Communist Chinese government has taken over Shangri-La and kicked out Ronald Colman, H.B. Warner and the rest of the cast, bag and baggage. They'd still be with us you know, if you accept the premise of longevity in the book.

Lost Horrizon was an enormously popular book in the Thirties. There was lots of strife at that time, economic and military. People liked to think there was some place we could just get away from it all. The same longing also sparked the success of Brigadoon in the immediate postwar years on Broadway.

The U.S. President commented obliquely on the enormous popularity of Lost Horrizon when he was asked where did James Doolittle's bombers come from? Where was the secret base? Franklin Roosevelt replied with a chuckle, "Shangri La."

James Hilton spent the last years of his life writing screenplays in Hollywood and I'm absolutely certain that he wrote this, Goodbye Mr. Chips and Random Harvest with the casting in mind. It's why I think Ronald Colman is so right for the part. A man of the British Empire with a secret longing for a better world than he's living in and dealing with.

Ronald Colman and a few others in a small passenger plane are highjacked during a revolutionary uprising and are transported to the mountains of Tibet. The kidnappers are the residents of a mystical valley where due to climate, the aging process has been dramatically slowed. Slowed but not halted. The aging High Lama, Sam Jaffe and his assistant H.B. Warner think that Colman is the kind of man they want to succeed Jaffe who has passed his 200 year.

Supporting Colman are Frank Capra regulars Edward Everett Horton and Thomas Mitchell. Additionally Jane Wyatt is in the cast for romance. Her character is not in Hilton's book. Capra gets good performances from his cast. One in particular I like is Isabell Jewell who was a passenger on the highjacked plane. She's a party girl who's excesses have made her seriously ill. Shangri La gives her hope and redemption, physically and morally.

As more and more of planet earth becomes known to us, novels like Lost Horrizon will be unable to be written. There are so few places on this planet that man hasn't trod his foot on. But even knowing so much more of Tibet, due in no small measure to it's exiled leader, the Dalai Lama's pleas for autonomy, Lost Horrizon is still a fascinating film to watch.

Question, do you think the Dalai Lama has ever read the book or seen this film?
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