Lost Horizon (1937)

Article #1370 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 12-14-2004
Posting Date: 5-13-2005
Directed by Frank Capra
Featuring Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton

Several people escaping from a violent revolution in China find that their plane has been shanghaied and that they are being taken in the wrong direction. They end up stranded in an isolated area in the mountains of Tibet, and there they discover the utopia of Shangri-La.

In some ways this is one of the more offbeat entries in the Capra oeuvre, but it’s generally ranked with his best work. I like it well enough, but I don’t quite place it in the top tier of his works. He does an excellent job with the somewhat protracted beginning of the movie; I’ve always loved his use of crowds, and the opening scenes in China are exciting and fun to watch. I also enjoy the last part of the movie where Ronald Colman, John Howard and Margo leave Shangri-La to return to the outside world. It’s the actual visit to Shangri-La that gets a little dull, and I think it’s simply because utopias tend to be somewhat uninteresting on a dramatic level; that’s why not many movies are made about them. Still, the movie is packed with fine performances. In particular, Ronald Colman does a wonderful job as the man who has found the world of his dreams, and both H. B. Warner and Sam Jaffe are great as Chang and the High Lama respectively. Able support is also given by Edward Everett Horton and Thomas Mitchell, who are both initially resistant to the charms of Shangri-La, but who soon find it to be the best place for them. I also find it very interesting that the adventures of Ronald Colman after his escape from Shangri-La are told to us in story by a man at a club rather than shown to us, but I think this is very effective; it completes the transition of turning a character who we’ve come to know very well into something of a legend, and it’s fitting that his becoming a legend makes his return to Shangri-La (a legendary place itself) all the more appropriate.


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