Lost Horizon is a 1937 film directed by Frank Capra and it is one of his more underappreciated and unknown works.
The story is about a plane crash where passengers find the perfect utopian society of Shangri-La in the mountains of Tibet. It is quite an intriguing storyline and rare for this period mostly thanks to politics and of course the setting. The first half on the plane, although somewhat extended, intrigues you and introduces you to the characters deftly. And the ending is great, very memorable and striking. But the biggest strength this story and the movie has is its smart approach with clever dialogue and many thought-provoking lines. It explores wonderfully the terms of utopia as well as today’s society comparing them and presenting Shangri-La in a great light.
It is filled with attention to detail, of course excellent direction from Frank Capra and the natural scenery is at times very beautiful. And thanks to great detail, Shangri-La is wonderfully thought-out and executed. Also the dialogue sequences between Chang, High Lama and the protagonist Robert Conway are the highlights because they show excellent screenplay in representing the history of Shangri-La and of course the personality clash exhibited between the two.
The character development in this movie is quite good, in some instances even great. Sondra and George are nothing to write home about, but the main character Robert Conway is beautifully developed and his different attitude towards the place and a personality that lends itself to it are superb ideas executed in a great way. High Lama and Chang also serve their purpose and are good characters. But Alexander P. Lovett and Henry Barnard are terrific and they absolutely steal the show. I know this isn’t a Disney movie, but I would definitely call those two comic reliefs because they truly are that. They are hilarious with their quarreling, Barny’s calling him Lovey is funny and their relationship overall is very comedic in tone and adds light to a film. And they can be seen in their behavior as an early gay couple which is also very interesting.
The acting is solid, but the performances that stand out are the same as the characters that stand out. Edward Everett Horton did a great job as memorable Lovey and of course Ronald Colman is very likable in the role of the protagonist and he gave a very good performance.
The action sequences are surprisingly good and the score is also solid. And the tone is mostly good, shifting from dramatic to comedic to spiritual. But the problems I have in this film are big. The first act definitely should have been shorter, some of the characters should have been better developed and the film never quite achieves its potential. And there are a lot of sequences that drag and slow the pace significantly.
All in all, Lost Horizon has its problems and it is of course nowhere near Capra’s best works, but it is also quite underrated with some great characters, great humor, amusing story with excellent dialogue and intriguing and very original premise and setting for the period.