B&W, 1937, 132 mins.

Directed by Frank Capra

Starring Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton, John Howard, Thomas Mitchell, Margo, Isabel Jewell, Sam Jaffe / Music by Dimitri Tiomkin / Cinematography by Stella Varveris

Format: DVD - Columbia (MSRP $27.95)

The first film adaptation of James Hilton's classic novel (originally published as Shangri-La), this elegant fantasy from director Frank Capra remains extremely popular and critically revered over sixty years later but seems somehow out of step with the rest of his filmography. Set for the most part in an idyllic mountainous utopia, Lost Horizon contains numerous multinational and philosophical issues which question the concepts of true "happiness" and gung ho patriotism. However, the true meaning of many of these implications is left up to the viewer's interpretation, particularly in the original 1937 (more on that in a moment).

A planeload of Westerners crashes in the Himalayas and are spritied away to Shangri-La, a happy place where everyone is equal and such petty things as war and strife have ceased to exist. Could such a place be supernatural? You bet. The hero of the tale, Robert Conway (Colman), falls in love with one of the residents, Sondra (Jane Wyatt), while his brother, George (John Howard), is not quite so eager to stay. Ultimately each Westerner must make his choice: stay in Shangri-La for an eternity of (awfully monotonous) happiness, or leave and face the perils of World War II brewing just over the mountains.

Along with George Cukor's A Star Is Born, Lost Horizon was one of the first butchered Hollywood classics to receive the deluxe restoration treatment in the early 1980s. The 138 minute film had been hacked down to as little as 118 minutes for most showings since its initial release, and Sony and UCLA managed to reinstate the previously lost footage in highly variable quality back into the print. Only audio remained for a few snippets, so this was played over stills to provide as complete an experience as possible. Simply put, if you're looking for a demo piece DVD to show off a black and white film, this is not the title to buy. Most of the film looks quite good, marred only by an occasional blemish, while the restored footage ranges from passable to extremely rough. However, as a piece of film history and a presentation of Capra's classic, this is as good as it's going to get. The commentary indicates that the original rough cut ran even longer, with some of Jaffe's interminable speeches as the High Lama going on for as long as twenty minutes! Even in its final form, the film drags a bit in its midsection and may be a bit daunting for first time viewers. Flaws aside, this is an important, fascinating film which, despite its dated elements, fully deserves this special treatment. Colman and Wyatt make a fine, convincing couple, and horror fans should get a kick out of seeing Margo and Isabel Jewell years before they both appeared in Val Lewton's The Leopard Man.

Columbia's supplements for Lost Horizon easily justify purchasing this edition even for those who already have the laserdisc. Aside from the excellent commentary, the disc offers a revealing comparison of the original '37 opening with the reissue prints which include a jab at the Japanese. A more blatant alternate ending is also included, as well as a brief teaser trailer that contains no actual footage from the film. The liner notes provide a thorough and surprisngly frank account of how the big budget film brought the studio to the brink of bankruptcy but ultimately established Columbia as a major studio in the long run. Note: Lost Horizon was later remade less successfully by Ross Hunter as a 1973 musical with Peter Finch and Michael York; though widely maligned, that version is not without its points of interest and, judging from Pioneer's special edition laserdisc, would probably make for a pretty fascinating DVD, too, and given Columbia's recent and startling track record, that might not be such a crazy idea. Also, for a science fiction take on the same plot, check out Star Trek: Insurrection, which basically transfers Shangri-La into space.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions