Film / Lost Horizon

Lost Horizon is a 1937 film by Frank Capra, starring Ronald Colman, based on the novel of the same name by British author James Hilton (of Goodbye, Mr. Chips fame).

Passengers aboard a small airplane discover that they have been kidnapped by someone posing as their assigned pilot. The plane crashes in the Himalayan mountain range along the border of China. The dying pilot's last words indicate there is a lamasery near by at Shangri-La and they will find help there. The passengers go to the lamasery and uncover a mystery.

The novel was filmed again in 1973 as a spectacular star-studded musical flop.

When the negative of the 1937 film was restored in The '70s, it was decayed so badly that seven minutes could not be salvaged. However, an intact soundtrack was found. The film as it exists today uses still pictures along with dialogue to illustrate those seven minutes.

The 1937 film provides examples of:

  • Age Without Youth: Averted - you live long and age proportionately in Shangri-La.
  • The Chosen One: Conway was specially selected to go to Shangri-La, and the other passengers were considered wonderful, accidental additions to the lamasery who all (excepting Conway's brother George) found reasons to be happy there.
  • Despair Event Horizon: George charges over it after seeing Maria age half a century and die in a matter of hours after leaving Shangri-La, and runs headlong over a cliff to his death.
  • Determinator: When Conway is rescued, he is absolutely determined to return to Shangri-La, and in the film's pentultimate scene, Lord Gainsford tells the members of the Embassy Club in London the stories he has heard of Conway learning to fly and stealing an Army plane, making six attempts to cross a supposedly uncrossable mountain pass, fighting off six guards to escape from a Tibetan jail after being imprisoned for stealing food and clothing, and leading the local military on a wild goose chase through their own country.
  • Hair-Trigger Avalanche: Both versions have this in the final stretch as Richard, George and Maria try to return to The Outside World.
    • In the 1937 film, it is caused by the porters playfully fooling around with the brothers' guns and shooting them off.
    • In the 1973 film, because they're busy helping Maria, who is too weak to walk (in hindsight, she's Rapid Aging) the brothers fall behind the porters and call out to them to stop. Oops.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The people of Shangri-La are not exactly disdainful of the outside world, but their attitude can rather succinctly be summed up as smiling, shaking their heads, and saying, "What silly people."
  • Hurting Hero: Robert Conway, though he is professionally successful, admits to feeling a great emptiness in his life, and the fact that this comes through in his writing is what leads the higher-ups at Shangri-La to bring him there.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Subverted, in that Gloria's incurable cough of death actually is cured by the magic of Shangri-La.
  • Lost World: The high mountains all around mean that no one ever goes to Shangri-La except the porters that visit once every few years.
  • MacGuffin Location: Shangri-La may be the setting of most of the film and the ultimate goal of most of the characters, especially Conway, but the film is more about how Shangri-La affects the characters (such as Gloria recovering from her tuberculosis, Lovett learning to relax and enjoy himself, and especially Conway finding a sense of purpose in life) than about the place itself.
  • Mighty Whitey: Featuring a modern Mighty Whitey in the 1930s, when the old-fashioned version was still in vogue. The mostly Chinese and Tibetan monks there prove themselves to be wise, intelligent, competent, and well-rounded characters. However, the white Conway turns out to be better at being a monk than the best of the Tibetans, and it turns out that the founder and leader of the monastery is a European who arrived in the 15th century.
  • No Immortal Inertia: The inhabitants of Shangri-La do age, but much more slowly there than they would do in the outside world. As Maria demonstrates, if they leave the village, they quickly advance to the age they would be if they had never been to Shangri-La.
  • The Outside World: Shangri-La is hidden from the rest of the world in the Himalayan mountains. Visitors can come and go (though due to its location very few visit) but natives face a terrible price for leaving.
  • Rapid Aging: Happens to Maria when the Conway brothers take her with them as they attempt to return to the outside world. As they trek through the mountains after their porters have been buried in an avalanche, a horrified George screams, "Bob! Bob, look at her face! Her face, look at her face!", and we see a lifeless, wrinkled old woman's face.
  • The Shangri-La: Shangri-La fits the description perfectly, a mysterious yet idyllic village nestled in the Himalayas tended to by people who have cast off the stresses and strains of the world beyond, accessible only with the help of insiders.
  • Skinnydipping: Including a rather daring scene for 1937, in which Jane Wyatt's body double actually leaves the pool while nude. Shot from a considerable distance away, but still.
  • Stock Footage: A few shots of snowy mountain peaks from a documentary were used to make this film more realistic.
  • Utopia: Shangri-La. Through moderation in all things moral and material, the inhabitants are all (with one or two exceptions), to quote Chang, "more than moderately happy."
  • Yellowface: The very British H.B. Warner plays Chang, the #2 man at Shangri-La.
    • In the 1973 film, Chang is played by another Brit, Sir John Gielgud. (The producer wanted Toshiro Mifune, but he turned it down.)

The 1973 film adds the following tropes:

  • All Musicals Are Adaptations
  • Beta Couple: Sam and Sally have a much easier time falling and being in love than Richard and Catherine — while the former couple is content to stay in Shangri-La forever, Richard keeps being urged by his brother to leave, which would mean leaving Catherine behind.
  • Bookends: The Title Theme Tune opens and closes the film.
  • Crowd Song: Several — "The World Is a Circle", "Living Together, Growing Together", and "Question Me an Answer" once the kids join in.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Sam isn't upfront about who he is to his fellow travelers. After some time in Shangri-La he admits to Sally that he was, once, a notorious corporate bigwig whose business dealings eventually collapsed around him. He's spent his life as a fugitive since his downfall, no longer having any purpose in his life except perhaps rebuilding his fortune. With Sally's encouragement and love, however, he turns his original talent for engineering towards improving life for the people of Shangri-La (he designs an irrigation system for their crops), and finds true fulfillment.
  • Duet Of Differences: "The Things I Will Not Miss" crosses this trope with "I Want" Song for Sally and Maria, who agree to disagree about what they want out of life. The chorus even features the phrase "Different people look at life from different points of view".
  • Grass Is Greener: Inverted for Maria, who wants to leave peaceful, contented, simple Shangri-La for the glamorous, exciting outside world (this is thanks in part to her conversations with George). Sally warns her that though there are some nice things out there, there's also war, corruption, etc.; this leads into "The Things I Will Not Miss".
  • Interrupted Suicide: Sally (this film's equivalent to Gloria) is a depressed, drug-addicted journalist whose state of mind is not improved by the events of the first act. As everyone is settling into Shangri-La, she reaches a Despair Event Horizon and prepares to jump out of a window into the chasm below, only to be interrupted by Chang, who talks her down. With the lamas' help, she gradually gets better from here.
  • "I Want" Song: "The Things I Will Not Miss". Sally wants to stay in Shangri-La while Maria wants to see The Outside World; each is tired of the very things the other wants.
  • Musical World Hypotheses: Mostly Alternate Universe. Not counting the Title Theme Tune performed by an offscreen singer, there are no musical numbers in the opening and closing stretches of the film, which are set in The Outside World. Only in Shangri-La do characters sing. There are also two Diegetic numbers in Shangri-La, "Share the Joy" and "Living Together, Growing Together".
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Harry, an unsuccessful nightclub entertainer, serves as this among the five travelers. His happy ending is finding a receptive audience for his hijinks in Shangri-La's children.
  • Setting Update: To The '70s, which was The Present Day at the time. One of the problems that critics had with this version was that merely updating the setting only emphasized Values Dissonance (such as the Mighty Whitey nature of Shangri-La's leadership).
  • Title Theme Tune: The only song in the film's opening quarter, to boot.
  • Welcoming Song: "Share the Joy", the first in-story musical number.