Under the Radar

Home Video: 'Lost Horizon'

Frank Capra's film Lost Horizon (1937) was nominated for Best Picture and introduced the idea of "Shangri-La" as paradise to American film audiences, yet somehow the original version of the film was butchered in numerous ways over the years. When Sony embarked on a new 4K restoration (just released on Blu-ray with a hardback digibook 80th anniversary special edition), no one had seen the original 132-minute version in decades.

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Lost Horizon, based on the best-selling novel by James Hilton, tells the story of a group diverted to a remote Himalayan paradise as they try escape war in China. Ronald Colman, Edward Everett Horton, Jane Wyatt, Sam Jaffe, Thomas Mitchell and H.B. Warner star.

Time stands still in Shangri-La and Colman plays an Englishman brought there as a possible successor to his founder. He's been tapped as the United Kingdom's next foreign secretary and, at first, he's desperate to get home. Slowly, he (and most of his party) become converts to the peaceful life that the paradise promotes.

The restoration is spectacular, but there's one issue: there's a complete soundtrack but six minutes of moving images are lost. The producers have recreated those six minutes using still images shot during the production, but the effect may be jarring if you're not warned in advance. (If you're paying attention, there's an explanation on screen before the movie starts.)

Capra's special effects are state-of-the-art for 1937. There's extensive use of models and rear projection. The production took over an ice factory to film the scenes that take place after a plane crash on a snow-capped mountain.

It's weird that the work of a director who had already won two Best Director Oscars was so mangled and almost lost to history. Lost Horizon is a great adventure film that deserves to be recognized as one of Capra's best. It's also a great artifact of that pre-World War II era when Americans were desperately searching for alternatives to war. Bonus for holiday gift-givers: you can find a copy for around $15 online and, with the hardcover book, it looks like a far more expensive present.

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