Lost Horizon (1937)

I might have been able to tolerate Lost Horizon‘s uptoian feel good mumbo jumbo about how everybody is really polite to everyone else and how all the Tibetan natives were forced to learn English (say, this is paradise, isn’t it?) by some pushy Catholic priest, if it all wasn’t just so freaking boring.

Director Frank Capra let that whole “slow down the pace” ideal of his paradise seep into his filmmaking here because this one edges ever so slowly from leisurely to glacial to La Brea Tar Pit paced.

It took him the first half hour alone to establish that the plane carrying star Ronald Coleman and his supporting cast was being hijacked to paradise. (If this place is so great, why do you have to commit an act of air piracy to get people to join up?)

Once their plane finally crash lands in the mountains not too far from the hidden paradise of Shangri-La, Ronald and the rest of the survivors get rescued by a guy named Chang and his people.

Chang is a white dude who is at peace with himself in paradise (we know this because he speaks in the unemotional tones usually reserved for pod people) and he leads Coleman and his group to Shangri-La.


Shangri-La is a village nestled in between a bunch of mountains in remote Tibet where the weather is surprisingly balmy and the women are surprisingly attractive.

Chang explains that they are all welcome to stay with them until some outside porters arrive and can lead them back to civilization. It sounds like a pretty sweet set up until everyone hears that Chang has been waiting for these porters for the last two years!

Coleman plays Robert Conway, a famous British guy who’s written books, been a soldier, a diplomat, and is up for the job of Foreign Secretary. He seems to have it all and be really fulfilled. Therefore, it’s only natural that deep down, he feels that his existence is rather empty. This means that he’s pretty much primed to drink the Kool-Aid and join up with Chang’s cult.


I don’t suppose it hurts that as soon as Conway showed up in paradise, he was already making eyes at one of the local gals. (By local, I of course mean a white gal that lives there, not a native gal. Just because it’s paradise, doesn’t mean we have to forget all our racial hang ups does it?)

Everyone else in the group though is initially not terribly excited by this turn of events. Most notably, Conway’s younger brother periodically throws temper tantrums and shoots a gun to express his displeasure at being cooped up in paradise.

Gradually, everyone else comes around to how great life in Shangri-La is. Boring hobbies are the order of the day in paradise as one guy somehow becomes interested in building a modern sewer system for the village while another dude begins teaching a class on geology to the Tibetan kids in the village.

The movie dinks around with Coleman’s character and his acceptance of life in Shangri-La for most of the running time. He babbles with Chang. He flirts embarrassingly with his girlfriend. He even meets the High Lama himself!

The High Lama is really the 300 year-old Catholic priest that founded Shangri-La in the first place and he imparts all sorts of wisdom onto Coleman.


I didn’t hear a word the old fool said though because I was laughing too hard watching Coleman acting interested in what this old coot had to say since this sucker didn’t even have his front teeth! Looks like paradise could use a refresher course on proper dental care!

The movie creates an artificial climax involving Coleman’s brother leaving Shangri-La with Coleman inexplicably and unbelievably going with him.

Capra must have known that none of us would really care that the obnoxious brother or his dunderheaded girlfriend were leaving so he had to have Coleman’s character accompany him to try and rouse the audience, notwithstanding the fact that that was completely out of character with everything Coleman had expressed in the previous two hours.

The various speeches given during the film by everyone didn’t reveal any great truths and the big philosophy of Shangri-La turned out to be “moderation in all things.” Thanks for that, but I think I can practice that right where I’m at and not give up the three hundred channels of my digital cable or the convenience of a 24 hour grocery store.

The whole isolation-is-paradise message is defeated on the basest level though when it’s revealed that Shangri-La imports everything from the outside world in exchange for gold. It’s all just a bunch of self-important gum flapping that’s as toothless as its founder was.

© 2014 MonsterHunter

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