The story is based on the hugely successful 1933 novel of the same name by English author, James Hilton, which was based on the life and death of real-life mountaineer George Leigh-Mallory, who died during a climb of Mount Everest in 1924. In 1934, Hilton had another great success with 'Goodbye, Mr. Chips' which was also successfully made into a Hollywood movie.
Although the film did not do well at the box office and was criticised for being verbose and dull, it was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture, and won two Oscars, for Best Interior Decoration and for Best Film Editing.
The movie was remade in 1973 as a musical, starring Charles Boyer, Peter Finch, John Gielgud, Olivia Hussey and Michael York but was not a commercial success.
PlotThe movie follows a group of people led by British diplomat Robert Conway, played by Ronald Colman, who escape by plane from a revolution in China. En route to Singapore the plane is hijacked and the group are taken to Tibet, over the Himalayas, where the plane crashes. The group are found and taken to a strange, beautiful country called Shangri-La, where disease and human vices such as greed and ambition do not exist. The movie then explores how each of the plane survivors deals with this new existence in a seemingly perfect world.
ProductionFrank Capra had read the James Hilton novel “Lost Horizon” whilst making ‘It Happened One Night’ in 1934 and he was convinced that with its mix of adventure, romance and fantasy, it could be turned into a great film. He persuaded Columbia boss, Harry Cohn, to advance money for the production and teams of craftsmen began to create Shangri-La at Columbia’s studios at Burbank.
His choice for writing the screenplay was easy – he had previously worked with Robert Riskin on 'Lady for a Day', 'It Happened One Night', and 'Mr. Deeds Goes to Town', and he knew his quality.
From the start Capra wanted Ronald Colman for the pivotal role of Robert Conway but as Colman was not available in late 1934, Capra moved on to another project – and made another classic - ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town'.
Casting the important role of the High Lama proved difficult. The first two actors chosen each died, the first after a screen test and the second, without ever being tested. After a long search Capra finally chose Shakespearean actor Sam Jaffe who, at 38, needed clever make up to age him for the part. Capra spent 6 days filming his monologues, and reshot the scenes with Walter Connolly as the Lama, before he decided he was satisfied with Jaffe’s appearance.
The movie was Columbia's most expensive project to date and there were serious cost overruns. For instance the huge sets of Shangri-La, designed by Stephen Goosson, had been constructed adjacent to the busy Hollywood Way, which necessitated much filming at night and heavily added to production costs. Also many of the outdoor shots were filmed at various locations such as the Mojave Desert, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the Ojai Valley, and the Lucerne Valley, and the transportation costs added greatly to the ever increasing budget.
In addition, Capra favored using multiple cameras to cover every scene from different angles, which created many thousands of feet of wasted and expensive film.
The end result was that the original budget was exceeded by more than three quarters of a million dollars and the film did not recoup its production costs for five years.
Shooting began in March, 1936 and filming overall took 100 days, about one month longer than scheduled. As originally produced the film was six hours long and Columbia seriously considered releasing it in two parts, eventually deciding the idea was impractical and unprofitable. Capra finally trimmed the running time to 3½ hours for the first trial run of the movie in Santa Barbara in November, 1936. The results of the preview were almost wholly negative. First Capra made more cuts and then Harry Cohn intervened, editing the film's length himself. When the film finally premiered in San Francisco in March, 1937, it was a more acceptable 132 minutes long.
Main CastRonald Colman ... Robert Conway
Jane Wyatt ... Sondra Bizet
H.B. Warner ... Chang
Sam Jaffe ... High Lama
John Howard ... George Conway
Edward Everett Horton ... Alexander P. Lovett
Thomas Mitchell ... Henry Barnard
Margo ... Maria
Isabel Jewell ... Gloria Stone
David Clyde ... Club Steward
David Torrence ... Prime minister
Hugh Buckler ... Lord Gainsford
Val Duran ... Talu
Milton Owen ... Fenner
Richard Loo ... Shanghai airport official
Willie Fung ... Bandit leader
Victor Wong ... Bandit leader
Ronald Colman (1891-1958)
Ronald Colman was an English actor who began his film career in silent movies but who achieved great fame and popularity after the advent of Sound, and became one of the foremost leading men of the 1930's and 1940's. He starred in a number of classic films such as 'A Tale of Two Cities' in 1935 as well as 'Lost Horizon' and was nominated four times for the Academy Award for Best Actor, winning for his performance in 'A Double Life' in 1947.
Jane Wyatt (1910-2006)
Jane made her movie debut in 1934 and appeared in 'Gentleman's Agreement' with Gregory Peck and 'None but the Lonely Heart' with Cary Grant, as well as her famous role as Ronald Colman's love interest in 'Lost Horizon'. She became best known as a television actress, in the role of Margaret Anderson, the loving wife and mother in the series 'Father Knows Best', which which ran from 1954 to 1960. She also played the earth mother of Spock in the Star Trek Television series and in the 1986 film 'Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home'.
Thomas Mitchell (1892-1962)
Thomas Mitchell was an American character actor who became one of the most instantly recognisable faces in Hollywood without ever achieving leading man status. He appeared in many of the greatest Hollywood movies of the 20th century. In 1939 alone he had key roles in five classic films: 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington', 'Only Angels Have Wings', 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame', 'Gone with the Wind' and 'Stagecoach'. He also appeared in the classics 'It's a Wonderful Life' in 1946 and 'High Noon' in 1952. He won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as the drunken doctor in 'Stagecoach' in 1939.
CreditsDirector ... Frank Capra
Producer ... Frank Capra
Screenplay ... Robert Riskin
Based on ... the novel "Lost Horizon" by James Hilton
Music ... Dimitri Tiomkin
Cinematography ... Joseph Walker, Elmer Dyer
Distribution Company ... Columbia Pictures
Release date ... March 2, 1937
Running time ... 132 minutes
Academy AwardsTwo Wins:
Best Art Direction ... Stephen Goosson
Best Film Editing ... Gene Havlick, Gene Milford
Three Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Columbia Pictures
Best Assistant Director ... Charles C. Coleman
Best Supporting Actor ... H.B. Warner
Best Sound, Recording ... John P. Livadary (Columbia)
Best Music, Score ... Morris Stoloff (department head), Score by Dimitri Tiomkin.