I've spent a very lazy and pleasant morning this morning curled up on the sofa knitting, listening to the rain, and watching DVDs. Noon and I'm still in my robe. Decadent! Daylight Savings Time also ended early this morning, so since setting the clocks back it feel like the morning has gone on forever. I guess I have been up for 5 hours already, such is the curse of the early riser.
I decided to rewatch Frank Capra's 1937 film Lost Horizon, which I bought on DVD in the 1998 restored original version, with 24 minutes of excised footage put back in. I just checked, and I first mentioned buying this DVD way back in 2005! Wow, time flies. Over the past few years I've gone back and watched it a couple of times, and it's one of those films for me that holds up to multiple viewings.
It was a huge production in its day. Columbia Pictures spent as much on Lost Horizon as they did on the next 20 pictures they made that year. It almost sent the studio broke, running to nearly double its original budget. At 132 minutes it was also cut and re-cut over the years and the storyline suffered accordingly.
One thing I love about the film is the design, with the hidden Tibetan valley of Shangri-La given a curious blend of traditional and Western 'Art Deco' styles. It sort of works in the context of the film, because one of the reasons for the existence of Shangri-La is a desire to preserve the beauty of human art and knowledge against the coming darkness in human civilisation. So outside influences are not unknown, even though Shangri-La is a secret to the outside world.
It must have been full of timely themes in 1937, to a world on the cusp of another world war. The central theme of the inherant goodness in people allowed to blossom given the right circumtances, freedom from the need for struggle and toil for instance, and a society built on contemplation, kindness and manners is both optomistic and very Buddhist. A secure place of peace and plenty, and concerns about greed, avarice and agression must have been very timely and seductive for a world coming out of The Great Depression and heading towards a World War.
There are some great performances in the film, Ronald Coleman and Jane Wyatt for instance. With a lot of their love story restored to the film you get to appreciate just how good their performances are. Coleman's tellibly, tellibly stiff-upper-lip accent still doesn't detract from what is a very likeable and quite naturalistic performance, and Jany Wyatt just lights up the screen. Edward Everett Horton provides some camp humour to liven up the proceedings.
For me though a special shout-out has to go to the very beautiful John Howard. No, not this one:
(Do you know how many screens of pics of our now very ex Prime Minister I had to wade through before I found pics of this lovely? Way too many!)
John Howard's character (along with love interest Maria in the pic below) is the closest thing to a villain in the film, a man who cannot adapt and refuses to accept the lifestyle of Shangri-La. Capra was criticised for Howard's last minute casting at the time, with his very American accent jarring against Coleman's thick toffy English accent, given the the two men are supposed to be brothers. But I think Howard does a good job of playing a very unsympathetic character, given that he does little other than throw tantrums and fail to appreciate paradise.
He looks so damn pretty while he does it, for starters.
If you haven't seen this film and have an interest in classic cinema and 1930s design I really recommend it, especially if you can get hold of the Columbia Classics restored and digitally remastered version. (Whatever you do don't make the mistake of buying the 1973 remake. It's a musical version, one that includes the delights of Liv Ullman singing just for starters.)