This classic Hollywood pre-war soap-drama of the never-never land known as Shangri-La is an example of how legendary cinema material is only now being saved from permanent destruction.
Frank Capra's Lost Horizon had more than half an hour of its original running-time sliced from it -- the footage was missing, believed irretrievably lost.
Fortunately, a major restoration effort was mounted, just in time to allow the fast-disappearing remaining film elements to be assembled after a world-wide search.
At the heart of the restoration was the discovery of an intact full-length soundtrack. When all the various film elements (from 16 mm sources as well as 35 mm) were assembled, there were still about seven minutes of footage missing. This DVD brings together all the surviving footage, with use of production stills to bridge those missing minutes.
Capra became known for his home-spun 'America First' type of movies, with a fairly corny philosophy at heart, in such movies as It's a Wonderful Life and Mr Deeds Goes to Town.
But for this 1937 opus, he forsook home-town verities and went into wildly foreign territory. In his film realisation of the James Hilton novel (author of 'Random Harvest' and 'Goodbye Mr Chips'), Capra tells us of British politician/explorer Robert Conway (Ronald Coleman) who, along with his brother George (John Howard) and various others, is kidnapped while in China, and transported to a strange hidden valley in Tibet.
The valley is the land known as Shangri-La. In it there is perpetual peace and tranquillity -- and also long-life. Its name was given to it by a Belgian missionary who discovered it midway through the 18th Century. And when Robert Conway is taken there, that missionary is still alive......
There's a special purpose behind Robert Conway's abduction, and that purpose unfolds slowly as he learns to appreciate the special delights of the hidden valley -- high among them being the lovely Sondra (Jane Wyatt).
Capra brings us high drama and excitement of a special vintage kind, which is still wonderful to witness today. The direction is sound, but it is the art direction and gigantic sets which astonish most today -- the story is perhaps just the tiniest bit cornball to really be persuasive today.
The performances from Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt are excellente. Ronald Colman was one of the strongest pre-war Hollywood actors who specialised in pucka-British roles -- this ranks alongside his Random Harvest and A Tale of Two Cities as amongst his greatest performances.
Watch also for two excellent cameo performances from Hollywood regular James Mitchell, and from Edward Evertt Horton, who plays much the same oddball old-aunt character he played in almost all the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. There are a couple of dud performances in this one, especially from John Howard, who is unbelievably stiff and unconvincing (sound familiar?). But period charm does carry the day, and this is a preservation job well worth the undertaking.
Image quality varies according to the source of the material -- there is quite a disparity between 35mm and 16mm print quality, but the added softness and graininess is acceptable given the nature of the restoration. Sound is, for the period, first-rate throughout.
Chief extra is a restoration commentary by film critic Charles Champlin and restorer Robert Gitt, which is fascinating throughout. Then there is a Photodocumentary about the making of the movie, which I recommend viewing only after viewing the movie, as otherwise it would reveal too much of the Hollywood magic that went into the making of this movie.
Three deleted scenes and an alternate ending are included. The alternate ending is particularly interesting. It was foisted upon the director by the studio, but fortunately dropped after a few weeks -- and it is truly terrible.
There is a short restoration 'before and after' featurette, and an effective theatrical teaser-trailer, which was shown in cinemas before any production footage was available.