‘Lost Horizon’ (1937): Review & Thoughts

A very interesting 1937 Frank Capra movie about finding Shangri-La.

As a big fan of Frank Capra, I’ve begun to try to watch every film the director ever made. This led me to recently watch Lost Horizon (1937), an incredibly interesting Ronald Colman-led movie about a group of people who discover Shangri-La — also known as Shambala, a Tibetan mythical place. 

Shangri-La is synonymous with utopia and has become a worldwide mythical place thanks to the bestselling novel by James Hilton, which this movie is based on. In this film, Colman plays Robert Conway, a revered diplomat who manages to help other Brits escape from a Chinese revolution. The last plane to leave, the passengers include Conway’s brother George (John Howard), deathly sick American Gloria (Isabel Jewell), British paleontologist Lovett (Edward Everett), and friendly and talkative Barnard (Thomas Mitchell).

Soon enough, the plane passengers realize that their pilot is kidnapping them and taking them somewhere else. Eventually, the plane crashes into the snowy Himalayas, the pilot dying on impact, and the group left with no chance of survival.

Luckily for them, a group of natives arrives and takes them to their land — Shangri-La. Utopia, isolated from the rest of the world. While many in the group slowly become to love this new place, Conway’s brother George desperately wants to leave. Conway, meanwhile, tries to uncover the truth of this land — and whether it truly is a utopia after all.   

Lost Horizon (1937): Review

Lost Horizon (1937): Jane Wyatt, Ronald Colman
Sondra (Jane Wyatt) and Robert Conway (Ronald Colman)

I quite enjoy Lost Horizon — and I quite enjoyed this movie. Is it my favorite Capra movie? No. But I’m still working my way through his list of greats, so my current favorite will likely continue to change. 

With all of this said, I really did enjoy Lost Horizon. It’s a great film with a great cast (from leads to character actors in supporting roles). It also happens to have a great script written by Robert Riskin and is brilliantly directed by Frank Capra.

However, I do feel as if something was just slightly lacking. I’m not sure what, exactly. I do feel as if a slightly different ending would’ve been better… but I also don’t know if a different ending would’ve worked. Regardless, I did really enjoy this movie and recommend anyone who likes old movies to watch it if they haven’t already! 

Also, as a side note, for a movie that was mainly lost, with only terrible quality film remaining, this movie looks surprisingly great in almost all areas. It’s a shame minutes of the movie were lost, but I still felt the way it was restored and edited worked wonders. I watched this movie on Criterion Channel, for those looking to stream it! 

Related — ‘Sabrina’ (1954): Review & Thoughts

Thoughts I Had While Watching Lost Horizon (1937)

Lost Horizon (1937): Thomas Mitchell, Isabel Jewell
Bernard (Thomas Mitchell) and Gloria (Isabel Jewell)

I had many thoughts while watching Lost Horizon, as you can see below:

  • Frank Capra movies man… nothing like ‘em. 
  • Does Isabel Jewell have the absolute best hair ever? I mean, look at it! Absolutely stunning here. I do wish she had more scenes, though one main one of hers was lost. 
  • I genuinely love all of the side characters here. Gloria, Barnard, and Lovett are so fun and round up the kidnapped group so wonderfully — especially as they all start to change and grow to love Shangri-La. I know this is Ronald Colman’s story and that the whole film has to really follow him… but I do wish more scenes of the group existed.
  • The sets are absolutely marvelous. Everything about it is extraordinary. It feels very 1930s, but in a good way. It reminds me a lot of the set design (slightly; I feel they exist on the same wavelength) in The Black Cat, which I also adored. I do feel like this movie, as a result, was made at the right time — any later and the sets would have been even grander, and probably gaudier. There was a remake of this movie done in the 1970s… I haven’t watched it and probably won’t.   
  • Out of all of the Shangri-La characters, I feel that H.B. Warner’s Chang was the most interesting and watchable, by far. 
  • While I did enjoy the entire film, I think the beginning of the movie is absolutely wonderful. As they work to get on a plane and then once they get on the plane to discover that they’re being kidnapped? All those scenes are so wonderful. I love when you have a group of characters in one movie that work together, or revolve around each other in a group-like effort, and this cemented that. 
  • My favorite duo? Lovett and Barnard. They are so fun — great comic relief! — and Edward Everett Horton and Thomas Mitchell together, two wonderful actors, is just an absolute delight, especially as they play polar opposites here! 
  • Oddly enough, this is the first Ronald Colman movie I’ve ever watched… which is crazy, because I definitely know who he is. I liked him well enough here. He’s very suave and charming in this film. He’s got a wonderful voice/accent, too! 
  • Robert Riskin’s screenplay is marvelous, which isn’t a surprise. I think I’m going to start watching movies specifically because he wrote them from now on.

Do You Like Lost Horizon (1937)? 

Lost Horizon (1937): Ronald Colman, John Howard
Robert Conway (Colman) and brother George Conway (John Howard)

Now that I’ve rambled on about all my thoughts on this very interesting movie, I want to hear from you. Did you enjoy this film? Is it on your to-watch list? And what movies are similar to this one — or in the same vein — that you think others would enjoy? Hit the comments below with all your thoughts and opinions! 

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