“How do I know this is part of my real life? If there’s no pain, can I be sure I feel life? And would I go back – if I knew how to go back?”
I was recently asked to try to single out a film that had had a memorable impact on me as a child. This question brings up a flood of my earliest film memories — Santa Claus fighting the devil (still no idea what that was!), Disney animations, the Incredible Shrinking Man, etc. — but the one movie that I remember seeing most vividly at a very early age has to be the 1973 remake of Lost Horizon. It is actually a musical remake of the 1937 classic film from Frank Capra, which was itself an adaptation of the 1933 best-selling novel by James Hilton.
Despite being included in the book “The Fifty Worst Films of All Time” (co-written by film critic Michael Medved), it holds a special place in my heart as one of my earliest film-going memories, which was at a movie birthday party for my sister and her friends around winter 1973. Although it wasn’t available on VHS or DVD until 2011, I feel like I’ve seen it hundreds of times. This is most likely due to the fact that my family had the soundtrack, and I’ve listened to it so many times that I have most of the lyrics memorized. In fact, the song “If I Could Go Back” (lyrics above) made such an impression on me that as a college student I recorded the album onto tape to bring with me on my first trip outside of the country to Shanghai, China. I suppose my anticipation of going to such a foreign location (at least it FELT very foreign in 1992!) brought back memories of this film with travelers going to distant lands and wondering where they would be happiest.
That brings me to the plot of the 1973 musical – which is pretty close to the 1937 Capra film, with the exception of the additional musical and dance sequences.
A group of disparate travelers are fleeing a revolution in an unknown country. Their plane just manages to escape but then crashes in the Himalayas. The group is eventually rescued and brought to “Shangri-La”, a paradise hidden in snow-covered mountains, where the weather is always perfect and none of the residents age (except for the High Lama, for reasons that are never explained). It turns out that the group was brought to Shangri-La so that Richard, their unofficial leader and a well-known diplomat/peace activist, could take over for the High Lama after his death. Once Richard learns this fact, he begins to debate with himself the benefits of eternal peace and happiness vs. living in the reality of the outside world as indicated in the above song.
And speaking of Lost Horizon’s songs, I have an unusually high level of tolerance for them due to my childhood nostalgia for the film, but songwriter Burt Bacharach states in his 2013 autobiography that Lost Horizon almost ended his career and DID end his working relationship with lyricist Hal David. Apparently they were unable to take the advice of one of the film’s songs, “Living Together, Growing Together”! As far as the dance sequences are concerned, aside from dancer Bobby Van’s scenes, the less said about them, the better (The title of “The Things I Will Not Miss” is a perfect description of my feelings about that song’s dance routine).
I realize that this is a film with many flaws (my sister’s opinion notwithstanding), but it’s still one that I can enjoy anytime – particularly for the soundtrack when I’m considering escaping to some exotic land – “…and this all can be mine, why can’t I make myself believe it?”.