Hollywood's Lost Horizon

The Shangri-La created by the writer James Hilton in 1933 was a metaphor for utopia—an ideal that was sorely needed in a world about togoto war (and China earlier than other countries). Its huge success as a novel caught the eye of Hollywood, and Columbia Pictures hired the renowned Frank Capra to direct the movie version, which became the most expensive production ever at the time of its release in 1937. Its cost of more than $2 million was way over budget, due to Capra using multiple cameras and shooting 1 million feet of film, the difficulties of filming in sub-zero temperatures in the Los Angeles Ice and Cold Storage Warehouse—and the fabulous sets, shown here. These, designed in the style known as Streamline Moderne, earned the architect-turned-art-director Stephen Goosson an Oscar.

Ronald Coleman was Capra’s only choice for the lead rôleof Robert Conway, a world-weary diplomat who finds himself mysteriously kidnapped with other passengers and crash-landed in the Himalayas. They are rescued and taken to the Eden-like community of Shangri-La, where time stands still and where he discovers that he has been chosen by the high lama to succeed him (that was the reason for the kidnap). His dilemma is that to live in this isolated utopia means never being able to leave.

The original running time was six hours, but even after editing it was still 3 and a half hours when it was first shown in a disastrous preview (it followed a screwball comedy and many of the audience walked out). Eventually, Capra got it down to 132 minutes for the opening, but the studio boss, Harry Cohn, had it trimmed even further and forced director Capra to re-shoot the ending to make it more definitely upbeat.

While the original mythical Shangri-La was located deep in the high Himalayas, the idea of a secluded warm valley sheltered by surrounding high peaks is very much a reality in this region around Benzilan. The setting for the LUX* Benzilan gives it a different, kinder climate, with more sunshine and less rainfall than the surrounding mountains.