Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dipping Below the "Horizon"

The notorious legend of the 1973 musical film Lost Horizon is almost as gauzy and mythical as the hidden Utopian city of Shangri-La depicted in it, thanks to the fact that the movie was practically hidden from view for many years, resurfacing at only the rarest of occasions, and not allowing a new audience to experience it for themselves. That has suddenly changed with the release of a stunning new DVD that not only makes the movie far more accessible, but also includes portions of it that have been unavailable to many viewers for almost four decades!

Lost Horizon disappeared from television around the early 1980s and was never released on VHS. While one could obtain a copy of the full version through a couple of sellers on eBay, a laser disc presentation had been the only legitimate format available commercially until October of 2011. I had the good fortune in the mid-'90s to accidentally stumble upon it one morning on AMC (when the cable guide actually said that the 1937 version was going to be aired) and frantically pop in a cassette in order to save it. I almost wore the tape out showing it to friends, their mouths hanging agape for half of it. Now, I can finally enjoy it in all its glory, in vivid, colorful widescreen and with all 149 minutes intact!

In 1933, James Hilton wrote the source novel, all about a foursome of Caucasians fleeing an Indian revolution whose plane crashes beyond the Himalayan mountains. There, they come upon Shangri-La, a temperate, beautiful lamasery in which the inhabitants live peacefully together and many live to be significantly older than normal. Two of the guests decide to live on there, but two leave, taking one of the inhabitants with them, to disastrous results. The book was not much of a success until readers of Hilton's next novel Goodbye, Mr Chips were so enamored of that that they went back to Lost Horizon and discovered it. In 1939, the book was released as the first mass-market paperback book (pocket-sized), becoming a sensational success. (It was not the very first paperback, just the first small, affordable one in this format.)

In 1936, Frank Capra, hot off the success of It Happened One Night and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, directed a film version (released in 1937) that experienced tremendous trouble. Tweaking the plot slightly, it increased the plane's passengers to five and made two of them brothers. He wanted to shoot it in color, but that was still a new and expensive format and was at odds with some black and white Himalayan stock footage that he wished to utilize, so the movie was made in black & white.

Already, at a budget of $1.25 million, it was the most expensively-mounted film ever to that time, but with various technical delays and Capra's significant overshooting and inability to rein in the script, it swiftly rose to $1.6 million, ultimately costing a million more than that by the time promotional material and prints were made. It also ran 6 hours long! Whittled down to 3-1/2 hours for a disastrous preview, it was finally edited by Columbia studio head Harry Cohn himself to 2 hours and 12 minutes. Stars Ronald Coleman and Jane Wyatt are shown here. Though it won Oscars for Art Direction and Film Editing and was nominated for five others, it could not earn back its cost until a 1942 re-release. Now regarded as a classic, it put Columbia in a serious bind at the time.

In 1956, a Broadway musical production called Shangri-La was mounted with Dennis King, Jack Cassidy, Carol Lawrence and Alice Ghostley among its sprawling cast. Closing after just 21 performances, audiences went out humming the costumes (Irene Sharaff's outfits scoring the sole Tony nomination, understandably losing to Cecil Beaton's clothing for My Fair Lady.) Remarkably, the material was used for a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV presentation in 1960 with Ghostley reprising her role and working alongside Richard Basehart, Claude Rains, Gene Nelson and Marisa Pavan.

Cut to the early '70s. Producer Ross Hunter, the successful force behind 45 movies including Magnificent Obsession, Imitation of Life, Pillow Talk and Thoroughly Modern Millie, had just scored one of his biggest hits ever. Airport was the highest grossing film of 1970 and received ten Oscar nominations (winning one for Miss Helen Hayes as Best Supporting Actress.) At only fifty-two years of age, he still had plenty of energy and ideas left in him and came up with the plans to produce an all-new musical version of Lost Horizon.

Somehow overlooking the fact that the original film had caused an absolute crisis with its studio and the Broadway musical adaptation had emptied all the pockets of its investors, he trudged onward, hiring top-tier talent in all departments and shelling out money all over the place to make this his crowning glory.

Charles Jarrott (shown below), the director behind Anne of the Thousand Days and Mary, Queen of Scots, was hired. Larry Kramer, Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Women in Love (he lost to Ring Lardner Jr for MASH) was pegged to write the script. Oscar-winning art director (for An American in Paris and Gigi) and multiple nominee Preston Ames was hired to design the production. Jean Louis, glamorous costumer with thirteen prior nominations himself plus a win for The Solid Gold Cadillac, would create the clothing.

Three-time Academy Award winner (for King Solomon's Mines, The Bad and the Beautiful and Ben-Hur) and multiple nominee Robert Surtees would photograph the action. Even Maurey Wintrobe, the editor of Funny Girl, was brought on. Legendary dancer/choreographer Hermes Pan, known for all those Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musicals, but also the choreographer behind Kiss Me Kate, Silk Stockings and My Fair Lady, was placed in charge of the dancing.

Then, to pen the all-important music, Hunter turned to the dynamic, highly-successful team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who had created a wave of popular songs for Dusty Springfield, Dionne Warwick and others and who had come up with the Broadway smash Promises, Promises in 1968. Promises was a musicalization of the film The Apartment, so there seemed no doubt that they were up to the task of transforming straight material into a musical.

Columbia Studios had just moved onto the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank, creating Burbank Studios (a shared facility that would benefit them both.) This would be Columbia's first film shot there. The standing set for Warner's Camelot was refashioned, added to and elaborately landscaped in order to become the idyllic Shangri-La. A whole world was created at the ranch from waterfalls to lakes to flower-laced grassy groves in order to whip up the fabled locale. Hunter made every conceivable effort to ensure that this project would captivate audiences and exceed the dazzling success that The Sound of Music had enjoyed eight years prior.

Trouble is, there was a major league difference in the world between 1965 and 1973 and before it all was over, the $12 million film would barely bring in $3 million at the box office and Hunter's career as a big screen producer was finished... The film was dubbed "Lost Investment" by industry wags. Now, before we get to that, let's take a look at Lost Horizon (in the by-now familiar Underworld fashion.)

Grand orchestral music blares over shots of clouds, blue skies and majestic, snow-capped mountains, giving way quickly to the folksy voice of guitar-playing singer Shawn Phillips, crooning the title tune. The lyrics refer to the sounds of guns and bombs pounding in one's ears and the dream of finding a place that's warm, safe and green. It's a theme that ought to appeal to environmentally-conscious people today even more than it was meant to back in 1973.
Phillips has scarcely ended the last note when the viewer is assaulted with explosions and melee. An unnamed Asian country is experiencing a rebellion, with guerrillas en route to the small airport where evacuees are desperately trying to escape. Among them are Peter Finch, an author and political speaker, Michael York, his fiery younger brother (umm, by a quarter of a century!), Sally Kellerman, a despondent Newsweek photographer, Bobby Van, a down-on-his-luck comic song and dance man who's been “entertaining” in Vietnam, and George Kennedy, a businessman.
After frantically entering a plane they believe to be piloted by a friend of Finch's, they take off for Hong Kong. Only York eventually realizes that Hong Kong is one way and the plane is flying another! For some reason, they've been kidnapped by an armed Asian whose destination is so far away that they land in the middle of a desert in order to proceed with a prearranged refueling. As the journey continues (and in the uncut version of the film, this is about half an hour!), the terrain gets more and more dangerous looking. Eventually, the plane loses an engine and crashes into a fortunately-located snowdrift. The hijacker is killed in the crash.

Now truly cut off from all civilization and with little chance of survival, they are relieved to be discovered by a troupe of fur-clad explorers led by Sir John Gielgud (in Asian makeup and playing a character called Chang.) Thereafter, a lengthy, physically-oppressive journey takes them up the side of a massive mountain where they come upon a cavern. As they pass through the cavern, they are stunned to see that it lets out into a startlingly lush valley containing a splendid lamasery and plenty of green scenery.

Shangri-La is a placid, peaceful, climate-perfect civilization situated within the surrounding tundra. The airplane passengers are taken to private quarters and outfitted with drapey, silken caftans. Kellerman, who's been shown to have a prescription drug dependency, begins to fall apart at the seams when there are no more pills in her bottle. She steps up to the edge of her balcony to leap to her death, but is halted by Gielgud and his right-hand man James Shigeta. (In an odd bit of sound design, the bottle of Kellerman's, which had been depicted as being made of glass on the plane, is suddenly made of plastic when she desperately tosses it across her room!) Apart from Kellerman, the other guests convene in a private dining room for dinner and entertainment.

For many audiences (and virtually all critics of the day), this is when the film starts its unavoidable slide into the absurd. While the diners attempt to ingest their meal, Miss Olivia Hussey takes the stage and, garbed in an impossibly voluminous yellow robe (even more nuts than the one Joan Crawford wore to bed in Torch Song - if you've seen the movie then you know the one!), begins to sing “Share the Joy.” She twists and flails around with the aid of two female backup dancers. Fortunately, they seem to be done eating by the time she whirls around the table, thrashing her long hair to and fro near their plates. Attempts by composer Bacharach to incorporate unusual instrumentation, arrangement and melody are present from the start. The effect, while innovative and perhaps even appropriate, nevertheless didn't sit well with most viewers.

On two occasions, Finch has spied a pretty, blonde lady (who, for obvious reasons, is a standout amongst the other inhabitants of the city) played by Liv Ullmann. The first time he sees her, he trips up a step and gives her a slightly embarrassed glance. He does a similar move the second time he lays eyes on her, as if to say, “I know I'm a little awkward, but how 'bout it?” It doesn't cross his mind that he's probably more than two decades older than her! Then again, as it turns out, the age difference is more of an issue from the reverse perspective since the residents of Shangri-La are all far older than they appear to the naked eye. The same mountain air that preserves the beauty of the valley also preserves the flesh of the citizens there.

During a tour of the extensive grounds (with Gielgud sporting what appears to be Bette Davis's cap from the 1955 Oscar ceremony, upholstered with dark red fabric), Finch comes upon Ullmann and discovers that she is the schoolteacher. She presides over a passel of children (of varied ages) in a bamboo and rattan shelter with a chalkboard. Without prompting (or warning!), she begins belting out “The World is a Circle,” a ditty that just like its title seems to go round and round and with apt lyrics including “nobody knows where it really ends.”

The kids are shown playing onboard a makeshift merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel (!) before launching into what I call lumbersome choreography. (It is not only lumbering, but cumbersome, so I coined that word in order to save time!) Ullmann leads her pack of young'ns (who seem to multiply before our eyes) up a winding path, hysterically swaying her arms back and forth as if her costume was still wet when she put it on and she's hopelessly attempting to air dry it!! For whatever reason, Hermes Pan chose to enforce a style of “dance” onto these Terpsichorially-challenged youngsters that makes them look as if they have hip dysplasia and are floundering determinedly to the nearest healer for a shot of cortisone. Having given up on any sort of recognizable rhythm, they finally toss themselves down the side of a hill and roll to a stop.

In the famous theme music from Jaws, by John Williams, everyone knows the “dum dum, dum dum, dum dum” part, but there is also a wondrously frenetic string section at work that I love. The same thing is happening here. A very high and fast string accompaniment can be heard and I can just picture the exasperated violists breathlessly trying to saw their way through it. Sometimes, for fun, I pretend to be fiddling away myself, though I know longer attempt this with the CD in the car for reasons which will remain my own...

Of all the “LOL” moments in the movie, this segment makes me seriously chortle and giggle until I come close to choking. To think that anyone on the set of The Sound of Music questioned reshooting part of “Do Re Mi” because little six year-old Kym Karath missed one of the steps during that challenging stone stairs sequence and now we have a gaggle of 99 and 44/100ths percent talent-free children banging and clanking around as if the mere act of walking is a hurdle!
There's hardly time to recover from this when we are confronted with The Festival of the Family. The guests assemble (with York off to the side on his own) as a procession of celebrants (you'll find as you watch Lost Horizon that processions are really big in Shangri-La) meander through the outdoor pathways of the lamasery, carrying a pallet with a daddy, a mommy and a baby (actually just a bundle, thank God, since it is passed around like Christmas fruitcake that nobody wants!) Scantily-clad gentlemen (at least one of which looks like anyone's worst idea of a '70s porn star) in front of the couple swing brass balls filled with incense back and forth. (If you guess that this is sometimes done out of sync with one another, then you are very much in tune with the general feel of this movie!)

Priest Shigeta gets the song “Living Together, Growing Together” off to a rocky start. Since Bacharach has chosen to kick the sing-song number off with a very low note, Shigeta's first word of the phrase, “Start with a man...” resembles what can only be described as a vocal fart. It gets worse as jingle singers, whose voices bear no relation whatsoever to the folks lip-synching on screen begin chiming in. When you watch this song unfold, you will say to yourself that the female chorus has sung as high as they are going to and that they cannot and will not proceed to squeal even higher, but they can and they do...

The couple gets to sing a little bit of the song before winding up in tableau as it stops. For decades, that is all most of the world ever got to see of the festival, but now thanks to the uncut DVD, we can now see the subsequent dance number that was laughed off the preview movie screens in 1973 and hastily snipped out of the general release. Bursting forth from seemingly everywhere, a plethora of red-orange loincloth-wearing male dancers, wielding rhythmic gymnastic streamers on sticks, fling themselves across the screen in a flurry of thigh-baring, leg extending choreography. Mame thought she was so damned special down at Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside's plantation Peckerwood, with all the red-coated horseman galloping about. She's got nothing on Olivia Hussey, who is the sole female involved in this ritual. Sporting an elaborately-braided hairdo, she twirls and twizzles around with the men surrounding her and picking her up.

After they've hoisted her up and spun her around a bit, several of them hot-foot it over to the other side of the pavilion to join some others and start with the fabric, but in the meantime we're treated to a rooftop scene in which three nearly undressed men demonstrate over and over why they are amongst the most popular of the lamasery residents.
In truth, the visual splendor is quite impressive, the saturated streamers forming shapes in the air, all set against the burnished stone walls of the lamasery. It's just fun to pick at the much-maligned spectacle, the type of dance insert that was, for years, the duty of chiffon and bead-covered chorus girls to convey. Let's hear it, at least, for the progressive side of Shangri-La in getting the men shucked down and out on the dance floor!

Kennedy, an engineer by trade goes wading into one of the streams of the village and sees gold in the bottom of it. He also takes note of the fact that things could be made a bit easier there with his help. Though the lamasery has countless books of the world, no one there has ever come up with a better way of irrigating their rice paddies than making the heftier and hardier women of the land cart buckets of water uphill! Paradise indeed. Even in paradise, the blonde girl gets to waft around in silk, satin and chiffon while the grunts work like slaves in the mud! Hussey also gets to enjoy the good life (why, because she's such an amazing dancer?), lazing around wistfully or painting silkscreens of birds.

Finch finally gets up the gumption to take Ullmann on a date of sorts. They picnic by a lush waterfall and lake. Their innermost thoughts are revealed in the song “I Might Frighten Her Away,” which is performed only on the soundtrack, as inner thoughts, without them lip-synching. (Their singing voices are provided by ghost vocalists.) This being Utopia, she is able to plunk down into nearby mist-ridden grass in her snow white pantsuit and not have a single mark on them when she gets up.

Kellerman, who is blossoming under the sun of Shangri-La and amidst its simple pleasures, meets up with Hussey in the library. Hussey feels exactly the opposite of Kellerman and longs drop her paintbrushes and depart the valley for the excitement, noise and crowds of the big city. They launch into the song “The Things I Will Not Miss” which is yet another comic highlight. It's a cleverly conceived number with counterpoint lyrics and vocals that perfectly capture the mindsets of the ladies, but the delivery is something else again.
Kellerman has the unfortunate vocal attribute of never quite making it all the way onto her higher notes, singing (if that is the right word) right under the notes and without any sort of breath support. Hussey fares better on that score solely because she was dubbed (here and everywhere) by a professional singer. The ludicrous choreography has them continuously, repeatedly dusting off the library tables with their behinds as they spin and slide across them awkwardly. Someone should have pointed out that there is no need for a dance break when both people performing the number really aren't dancers. Here, the break serves mostly as underscoring for them to trot down a sizeable spiral staircase.

Characteristic of the haplessness of the number is the fact that both ladies, while back-to-back, turn and look into the camera, which is strange to say the least. However, later in the song, they hunker down under one of the tables and pop their heads up to face the camera again. This time, though, Hussey looks straight into the camera while Kellerman gazes off somewhere to her left instead! (She was probably looking for her agent.)

York, who has been a sour apple all along and has managed to fall in love with Hussey, wants to leave Shangri-La as soon as possible. His character is annoying for almost every moment of his screen time, but gets increasingly so as he pressures Finch about getting out of this place.

Finch is then given the rarest of opportunities. Gielgud fetches him and takes him to meet the High Lama, a wizened old man who seems to sit alone in a darkened room with a single candle, pondering life. He's played by former screen idol Charles Boyer. This photo, by the way, is not from one of those TCM Word of Mouth interviews with Boyer. Ha! It is him in character as the Lama. He relays the history of Shangri-La to Finch, explaining its mysterious attributes and its ultimate goal. He also makes it known to Finch that he is not long for this world and when he goes he wants Finch to take his place. (“Why sure, I'd love to sit in a dark room alone for years and years...”)
With this, Finch is utterly perplexed about what to do. Like most people faced with a dilemma of this sort might, he heads out into the square in the dark of night and starts singing “If I Could Go Back” at the absolute top of his lungs, mouth hanging open and arms extended! You sit and wait for someone who's trying to sleep to stick his head out the window and holler for him to knock it off. The only person who stirs, of course, is Ullmann. She comes out to the pavilion and sings a song of her own to him, “Where Knowledge Ends (Faith Begins.)”

The next day, Kennedy has successfully introduced the rudiments of irrigation to the people of the valley and he and Kellerman celebrate with a kiss. (A shot of the married couple from The Feast of the Family kissing under the flowing water was cut for some reason.) Kennedy then takes Kellerman to see the lode of gold he's discovered in the bottom of a creek, but she'll have none of it. Instead, she starts a song called “Reflections” which describes how doing something for someone else does twice as much for you as it does for the other person. Unable to escape any sort of strange setting for her numbers, this time instead of sprawling around on a library table, she's forced to hop on and recline upon a couple of large rocks!

Finch comes to Ullmann's school and whisks her away for an afternoon of romantic cooing and wooing. In her place, Van takes over the day's lesson plan. In a song that still makes Alex Trebek scratch his head and sometimes even throw things, Van proceeds with the ditty, “Question Me an Answer.” The children blurt out non-sequitur answers to questions that were never asked. Then Van responds with questions that are never answered! For example, “1492. What's the year that Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run?” or “Cleaning up the atmosphere. What's the reason London Bridge is always falling down?”

The subject matter (including Christopher Columbus and Paul Revere) seems fairly rooted in United States history and culture, though there is mention of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. That's nothing compared to the first set of lyrics that Bacharach “sang” on the demo recordings! Those were all about Greta Garbo and Don Ameche!! As if these children had ever seen a movie?! Even the final lyrics refer to The Good Ship Lollipop and I would like to know what good it is to be in paradise when all you can do it read about Shirley Temple rather than ever seeing her?!

During this insane number, which also features multiple quick-fire dance steps by a white buck-wearing Van, something becomes very clear. A viewer might have gotten a hint at it during “Living Together” and probably started to really suspect it during “Things I Will Not Miss,” but by now it is a surety. That is the fact that even though Shangri-La has no guns and no bombs, there is nevertheless a violent attack performed on listeners. The Bacharach-David songs seem to never end! Every time one listens to “Things I Will Not Miss” or “Question Me an Answer,” it looks like the number is going to end, but it's merely a false alarm. The song revs up again and pounds the listener in both ears with yet one more verse. “Question” is by far the worst offender with this and by the time it is over, one is likely hoping for a stray land mine located somewhere in the proximity of Van's tapping feet.

Cut to Finch and Ullmann who are strolling though the woods, coughing up one final song, “I Come to You.” Finch is torn between staying with Ullmann and taking on the mantle of High Lama (won't Gielgud or Shigeta be just a tad irritated by this?! They've been there a couple hundred years and then Finch just pops in!) Thanks to York's never-ending insistence, he decides to leave. What happens after that I will leave to those unfamiliar with the story, though it's pretty interesting (and, like much of the rest, unintentionally amusing.)

In the interest of space (this was a long one!), I will try to keep my profiles of the cast and crew to a minimum this time. As I said earlier, this film signaled the end of Ross Hunter's feature film producing career. Do take note, by the way, of how large his name is featured in the posters for the movie! He really branded himself this time out, to abject humiliation. He used Virginia Grey in virtually all of his 1960s films, considering her a good luck charm, but did not cast her this time. There must have been something to his belief in her! (I can think of one scene towards the very end where the thin and rather wrinkled character actress might have been utilized! LOL) He wasn't completely finished, though. He went on to produce (with his life partner Jacques Mapes) a string of TV movies and miniseries including the wonderful Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers. He died in 1996 at the age of seventy-five.

Director Jarrot went on to a steady, but mostly undistinguished, career though the campy gem The Other Side of Midnight (1977) was his as well. Writer Kramer went on to pen the play The Normal Heart and proceeded to become a major force in AIDS activism, citing Lost Horizon as the one thing he worked on for which he is ashamed (even though the money he earned from it gave him financial freedom for life.) Costumer Jean Louis did the clothes for Miss Ullmann's Forty Carats, also released in 1973, but then retired from the screen for good. He lived until 1997, dying at the age of eighty-nine!

The much-heralded song-writing team of Bacharach and David could not survive this debacle. They were already experiencing issues between them when Hunter hired them, but this huge embarrassment was more than the already tenuous teaming could withstand. They split up soon after, prompting a lawsuit from Dionne Warwick who felt that her career would be jeopardized by the loss of her primary song suppliers. He later found success with Carole Bayer Sager, who became his wife for about a decade as well.

The singing voices of Finch and Ullmann were provided by a married couple named Jerry Whitman and Diana Lee. (A lot of their contributions were snipped from the final cut when a couple of the numbers weren't well received by preview audiences and the film was running long. They are back now on the DVD.) Whitman has long been accused of sounding nothing like Finch, but I completely disagree! I can almost believe that it's Finch singing. It's Lee who, to me, sounds nothing like Ullmann. She has a clear-as-a-bell soprano voice which Bacharach cruelly exploits with garishly ear-splitting melodies (especially “Where Knowledge Ends”) which start high and go higher. She had previously provided the singing voice of Samantha Eggar in 1968's Doctor Dolittle. Hussey's vocals came courtesy of Andra Willis. If that name is at all familiar, it may be from her two-year stint on The Lawrence Welk Show. Miss Willis was probably stimied in her onscreen career by a rather strangely shaped mouth, a feature which became further emphasized whenever she sang.

Just as James Hilton's novel of Lost Horizon was discovered by the public after Goodbye, Mr. Chips, the musicalization of it came four years after the (equally disastrous) musicalization of Chips! That one starred Peter O'Toole and was creamed by critics and avoided by the public as well.

Finch and York had just costarred in the British film England Made Me before coming onboard Horizon. Thanks to some of his dated, unflattering costumes here, he occasionally looks like the love child of Sonny Bono and Maude Findlay! Finch would make five more movies (one for TV), including his final feature film Network, released in 1977, before dropping dead of a heart attack at only sixty years of age. He is the first person in an acting category, and the only Best Actor winner, to be honored with a statuette posthumously.

When I tell you this next bit, you will not believe it. I used to OWN the hat shown here that Peter Finch is wearing. Once, years ago at a job I had at a country club, the food & beverage director (who'd once been an actor briefly) gave me the hat, thinking I was someone who might like it. It was real fox and had a "Western Costume Company" label sewn in it. It was in so-so condition, but was already by that time over twenty years old. I kept it for the longest time, through several moves, and then in 2003, I discarded it because I was trying to "downsize." How stupid!!!!! I can never figure out what got into me that I would throw out a piece of Hollywood history. I, who live for old movies and TV shows...

Norwegian Ullmann was best known for her work with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman (including Scenes from a Marriage, released in the U.S. the year after Horizon.) She was wooed to the U.S. in the early '70s, amazed at the sumptuous living arrangements she was given, to make several films, but ultimately returned to Europe where she still works today at seventy-three. She was nominated twice for Best Actress Oscars, once for 1971's The Emigrants (losing to Liza Minnelli for Cabaret) and again for 1976's Face to Face (when the statue went to Faye Dunaway in Network.) Amazingly, considering her lack of musicality, she was cast in a Broadway musical version of I Remember Mama in 1979 with music by Richard Rogers. Considered old-fashioned and unspectacular, it closed after about a hundred performances. Astonishingly, both Jean Arthur and Barbara Stanwyck were considered for her role in Horizon after first-choice Julie Andrews turned it down.

Throaty Kellerman (an Oscar nominee for 1970's MASH, losing to Airport's Helen Hayes) had sung on an Academy Awards telecast a couple of years before this, but after Horizon, she pretty much hung up her singing hat, onscreen anyway, and concentrated on acting. Now seventy-four, she continues to do so regularly, mostly on TV. The always prolific Kennedy won the Oscar in 1968 for Cool Hand Luke and would continue to figure into many films after that. He appeared in last year's Another Happy Day with Ellen Barkin and Ellen Burstyn and is currently eighty-six.
Lean York is, along with Kennedy and Gielgud, one of the few actors who had no songs in Horizon. (Kennedy originally had a brief, slightly faster, reprise of “Living Together, Growing Together” with Kellerman, but it was cut and only an audio version of it appears to exist now.) In 1968, York had played Hussey's cousin in Romeo and Juliet. His film just before this was Cabaret (!) and the one directly after it was The Three Musketeers. He went on to other audience favorites like Murder on the Orient Express and Logan's Run before falling out of the movie-going public's favor. He has, however, sustained a busy acting career and continues now at age sixty-nine.

Half-Argentine Hussey had soared to worldwide fame with 1968's Romeo and Juliet, but led a strangely unspectacular career afterwards, the cult fave Black Christmas and Death on the Nile being minor highlights. Later, she had a pretty significant role in Stephen King's It. During Horizon (in which she was carted around in the air and did various bits of choreography!), she was pregnant with then-husband Dean Paul Martin's child! She also worked in the arduously snowy conditions of Mt. Hood, Oregon, so simply must be given the golden trouper award. The child, born in February of 1973, is Alexander Martin, an actor who can be seen in movies like Can't Hardly Wait and Josie and the Pussycats. Hussey is sixty today and still acts. As can be seen here, though there were no movies or TV in Shangri-La and presumably no magazines, her character was still able to order a “Bump-It.”
Van had been singing and hoofing since the age of four and had success on Broadway and in some MGM films (notably Kiss Me Kate), but the end of the studio era and that brand of musicals forced him back to the stage, where he continued to work steadily and to acclaim. When he landed his role in Horizon, he'd not been in a feature film for two decades except for something called The Navy vs the Night Monsters. He took his stage name from a photo of Van Johnson spied on his sister's wall. (He later joked how fortuitous it was that she didn't have a photo of Maria Ouspenskaya on the wall instead! Sadly, he died of brain cancer in 1980 at only fifty-one, leaving widow Elaine Joyce behind.

Shigeta, a Hawaiian born actor of Japanese descent, had starred in the 1961 musical Flower Drum Song and would later play Bonnie Bedelia's employer in Die Hard. Now seventy-eight, he worked in movies as recently as 2009. Sir John Gielgud (whose role had initially been offered to Toshiro Mifune) was a spectacularly successful Shakespearean actor who enjoyed a terrific film career as well (most often in supporting roles.) He was nominated for an Oscar in 1964 for Becket (losing to Peter Ustinov for Topkapi), but won the statuette in 1982 for Arthur. Always in heavy demand, he worked right up until his death from natural causes in 2000 at the age of ninety-six!
Boyer, who'd once been one of the screen's most revered lovers in films like Back Street, Hold Back the Dawn and All This, and Heaven Too, was granted an honorary Oscar in 1943 in addition to four Best Actor nominations throughout his career. His nominations were for Conquest, Algiers, Gaslight and Fanny. The winners were, in order, Spencer Tracy in Captains Courageous, Spencer Tracy in Boys Town, Bing Crosby in Going My Way and Maximilian Schell for Judgement at Nuremberg. (I'm a completist. Shoot me!) He made two more films after Horizon, but in 1978, at the age of seventy-eight, a romantic to the end, he committed suicide by overdose two days after his wife of forty-four years died of cancer.

Also making brief appearances in the film are Kent Smith, a very familiar face on TV and in movies from the early 1940s through the late '70s. Also popping up near the end of the movie is Dutch actor John Van Dreelen who'd had a featured role in Hunter's 1966 film Madame X. Here, he plays a doctor with quite possibly the worst “comb-over” that I have ever witnessed in the history of cinema. Smith is shown at lower left in this montage of Van Dreelen and his coiffure.

Please do not believe that just because I have raked Lost Horizon over the coals that I do not completely adore it. I do! I am also known for my devotion to all things of bad taste, however. I had, of course, heard about the film's legendary badness years before I actually got to see it. I was in a used bookstore once in 1996 and found a cassette recording of the songs. I was over the moon. It was the best fifty cents I ever spent. I played the (often ghastly) songs for my roommate at the time in my car and she was agog at their horror. What surprised me was that the more I played the songs, the more they grew on me, like mold. Aural earwigs, I call them. I played that cassette until it literally fell apart. I already mentioned above how I accidentally got a VHS recording of the truncated, pan and scan version of the movie itself. Then, years later, there was a CD released of the songs and I bought that. The fact that this movie is out on DVD now is an absolute godsend. Hilariously, one critic reviewing the movie upon release said that at one point the characters sing "Happy Birthday" and that that is the song viewers will hum on the way out. It didn't work out that way for me, however.

The storyline of Lost Horizon is not very viable, since paradise can't really be paradise if some of the people are still working like dogs to make life comfortable for the select few. And who wants to go to school for five times longer than usual as one ages so slowly?! However, the property's messages of peace, brotherhood, kindness, cooperation and so forth are all still quite valid, every bit as much today as before. All music is subject to taste. For every song that is a major hit, there will be a percentage of people who loathe it. Likewise, many songs which barely scratch out airplay or don't chart are beloved by someone. A person needs to experience Lost Horizon for his or her self to see whether they like it, love it or hate it and for what reasons. I, for one, love any movie that costs a lot of money and looks terrific and yet is filled with unintentional absurdity and lunacy. This is why I have seen Lost Horizon at least 6 or 7 times and have only seen Cabaret once...

17 comments:

Scooter said...

A musical version of Lost Horizon! I had no idea. By the way, Olivia Hussey...I never got her appeal.

Scooter said...

Me again. I couldn't help but check out YouTube to see if any clips of Lost Horizon the Musical had been posted. They have been and you, my friend, do not exagerate. Even more painful than Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!

Michael O'Sullivan said...

I somehow never wanted to see Lost Horizon (despite being a fan of Michael York) but I shall now have to add it to my list of guilty pleasures to track down. Pauline Kael also writes amusingly about it in her books of collected reviews, also highlighting how the native women have to work hard despite the library being full of books about the world's knowledge! and of course there is that remark of Bette Midler's: "I never miss a Liv Ullmann musical"!

Ullmann and Finch did another movie together afterwards, The Abdication, which also emptied cinemas.

I had a good conversation with York a few years ago, he was extremely pleasant, as was Sir Gielgud when I met him back when I was in my 20s, he had a twinkle in his eye and held my hand as he signed the theatre programme for me.

Poseidon3 said...

This post (nearly ten pages long in Word and with @ 65 photos) very nearly did me in! I obviously got very carried away by it all! LOL

Thanks, Scooter, for your comments. Never doubt that I am speaking the utter truth! Ha!

MOS, that's amazing that you got to meet York and Gielgud. (I don't doubt for a minute that Mr. G. held your hand!) Mr. York commented once about the air quality in LA and referred to the set as "Shangri-La in the Smog!" He also thought that the art direction gave the lamasery the same look as a Hilton hotel. Good times...

After Taste said...

Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye sang a cover of " The Things I will Not Miss"
I saw Burt Bacharach in concert (with extra singers as "back up") and he did a fair number of the songs in a medley.
When I first saw this on a bootleg I thought it was not that back- better then Mame.
The films message is a good one even if it's a miss.

Rob said...

Just...amazing, Poseidon. I saw this movie once and to this day, in times of extreme stress I hear the lyrics of two of the songs:
"The world is a circle without a beginning and nobody knows where it really ends! EVERYTHING depends on where you AREinthecirclewithout abeginning..."
and: "Fourteen hundred ninety TWO! (What's the year that Columbus sailed the seven seas?)"
And Michael, didn't Bette also rename it "Lost Her-reason"?!
I remember it as a bit dull at times, but likeable (except for those monstrous, shrieking kids). I'm sorry but those pictures of Andra Willis made me giggle!
LOVE Liv-wonder what the hell she thought about the movie? And good ol Ross Hunter gets a free pass for all eternity as far as I'm concerned: this is the man responsible for Written On The Wind, Imitation of Life and the greatest motion picture ever made, Portrait In Black!
Great post, Poseidon!

Ken Anderson said...

I've been waiting for you to cover this movie and you don't disappoint. Great images and the commentary is priceless(love the "Bump It" reference). This film is an amazing mess that I never tire of watching. And trust me, I feel your pain regarding the Peter Finch hat. I had an 8 foot "Xanadu" sign I was tired of storing and threw it away in an effort to downsize. What the hell was I thinking? Thanks for a brilliantly funny post.

bistis6 said...

I used to work at the Metropolitan Room, a cabaret in NYC. Sally Kellerman has appeared there three times, still doing her cabaret show at 70-odd years old. She sounds fantastic and has a wonderfully kooky stage presence. She is one of the kindest people I've ever met, and I feel fortunate to be able to say that I've met her. She doesn't perform in NY very often, mostly doing her act in LA. Well worth seeking out. Anyway, a co-worker of mine happens to be a huge LOST HORIZON fan. During her first show with us, he went up to her and whipped out his laser disc for an autograph, and told her that he loved the movie. "Oh", she said bemusedly , "You're one of THOSE." LOL

Poseidon3 said...

Thank you to all of you for wending your way through this post and for commenting. (I just went back to read some of it over and found all sorts of little typos, misspellings, etc!! Damn autocorrect... I fixed most of them, I think. I told you it almost wore me out composing it!)

After Taste, as I said in the post, I agree about the film's message. It's a great one.

Rob, I devoted one of my earliest posts here to Ross Hunter. I love all of those films, too, and if I see his nmae on something, I'm almost guaranteed to love it.

Ken, the sad thing about Olivia's hair is that it was actually probably teased/backcombed to get that bump in it! Ouch! I just couldn't resist bringing up that newfangled device.

Bistis6, I've clarified the info on Sally's singing a little. I didn't realize she was doing that act. Good for her!

Thanks!

Labuanbajo said...

Virginia Grey said that Lost Horizon was a flop because she was Ross Hunter's lucky charm and he hadn't cast her in this turkey as he had in Airport and Tammy Tel Me True, among other ouevres.

NotFelixUnger said...

I think this is my favorite of the posts I've read so far -yes, there's still more I'm going through!

I have to get this movie and I love Sally Kellerman and Michael York. I never knew this existed though I KNOW I saw some version of Lost Horizon back in the early 70s when I was about 4 or 5.

Pantheon Zeus said...

Love your post.
My fave song from this epic THINGS THAT I WOULD MISS was performed by these 2 charming men roaming around Amsterdam

U gotta see this

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hjH79mkw--0&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Pantheon Zeus said...

Ps-- the cavern used as portal to shangri la is LA's BRONSON CAVE -- also known from TV's BATMAN
and not far from the old Columbia Studio at Sunset Gower

Poseidon3 said...

Pantheon Zeus, that link was utterly delightful! How fun that they took the time to do that. Very cute. It reminds me of some of the various Poseidon Adventure clips that are out there from people who are obsessed with the movie. I would probably do some of that, too, if I weren't so technologically inept. Thanks for sharing. I loved it!

Tim Johnson said...

I’ve been in bed with the flu for about a week and thankfully found your amazing site!
I’ve had problems trying to comment from my ipad but have been clutching it for days and browsing through literally every one of your posts. Thank you!! So impressed and entertained by all your hard work.

Dalodnod said...

We used to Bobby Van and Elaine Joyce when they were on the game show “Tattletales”!! My partner (who I call “Sweet Tea”) tells me he was fixated on Elaine Joyce for years….did you know that, after poor Bobby died, she eventually married the playwright Neal Simon (“The Odd Couple” “Barefoot in the Park” “The Goodbye Girl” etc etc)?? Crazy world….

Poseidon3 said...

Welcome, Tim, to The Udnerworld! Thank you for your wonderful compliment and for faithfully chiseling your way through all the things I've written about here. I hope you have a great time in the process!

Dalodnod, thanks for bring that up about Elaine. I once knew that tidbit, but forgot about it. I always associate him with Marsha Mason instead!