Monday, January 30, 2012

Faded Jean

Those not interested in older movies are probably hard-pressed to identify the face or name of today's featured actress. Her career was a fairly short one, but of her own choosing, for she was a compelling and reasonably popular persona on-screen. She costarred with several famous and enduring actors and it is interest in them which most likely leads viewers to her films now; their discovery of her beauty and talent a happy side effect. One of her biggest claims to fame happens to be the one thing she didn't want to be solely remembered for. The lady was Jean Peters.

Elizabeth Jean Peters came into this world on October 15th, 1926. She and her younger sister were the children of a farm couple in Canton, Ohio. There, Peters inherently developed a solid, down-to-earth quality that would see her through various ups and downs during her adulthood. When her father died in 1936, the ten year-old girl found herself assisting her mother with a campground that was built upon their property to generate income for them. There was never any inkling that she would be anything but a midwestern wife or schoolteacher (a career path she pursued after high school.)

One day, during her studies at Ohio State University in Columbus, her roommate secretly mailed her picture and registration in to the Miss Ohio State beauty pageant. Peters had grown into a lovely dark-haired girl with beguiling green eyes. Called upon to appear, she did so reluctantly, but won! Part of the prize package was a screen test in Hollywood for 20th Century Fox studio. She and her mother flew west where, upon meeting studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, the striking girl was placed under contract without her even having filmed the test!
She dropped out of college (a decision she later regretted, but also one that she eventually rectified) and stepped into the heady, make-believe world of life at a Hollywood studio. She was made-up, tested, photographed, sent on publicity jaunts and basically given the treatment that so many hopefuls before her had dreamed of. This was not Peters' dream, though. If she were going to be an actress then she wanted to act, and not in just anything. She withdrew from the very first part she'd been assigned to, a musical called I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now, that ultimately starred June Haver.

Her eventual first feature film was a big one and it came unexpectedly. Zanuck was producing Forever Amber, a potentially sizzling costume drama based on a notorious novel, and the lead actress (Peggy Cummins) was not living up to his expectations. He felt that she was reading too young and was incapable of living up to the demands of the part. In desperation, he took one of his favorite actresses under contract, Linda Darnell, and placed her in Amber, leaving Darnell's upcoming film without a leading lady. The 1947 film, Captain from Castille, was meant to reunite Darnell with her Blood and Sand costar Tyrone Power. Instead, Power was set to work with neophyte Peters (now known as Jean Peters.)
Despite her lack of training as an actress, she rose to the challenge of playing a feisty Spanish maiden. She was in awe of her handsome costar, referring to him later as being godlike. The Technicolor adventure film showed off Peters' gorgeous coloring; her silky brunette hair and dazzling eyes being paid tribute by the flattering film process. The chain of events behind the casting was a rare opportunity for any fledgling actress. That she succeeds in the role at all is remarkable since, apart from a couple of brief tests, she had never acted before.
Zanuck next chose to put her in the Gregory Peck western Yellow Sky, but she refused the role. Freshly twenty-one upon the release of Captain from Castille and still maintaining the moral code of her midwestern Christian upbringing, she felt that the part intended for her was “too sexy” (magazine covers and photos sittings to the contrary!) Anne Baxter was cast instead and Peters was placed on suspension. It was not the last time that the headstrong young lady would go up against her boss over the refusal of roles. Nevertheless, Peters was very interested in honing her craft and demonstrated a remarkable work ethic. Her farm upbringing meant that getting up early for calls to the set presented no difficulty. She also studied the talent of those around her, eager to absorb as much as she could from their example.

It wasn't long before she was put to work again, this time in 1948's Deep Waters, a black and white drama concerning lobster fisherman Dana Andrews (!), his fiancee Peters and a young orphan boy played by Dean Stockwell. The next year, she was cast with Ray Milland and Paul Douglas in It Happens Every Spring, a comedy about baseball (a sport which Peters enjoyed in real life) and what happens when a chemical fluid that repels wood is applied to balls that players are attempting to hit with a wooden bat! During downtime between roles and during periods of suspension, she went back to school and finally achieved her degree.

1950 brought Love That Brute, a comedy set in the 1920s about a gangster (Paul Douglas) who falls for pretty Peters and hires her as the governess for his children (even though he hasn't got any!) Her character wishes to be a nightclub singer, so he helps arrange for that, too. Her number is an interesting precursor to the later, and far more lavish and elaborate, “Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend” that Marilyn Monroe performed in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1953. Peters is dripping in jewels and has four tuxedo-clad male dancers supporting her. For the song, she worked with Betty Grable's dance instructor for a few weeks in order to polish up her limited movement experience and wore a dress that was so tight she could not sit down while wearing it.
Peters and Monroe were cast in the same film with 1951's As Young as You Feel. The ensemble comedy starred Monty Woolley (of The Man Who Came to Dinner fame), Thelma Ritter, David Wayne and Constance Bennett (her latest film in three years.) Next was Take Care of My Little Girl. This one was rather unusual for the time in that it explored the cruelty of sorority hazing. Jeanne Crain was the star and the cast included such interesting names as Dale Robertson, Mitzi Gaynor, Jeffrey Hunter and Betty Lynn (later to play Don “Barney Fife” Knotts' faithful girlfriend Thelma Lou on The Andy Griffith Show.) The director, Romanian-born Jean Negulesco, would utilize Peters in two other later films.

Peters had been toiling away in minor films ever since her auspicious start in Castille, but in 1951 was finally given a starring role in a film mostly concerning her. It was an adventure oddity called Anne of the Indies. In it, she portrayed a female pirate captain! Her ship is infiltrated by a former pirate now working as a British spy (played by Louis Jourdan.) She falls in love with him, but it turns out he is already married to beautiful Debra Paget. Complications ensue...

Peters hurled herself into the physically exacting part and did several of the swordplay moves herself. Always a tomboy at heart (and resistant to a lot of frills, makeup and the color pink and preferring to wear simple clothes when not working), she welcomed the chance to take on such a project. Though it was likely considered more of curiosity rather than a deliberate attempt at female empowerment, it was a chance for her to demonstrate some of her sex's strength on-screen.

I have always been averse to watching female swashbucklers for some reason. I avoid Maureen O'Hara's (who I otherwise adore) sojourns into that realm and, like everyone else on the planet, never saw Cutthroat Island. Still, I think I could be persuaded to sit through this if I thought that there were some decent views of Jourdan's (atypically) hairy chest as well as some shots of this burly, shirtless pirate (the one at the far right in this photo.) Perhaps it will run on Fox Movie Channel sometime and I'll get to check it out.

She played David Wayne's wife in the nostalgic period film Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie, all about Wayne's life as a fledgling barber who goes through many trials and tribulations. She got to play opposite the beautiful Jeffrey Hunter again in Lure of the Wilderness, another lushly photographed Technicolor movie that highlighted her prettiness. It told the story of an innocent man (Walter Brennan) on the run from authorities and hiding out in the Georgia swamp with his daughter (Peters.) Hunter discovers them and attempts to help them to the dismay of Constance Smith who has her eye on him and won't stand for any attraction to the beautiful Peters.
Full House (also known as O' Henry's Full House) was an all-star 1952 film featuring five of the famous author's stories being acted out on film. Many of the studio's stars were utilized in the project and Peters was placed in the segment called The Last Leaf. It's the rather gripping story of her sister suffering from a very serious illness who looks outside their apartment at a nearby tree and feels herself dwindling away as the leaves take their turn falling. The sister, played by Anne Baxter, feels that when the last leaf falls, she will expire as well. There's a terrific payoff to the sequence, making it one of the better vignettes in the film.

Zanuck seemed to become more appreciative of the appeal Peters possessed and started thinking of her for some of the studio's more important films, albeit usually after the first choice didn't pan out. One of those movies was Viva Zapata!, also in 1952. The film had first been considered as a vehicle for Tyrone Power, but ultimately the starring role went to dazzling screen newcomer Marlon Brando. Likewise, the film's leading female role of Zapata's wife had originally been earmarked for another actress (Julie Harris – what??), but Peters won out. (Peters' friend Marilyn Monroe wanted the role, too, but Zanuck had no desire whatsoever to explore her desire to be taken seriously as an actress.)

Directed by Elia Kazan, considerable care was taken to recreate the look of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata's life and times. Black and white cinematography lent the makers the ability to draw upon the visuals from many photographs taken during the period of his activity. Costar Anthony Quinn wanted the lead role, but had to settle for portraying Brando's brother. Amends of a sort were made when Quinn took home an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor the following year! Early on, the two actors who had both played Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire (Brando on Broadway and in the movie, Quinn on tour) attempted to settle their debate about who was more appropriate to play Emiliano by seeing who could pee the furthest into the Rio Grande! Brando won. (My God, the macho posturing some people feel the need to go through...) The two then bonded during filming like real brothers.

Next, in 1953, Peters was given the lead role in a mysterious story about adultery and mayhem at the honeymoon capitol of the world. Anne Baxter had first been slated for the part, but withdrew. Thing is, just as the story was being prepared and the preproduction aspects put into place, her costar in the movie, Marilyn Monroe, suddenly went from an attractive and appealing sexpot to a downright sensation. She was jettisoned to the top of the film's credits and featured heavily on all of the posters. She became the chief selling point of the movie, even though her role was not as sizeable or as primary as Peters'.

The film, Niagra, was about a honeymooning couple, Peters and Max Showalter, who come to rest at a motel run by Joseph Cotten and his sultry young wife Monroe. Monroe (who I personally don't think was ever quite as sexy or as beautiful anywhere else than she is here), brazenly taunts Cotten and is carrying on with a dark-haired stranger. As the story progresses, Peters is intrigued by the goings on she has witnessed and ultimately is placed in considerable danger with a small yacht she's in being broken up by rocks and headed over the falls!

It's a film noir type of story, but shot in vivid Technicolor. Monroe (whose stock actor salary here was less than that of her own makeup man!) is indisputably gorgeous, especially in that first scene, but Peters is lovely as well, her peaches and cream complexion and attractive coloring again being exploited to great effect by the filming process. She also plays an endearing, every day sort of character who curious audiences can identify with as she undergoes her adventure at the falls.
A more true-to-form film noir came next with Pickup on South Street. The story concerns a pickpocket (Richard Widmark) who nabs a purse that happens to contain some vital microfilm that was intended for a Communist agent. Gritty director Sam Fuller was preparing the film and having a tough time coming up with an actress to play the female lead, a down-on-her-luck prostitute whose stolen purse leads to immense complications. Betty Grable went on suspension rather that to take the part. One day while lunching in the studio commissary, he spied Peters and, feeling like her walk was slightly reminiscent of hookers he'd seen before (!), he decided to cast her in the part.
As was often the case, she rose to the occasion, her character being used, pummeled and generally abused by life while trying to find security in the wayward Widmark. The film has since become one of the most admired examples of its genre. Widmark and Peters had the combination good fortune/misfortune to have Thelma Ritter cast in a key role. Good because she added immeasurably to its success, but bad because she basically stole the movie and even copped an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress (losing to Donna Reed for From Here to Eternity.) The movie was later remade as The Cape Town Affair with James Brolin and Jacqueline Bisset (with, again, a veteran, this time Claire Trevor, walking away with the acting acclaim.)

She got a great part in a brief, minor thriller called Blueprint for Murder. In it, she played the wife of a wealthy man whose will states that she will inherit his money only after he and both his children have died. He expires under fuzzy circumstances and then one of her stepchildren dies as well. That makes her an obvious suspect for murder and the dead husband's brother (Joseph Cotten) comes along to help figure it all out. I love this hooty publicity photo of Cotten and Peters struggling over the telephone.

She landed the title role (though not actually the lead) in 1953's Vicki, a remake of 1941's I Wake Up Screaming, that had Jeanne Crain playing the sister of a slain singer and model (Peters) who had managed to aggravate several people around her prior to her brutal murder. Owing more than a little to Laura as well, the film was not a major one, but gave Peters a chance to play a mouthy bitch in attractive clothes. She also got to work alongside Crain, who by now had become one of her very closest friends at Fox.

In what was meant to be Crain's next film, Peters was once again cast as a replacement when Crain departed the studio after nearly two-dozen movies, eager to expand her range. The picture Three Coins in the Fountain would be a staggering hit, spawning a smash title song by Frank Sinatra and inspiring countless people to head to Rome, where much of it was filmed. One can see why Crain was unexcited about it, however, because the role she vacated was not in any way special.

The story (one of many similar ones that director Jean Negulesco did during his career) concerned three ladies living in Rome and finding romance (and, at times, heartache) there. Dorothy McGuire had been carrying a fifteen year-long torch for her boss Clifton Webb (!), new arrival Maggie McNamara fell for Louis Jourdan and Peters risked breaking a company rule by cavorting with coworker Rossano Brazzi. Peters knew that her flimsy role was substandard, but with location filming amidst all sorts of historic and beautiful scenery and with handsome Brazzi as her love interest, how bad could it be?

She was loaned to another studio for the first time in 1954, cast incongruously as an Indian squaw in Apache. The only thing that helped diffuse the ridiculousness of this (although it was a common practice at the time to cast Caucasians in non-white roles) is the fact that the star, blue-eyed Burt Lancaster, was also playing an Indian (an Apache, as the title indicates.) Despite the now-strange sight of having an actress in a dark wig and makeup in order to play a Native American, her beauty remains and her eyes stand out even more vividly as a result.

Back home at Fox that same year, she was in another western, but this time as a white woman. She played the daughter of governor E.G. Marshall in Broken Lance, a major production that starred Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark and Robert Wagner. Tracy, playing a highly-established rancher, was the father of Widmark, Wagner, Hugh O'Brian and Earl Holliman, who is disappointed when a couple of his sons are involved in illegal activity. The widescreen production had Peters taking on the role of Wagner's love interest and there were rumors at the time of an affair between the two, but they appear to be unfounded. (Even Wagner, who claimed to have slept with practically everyone – everyone he didn't out as gay – in his autobiography, denied any such affair with her.)
In 1955, Peters filmed the movie that would be her last on the big screen. A Man Called Peter was the story of an Episcopal minister whose sermons proved inspiring to countless congregations, both in and outside of his church. Based on a book written by the man's wife, Peters played the woman in the beautifully-appointed widescreen production. Richard Todd played the Reverend Peter Marshall with supporting parts going to Marjorie Rambeau and Jill Esmond.

Here we take a moment to step away her career, even though we are close to the time at which it virtually ended, and turn the focus to her private life. After her costarring role in Captain from Castille in 1947, she had caught the eye of millionaire playboy Howard Hughes. Hughes, an aviation magnate and entrepreneur who also flew planes and dabbled in film production, was a dynamic and magnetic man who very few women could resist, especially if he set his sites on them. He'd once been a handsome young man (see left), but in the wake of a plane crash, had begun a slow decline in physical and mental health. Married once for four years in the 1920s (he was two decades Peters' senior), he had engaged in multitudinous affairs with many glamour girls in the meantime. Starlet Terry Moore claims to have been married to him from 1949 on, but the union is unrecognized legally, believed to be a ruse he used at the time in order to acquire the Morman for himself, temporarily.

At any rate, he soon became fixated with Miss Peters and the two began dating. Even though she was making her own way at 20th Century Fox, he set her and her mother up in a Bel Air house. Both of them generally private people, she resisted all attempts to have their relationship exploited by the press, the studio or anyone else. Always a complicated, complex man, he was more than a little controlling and possessive despite his own leanings toward infidelity. Their relationship continued for many years, all through her acting career, but he would never marry her. Tiring of this situation, she once issued him an ultimatum, which he refused to give in to, and married another man.

Stuart Cramer was a Texas oil man she met after filming Three Coins and her whirlwind courtship and subsequent marriage to him drove Hughes to distraction. Reportedly, his interference and pressure regarding it led to the couple's separation after only about a month as man and wife. They did eventually reconcile for a time, but the writing was on the wall. After her divorce from Cramer, which was in late 1956, Hughes finally relented with regards to marrying her, but it was on condition that she abandon her acting career.

She, after years of struggling with unwanted parts at Fox and having been suspended many times for her refusal of a lot of others, was only too happy to walk away from her career and become Mrs. Howard Hughes. Hughes was a billionaire at a time when even being a millionaire really meant something. They were wed in January of 1957 and she receded into the private world of one of the planet's wealthiest, most powerful and most reclusive men.

As the years wore on and Hughes slipped further and further into a state of germ-phobia and seclusion, their marriage became one of long distance conversation and infrequent time together. She attempted to take additional college classes as a means of self-improvement and to occupy herself, but once her real name was discovered and the hounds began to circle, she was forced to withdraw. She even toyed briefly with returning to Fox in 1959 for The Best of Everything (in the role Martha Hyer eventually essayed), but did not. She did various works of charity, as unpublicized as possible (she's shown at left in a rare shot with an autistic boy.) Hughes' undercover guards were always in evidence (this was in place well before their marriage even.) Though she enjoyed shopping and attending functions of the arts (and, as always, baseball), the union was not fulfilling for obvious reasons. Finally, by 1970, she had had it and the couple divorced.

Considering the amount of money that Hughes possessed and the fact that their nearly fifteen-year marriage (and more than twenty-year relationship) was clearly no flight of fancy, she took a surprisingly modest settlement of $70,000 annually (to be adjusted over the years for inflation.) Still, this was a decent chunk of change for that time. She agreed to waive any claim to Hughes' enormous estate. Seemingly unable to completely shake the specter of 20th Century Fox, she became reacquainted with a man she'd known as an assistant director during her time there, Stanley Hough, who had since risen to the title of vice-president in charge of operations. They married in 1971 and remained together until his death in 1990.

In 1973, he left the studio and began working as a film and (mostly) television producer. Strangely enough, this was also the year that Peters made a return to acting after a nearly two decade-long absence. She took a role in the TV-movie Winesburg, Ohio, based on a famous collection of short stories about life in her home state during the 19th century. Albert Salmi was her husband in the teleplay and real-life brothers Joseph and Timothy Bottoms played their sons. Her initial enthusiasm about the piece waned after she saw it on TV.

She was coaxed into another role by old acquaintance Ross Hunter, who was producing the star-laden miniseries Arthur Hailey's The Moneychangers. She played the estranged wife of Christopher Plummer, who she admired greatly, and was pleased to be working with him in the cameo role. Hunter, aware of her place in the Hollywood canon, gave her prestige billing in the eight-hour project's opening credits.

It was 1981 before she acted on-screen again, this time in her husband's TV-movie Peter and Paul. The Biblical drama starred Robert Foxworth (as Peter) and Anthony Hopkins (as Paul) along with Eddie Albert, Jose Ferrer and Raymond Burr. She portrayed Priscilla, one of Paul's devoted followers.

Peters last set foot before the cameras in 1988 when she made what was by then a virtually mandatory appearance for old stars on Angela Lansbury's Murder, She Wrote. She played, stretch that it was, a reclusive star caught up in a murder and a disappearing diamond-studded tiara. One of the episodes, novelties, in addition to having Peters onboard, is the pairing of Lucie Arnaz and Patty “The Bad Seed” McCormick as a pair of New York detectives called Chadwick and Stacey. (Get it? As in Cagney and Lacey. Oh, brother...)

Peters continued to enjoy married life until Hough's passing in 1990, all the while contributing time and money to charitable causes that interested her, a chief one being autism. Autism at the time was not as familiar as it seems to be now and she did much to raise awareness about it. Of her life with Howard Hughes, she stood by her pact to never discuss it publically. While Terry Moore milked her comparatively brief association with him for all it was worth in interviews, articles and books, Peters merely said (in 1972), “My life with Howard Hughes was and shall remain a matter on which I will have no comment.”

Biographers have written reams about Hughes and there was even a book about Peters at the time of their divorce called Mrs. Howard Hughes, but all of them have have immense difficulty in finding anyone who worked with her who would say anything unkind about her. She was liked and respected by her costars and beloved by crew members who worked on her pictures. Known affectionately as “Pete” by many of her studio pals, she eschewed much of the pretense and affectation that so many of her peers possessed. Yes, she tangled with her boss over the roles he wished to assign to her, yet he kept her around and was distressed when she quit.

Her career could have and should have been a longer, better one, but it was not to be. Peters was diagnosed with leukemia later in her life and it claimed her on October 13th, 2000 when she was seventy-three. Even in the decade-plus since her death, there have been no sordid stories bubbling up, nor any revelations that would mar her character. She lived life on her terms, but in a way that positively influenced those around her. What else could a person hope for? Her work on screen stands as a testament to her inviting beauty and her ingratiating personality. See if you don't fall for her yourself the next time one of her movies rolls around.

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...