Story Salvages Musical ‘Lost Horizon’ 1973

The cast of 1973’s “Lost Horizon” enters Shangri-La in awe.


most moviegoers forgotten the musical version of Lost Horizon, some film fans have not. They feel the ’73 Lost Horizon is a maligned masterpiece; I
would not go that far, but in some respects, Horizon is still watchable.

reason that Lost Horizon still
intrigues is the story: world-weary westerners are kidnapped to an isolated
paradise in the Himalayas. In temperate Shangri-La, inhabitants co-exist
peacefully and enjoy extraordinarily youthful and long lives. Doesn’t that
sound wonderful these days? There are a few catches…

The “Lost Horizon” cast, often posed as a group, gaze in wonder at Shangri-La!

Finch is a UN peacemaker who is spirited to Shangri-La by plane. Along for the
ride: Michael York as his reporter “kid” brother; Sally Kellerman is a suicidal
news photographer; Bobby Van is a USO entertainer; and George Kennedy is an
engineer—not a pilot, for once! Noted non-Asians John Gielgud, Olivia Hussey,
and Charles Boyer are Shangri-La citizens. Norwegian Liv Ullmann’s teacher
migrated there as a baby; Japanese actor James Shigeta is Gielgud’s wingman.

critics complained about the social standing order in Shangri-La. Yes, the book was
written in the ‘30s by a white British male, so naturally the lead characters
are white, living in luxury. And “natives” are content worker bees.

“Lost Horizon’s” Shangri-La or Norma Desmond’s manse in “Sunset Blvd.?”

Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon never
made an easy journey from the page to the screen or stage. The 1937 Frank Capra
version has long been considered a classic. But when it was made and released,
the film went far over budget and was initially just a modest hit, which caused
a huge strain on then-small Columbia Studios. A 1956 Broadway musical was an
expensive bomb. And this panned 1973 musical version cost a fortune, and made
very little money.

film versions caused greater divisions than just cost versus profits. The
making of the ’37 version was so fraught that it was the first crack in director
Capra and screenwriter Robert Riskin’s friendship. And studio head Harry Cohn
was so unhappy with Frank Capra’s handling of the runaway production that they
got in a financial dispute that soon ended their famed association.

The Bacharach/David score and the dance numbers bring “Lost Horizon” to a halt.

’73 version created just as many rifts. Producer Ross Hunter chose Burt
Bacharach and Hal David, fresh off the Broadway musical Promises, Promises, to write the songs for the movie musical Lost Horizon. Bacharach blamed the
studio and Hunter for the weak versions of the subsequent tunes; Hunter later
said that the musical duo were in the process of breaking up and gave him a
“bum” score. Considering that Bacharach didn’t do all that much after Lost Horizon, until he met Carole Bayer
Sager in the ‘80s, I’m thinking Hunter was closer to the truth.

for Hunter, the self-publicizing producer sailed through over a decade of far
more hits than misses, starting with ‘59’s blockbusters Pillow Talk and Imitation of
. His run was bookended with 1970’s mega hit Airport. Feeling his oats, Hunter left long-time studio Universal
and signed with Columbia. Hitchcock did this in 1960, when he signed with
Universal and got carte blanche, after a string of huge hits in the ‘50s. After
the costly but profitable The Birds,
Hitch then started laying eggs with Marnie.

Ross Hunter gets in the spirit of Shangri-La.

didn’t even get that far. Like Lucille Ball the following year with Mame, Hunter went heavy on personal
promotion, intoning to all that Lost
was an uplifting film, a positive alternative to all those ‘70s sex
and violence laden movies. Talk like this just put a big target on Ross’ rear.
And like Lucy, when critics and audiences saw the old-fashioned, overblown
results, everyone had a field day. Ross Hunter’s most personal project killed
his film career faster than trying to flee Shangri-La. Hunter never produced
another feature film.

Why does this cast photo look like the SS Poseidon should be behind them?!

won’t parade the bad reviews, but my favorite quote was by Bette Midler: “I
never miss a Liv Ullmann musical!” What’s fascinating is how the movie musical, a
dying genre after the ‘50s, didn’t go down without a fight. In the early ‘60s,
the film musicals made were usually Broadway adaptations. And post-studio system
era, a box office name was deemed a must, whether they could sing or not. So,
Natalie Wood was cast in West Side Story
and Gypsy and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. The standard then was to
have a strong ghost singer providing vocals—always so phony. Luckily, Julie
Andrews came along and did her own singing, in hits like Mary Poppins and The Sound of
. Her hits kept studios hoping there was more box-office gold to be
mined, until Julie started making stinkers like Star! Then came Streisand with Funny
. Unfortunately, Babs followed up with expensive snoozers Hello, Dolly! and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

You can tell Michael York’s reporter want’s to split from Shangri-La because
he’s back to his Lloyd Bochner “Dynasty” ensembles again!

still cast with box office in mind, but now let non-singing actors start doing
their own vocals. Audiences were then treated to Richard Harris, Peter O’
Toole, Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor and more,
warbling in movie musicals in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. You would think that
mega-bombs like Doctor Dolittle, Sweet Charity, and Darling Lili killed off the genre. Oh, no! Perhaps musical dramas
like Lady Sings the Blues and Cabaret kept movie moguls hopes alive.

“Have you ever seen my Julie Andrews impression?”

brings us to the worst part of the ’73 edition of Lost Horizon: the singing and dancing. The only actors who sang
were Sally Kellerman, Bobby Van, and James Shigeta! Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann,
and Olivia Hussey were mostly or totally dubbed. But all the songs are all snooze-worthy
elevator music. A couple of the musical numbers are such doozies that audiences
and critics hooted them right off the screen.

Liv Ullmann and Peter Finch are the subdued romantic leads of “Lost Horizon.”

Charles Jarrott had directed Anne of a
Thousand Days
and Mary, Queen of
, this was Ross Hunter’s show all the way. Hunter put his passé
philosophy forth in this early ‘70s movie, set in a fictional Asian land. Modern
audiences were not wowed by Tibetan-type characters carrying on in Broadway via
Hollywood showstopper style. This was all mixed with Bacharach/David numbers
that sounded like they had just overdosed on Jonathan Livingston Seagull! While Hunter was a square, he was only
8 years younger than supposedly hip Bacharach, who was 45 when Lost Horizon was released. Their generational
sensibilities clashed and showed on the resulting film.

Burt Bacharach gets a police escort to an event for “Lost Horizon.” W/ wife Angie D!

lot of talent is involved in Lost Horizon
that either gets wasted or was on the wane. The Bacharach/David team seemed tapped
out of tunes. Famed choreographer Hermes Pan created the dances, but aside from
some energetic native performing, the rest of the dancing is dramatic actors
and children twirling in circles and flapping their arms. As someone who worked
at public elementary schools, I’ve seen more enthusiastic dancing at recess!

Bobby Van dazzles the kids with tap and baffles them with American history!

for the stars’ singing and dancing, let’s just say it’s all bad. Sadly, the worst numbers are by two stars that could sing,
Van and Kellerman. Their two solos are so inanely staged you can’t believe what
you’re seeing. Bobby’s ditty is “Question Me an Answer,” with kids in an
outdoor classroom, as they express hilarity at his every move. Van also power
clashes with a Nehru top and white bell bottoms and dance shoes. All while he’s
teaching the native kiddies a ditty about American history! 

Sally Kellerman wows George Kennedy with “rock” dance moves in “Lost Horizon.”

Sally sings the
upbeat tune “Reflections” to Kennedy while standing on a rock, waving her arms
and offering a preview to Seinfeld’s
Elaine Benes. Dishonorable mention: “The Things I Will Not Miss,” with
Shangri-La’s own Hussey and woman of the world Kellerman, as they compare their
lives, while climbing stairs, ladders, and seat spinning on countertops! What
makes it even more hilarious is petite Olivia was pregnant and looked buxom and
willowy Sally is 5’10”, so they make an incongruous pair in this aerobic song
and dance routine.

The “Living Together, Growing Together” starts off like a live Disney spectacle…

number that was cut for decades was the infamous fertility dance toward the end
of “Living Together, Growing Together.” The scantily clad males look like
Chippendales in Shangri-la, but they provide the only really professional
dancing in the entire film. Remember the “Hot Tongan” from the Olympics? Like
that, times a dozen or two! Though we now live in an era where exploiting flesh
is equal opportunity, audiences back then had been raised on Debra Paget
leading a dance troupe in scantily clad routines. Shangri-la’s Solid Gold
Dancers got laughed at so much in previews, the number was cut. But it’s back, baby,
so enjoy! In this movie centerpiece, the young married couple and swaddled baby
look like a live Disney show, when suddenly a bunch of buff, nearly in the buff
dancers come running out of a cave to strut their stuff. Hey, it takes a
village, people, to make Shangri-la a paradise!

…and finishes with the Shangri-La Solid Gold Dancers finale! 

How times have changed. When the buff dancing boys came out in “Lost Horizon,”
 they were laughed off the screen. In 2018, “Tongan Guy” was the hit of the Olympics!
“It twirled!” Shangri-La meets Las Vegas in 1973’s “Lost Horizon!”

Surtees does the best he can with the cinematography, but what can you do when
paradise obviously looks like studio sets or matte murals? Critics commented
that Shangri-La looked like a swanky spa. Some of Bob’s zoom shots, as when Liv
Ullman runs into the camera boobs first, makes one relieved that Lost Horizon wasn’t filmed in 3-D. Jean
Louis provides lavish costumes, while not innovative, are pleasing to the eye.
I haven’t seen so many caftans since Elizabeth Taylor’s estate auction!

Who wore it best? York’s caftan: Jean Louis.

ET’s caftan: Empress of Iran Farah Diba.

movie mega-bombs like these, the cast is always the one at the front lines for
the grenades lobbed by critics and movie goers. Yet, with a few exceptions, the
cast performs their dramatic scenes as well as the pedestrian script
allows—written by firebrand gay activist/author Larry Kramer! Peter Finch, John
Gielgud, and Charles Boyer are solid as the U.N. diplomat, the host Chang, and
the High Lama. Liv Ullmann was obviously brought in for her creamy, blue-eyed
blonde looks, hoping to recall Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. A schoolteacher who was brought to Shangri-La
as an orphaned infant, Liv’s sincere if somewhat ill at ease, like most of her
American movies. Michael York is alright as Peter Finch’s impetuous younger
brother—the quarter century age difference is right up there with Bradley
Cooper and Sam Elliot in the recent A
Star is Born
. Olivia Hussey is lovely and enigmatic as the local lass.
Sally Kellerman is the one star with a real ‘70s vibe and she’s quite empathetic as the jaded photographer.

George Kennedy gives me a “Shrek” vibe here! Sally Kellerman’s acting is appealing.

two actors I found unbearable were George Kennedy and Bobby Van. Kennedy, who
was the same in every movie, always struck me as a backup for any part that
Ernest Borgnine turned down. It’s amusing that Lost Horizon begins with a plane crash, and here’s Airport’s Georgie boy, once again. He
also has the hots for Sally Kellerman from the get-go. Can you imagine a more
unlikely couple? As for Bobby Van, he’s sort of the Red Buttons of this movie.
I’m highly allergic to the type of “look at me” comic/hoofer who seeks audience
adoration, like Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly, or Donald O’ Connor, at their worst.
Like “adorable” Red Buttons in The
Poseidon Adventure
, I wished that Bobby Van would vanish every time he started
mugging whenever the camera pointed at him.

Shangri-La would be nirvana if it wasn’t for these two knuckleheads!

don’t think any of the cast member’s careers were seriously harmed by appearing
in Lost Horizon, though this was one
more nail in Liv’s American film career coffin. The rest of the film actors
kept working, George Kennedy kept making Airport
movies, and Bobby Van went back to TV game shows.

Michael York & Olivia Hussy’s characters about to leave their fairy tale world.

we live in the age of fast forward options, Lost
can be best viewed as an old-fashioned early ‘60s movie that was unfortunately
made a decade later. The 2 hour and 30 minute running time can be cut down to two
hours by fast forwarding through all those uplifting musical numbers!

Love when Peter Finch returns to Shangri-La, he not only has grown a beard,
but apparently stopped for some ‘Just For Men’ along the way!

Here’s another Liv’s ill fated American movies, 40 Carats:

FYI: I put all the movie overflow on my public FB  movie

Check it out & join!

Farewell to one of the most distinctive actresses of the ’70s, Sally Kellerman.


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