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Saturday, July 19, 2008


Well-remembered adaptation of James Hilton’s pacifist Utopian fantasy adventure gets off to a fine start under Frank Capra’s muscular helming. Ronald Colman, with his gentlemanly heroics & decency, rescues a group of Americans & Brits as riots & war break out in China, then finds himself shanghaied on his way to Shanghai. The irony! But once they stumble into Shangra-La, the film goes belly up. The city-state is an odd benign dictatorial commune with European masters and Asian worker-bees, and its isolation from world issues (in 1937 mind you) feels disingenuous, at best. Capra, whose ability to control an audience was second to none, seems unable to activate the philosophical discussions as drama so the deliberate pacing feels deadly. Perhaps if the film elements were in better shape or if the design of Shangra-La didn’t call to mind a mishmash of the Barcelona World Exhibition, M-G-M’s Thalberg Building, the backyard of Buster Keaton’s Hollywood mansion & the sets for the movie SHE.
READ ALL ABOUT IT: Read Frank Capra's version of how he saved this film at the last minute by trashing the first two reels in his autobio THE NAME ABOVE THE TITLE and then watch Joseph McBride separate fact from fiction (and self-aggrandizement) in his massive & merciless Capra bio THE CATASTROPHE OF SUCCESS.

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