When I was ten, my family and I saw Lost Horizon at the Vaska theater in Lawton, Oklahoma. For former Lawtonians, the Vaska is a legendary landmark, and mention of it for them will surely stir some memories.
The film, which I found and started watching on YouTube over the past few days, is often regarded as one of the top 50 worst films of all time. It tells of travelers who find a hidden utopia, and shows their struggles with their desires, particularly their desires to sing terrible Burt Bacharach songs. The utopia depicted in the film is a little like an airport executive lounge or a suburban California country club, with everyone relaxing around card tables or potted plants. Internet reviews note that there are no blacks in Shagri-la, and most of the oriental people are silent and seem to do all the work, so really it’s a utopia for rich whites.
When we came out of the theater on that night in 1973, my sister and I were singing the songs, and thought that we had just seen a masterpiece, while mom and dad were probably rolling their eyes and talking about how they’d never get those two hours back.
While re-watching it over the last couple of days, I have to say that the music is mostly an embarrassment to my past, although I can kind of see how one or two of the pieces might have been catchy to a ten-year-old.
I vaguely remember as a child having something of a crush on Liv Ullmann, but now as I watch it, I find Sally Kellerman’s portrayal as a neurotic waif much more fetching. Of course as she gets happier and better-adjusted as the movie progresses, she gets less attractive. (How I managed to marry a non-neurotic woman remains a complete mystery.)
Also of note is this: why did anyone ever cast George Kennedy in any movies? He is one notch below Richard Anderson as Oscar Goldman in terms of talent, and rivals Ernest Borgnine in looks. His character builds an irrigation system to “improve” paradise, which in the long run would have the unintended consequence of making the inhabitants fat and lazy, but in 1973, that would be difficult to foresee.
Also also of note: John Gielgud as “Chang”? I suppose that in 1973 the world was desperately short of real oriental actors, so an English actor had to step up.
The saving grace of this experiment is that on YouTube, I can skim forward to skip all the songs. At the end of the day, it was a fun little blast from my past.