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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Lost Horizon (1937) on IMDb

Plot Overview

On March 10, 1935, amidst “wars and rumors of wars,” pacifistic British diplomat and new Foreign Secretary Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) is tasked with evacuating from the Chinese city of Baskul, 90 Whites during a mass uprising. In a flurry of wire­less signals, enough planes are promised—“Thanks”—to the beleaguered Brits—“No problem” (“Méi guānxi.”) Unfortunately, Conway and a small contingent on the last plane get skyjacked and shanghaied to an unknown “Shangri-La” above the “Blue Moon Valley” deep in the interior of Tibet, which they access through a veiled cave on a mountain­side after a treacherous climb.

Chang (H.B. Warner) a polite host from the lamasery breaks the bad news that, “We have no wire­less here; we have no contact with the out­side world,” the nearest out­post being 500 miles away. The forced stay grows on some while others have their misgivings … and escape plan. There are lessons to be learned here in this valley community where their motto is to “Be kind.”


Conway receives an audience (“The High Lama wishes to see you”) with Fr. Perraut (Sam Jaffe) who believes that “the Christian ethic may at last be fulfilled, and the meek shall inherit the earth.” A toast is given when the movie winds down, “Here's my hope that we all find our Shangri-La.” There is some­thing in this movie applicable to our collective and individual Christian ideals.

Director Capra was fascinated with these philosophies; he shot six reels of this pair in a tête-à-tête. Their discussions were interminable; they just went on and on. It had to be pared down for the movie, of course, so to cut to the chase, here is the one most important lesson to be learned:

Robert Conway: “By the way, what religion do you follow here?”

Chang: “To put it simply, I should say that our general belief was in, uh, moderation. We preach the virtue of avoiding excesses of every kind. Even including excess of virtue itself.”

Robert Conway: “Well, that's intelligent.”

Chang: “We find in the valley that it makes for better happiness among the natives. We rule with moderate strictness, and in return we are satisfied with moderate obedience. As a result, our people are moderately honest, moderately chaste, and, uh, some­what more than moderately happy.”

Webster defines “temperance 1: moderation in action, thought, or feeling: RESTRAINT.” In a word it's what they practice in Shangri-La. As a Christian ethic it's expressed as being (1Cor. 9:24-25) “temperate in all things.”

The “moderation … including avoidance of excess virtue” was illustrated as “our people are … moderately chaste.” That corresponds in a Christian ethic to, (1Cor. 7:8-9) “if the unmarried and widows cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn [i.e. with lust.]” In the movie “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” moderation in chastity was expressed when Saint Francis seeing one of his brothers troubled by his flesh, freed him to go “Breed to your heart's content … but with a wife!” while the remaining monks went on singing, “We thank thee, sister Chastity.” In literature the principle of restraint in virtue is contemplated by St. John of Kronstadt: (552)

    Be moderate in all religious works, for moderation, even in virtue, correspondingly to your powers, according to circumstances of time, place, and previous labour, is prudent and wise.  It is well, for instance, to pray with a pure heart, but as soon as there is no correspondence between the prayer and your powers (energy), with the various circumstances of place and time, with your preceding labours, then it ceases to be a virtue.  There­fore the apostle Peter says, (2Peter 1:5) “Add to virtue knowledge” (that is, do not be carried away by the heart only); (2Peter 1:6) “and to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience.”

The corresponding OT verse is well illustrated in this movie: (Eccl. 7:16) “Be not righteous over much; neither make thy­self over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” The Belgian priest had been “righteous over much” when he heroically amputated his own leg; it would in its own time have healed in the favorable environment of Shangri-La. Conway made him­self “over wise” by thinking too hard over their situation, he should have just accepted it.

The paired verse also has some relevance: (Eccl. 7:17) “Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?” Robert's brother George (John Howard) and George's girl­friend Maria (Margo) were “foolish” in an ill-advised escape from paradise. The porters who made sport of them en route were being “over much wicked.” It's likely they're not going to live till the end of the movie.

There's a disturbing trend in modern Bible translations to substitute the term self-control for temperance as if only in potential vices one needs to be moderate. Let's see how that would work here. “We rule with moderate strictness, and in return we are satisfied with moderate obedience.” If one exercised too much self-control in acts of obedience, it would be met with stricter rules. As it is “our people are moderately honest,” they don't over­think things as they would by exercising excessive control of their thought life. They wind up “some­what more than moderately happy.” Self control of one's happiness would require, I should think, a stiff upper lip, to grin and bear it, resulting in marginal happiness as opposed to a modest abundance of it. I don't know if one should base his religion on a movie, but I, myself, am happier with the KJV than I would be with these modern versions.

Illogicalities. The spread of education adds to the writer's burden by multiplying that pestilent fellow the critical reader.  No longer can we depend on an audience that will be satisfied with catching the general drift & obvious intention of a sentence & not trouble itself to pick holes in our wording; the words used must nowadays actually yield on scrutiny the desired sense; to plead that any­one could see what you meant, or so to write as to need that plea, is not now permissible; all our pet illogicalities will have to be cleared away by degrees.——Fowler

Production Values

This classic, “” (1937) was directed by Frank Capra. It was an adaptation of James Hilton's 1933 novel, Lost Horizon. It boasts excellent performances by Ronald Colman, Jane Wyatt, John Howard, Thomas Mitchell, & Edward Everett Horton. Howard was cast in a pinch; he does not have a British accent.

This movie came out before the rating system was developed in America; it's got an Australian rating of PG that seems about right to me. The restored version is the original 132 minutes long, 7 minutes of which are stills & freeze frames displayed as the sound track rolls, the photo sections being no longer extant. Just be thank­ful for what we've got; back when the movie was made nobody anticipated video or TV, so there was no financial incentive for preservation.

The sets were cleverly constructed—they had to be in the days before CGI, and the camera work was superb. Capra was a very facile technician and very good at what he did. I even appreciate the B&W and the absence of high tech. The semi-auto telegraph key in the opening sequences brought back fond memories of my ham radio operations.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This movie has withstood the test of time in being relevant to our own turbulent times as well as to theirs. How­ever, I did enjoy it better the first time I saw it when I was able to be surprised. The acting was good, although some of the characters were a little cheesy. There are lessons to be learned.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Special effects: Well done special effects. Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture quotations unless otherwise indicated are from the Authorized King James Version (KJV.) Pub. 1611. Rev. 1769. Software.

Sergieff, Archpriest John Iliytch. My Life in Christ. or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and Peace in God: Extracts from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt (Arch­priest John Iliytch Sergieff). Trans­lated with the author's sanction, from the Fourth and Supplemental Edition by E.E. Goulaeff. St. Peters­burg. Jordans­ville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2000. Print.

Webster's Ninth New College Dictionary. Spring­field, Massa­chusetts, Merriam-Webster, 1983. Print.