Ronald Colman

Lost Horizon 1937

Lost Horizon (1937)

In the midst of a revolution in China, author and diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) is tasked with rescuing 90 people and getting them on a plane to Shanghai. Among the people rescued include Robert’s brother George (John Howard), Lovett (Edward Everett Horton), Gloria (Isabel Jewell), and Henry Barnard (Thomas Mitchell). After spending all night on the plane, the passengers wake up and realize they’re traveling in the opposite direction. Their plane has been hijacked and after an extremely arduous journey, the plane eventually crashes in some Tibetan mountains. All the passengers survive, but the pilot is dead.

The passengers are stranded far away from civilization, or so they think. Before long, they are greeted by porters who guide the passengers to Shangri-La, a beautiful paradise that apparently has magical powers. The people of Shangri-La don’t seem to age and Gloria, who was terminally ill when she left China, seems to be getting better. They have no connection to the outside world and have none of the conflicts that exist in the rest of the world.

Robert begins to feel like he’s been brought there for a reason and those beliefs are confirmed by some of the lamas of Shangri-La. When he meets Sondra (Jane Wyatt), he finds out she’s the one who suggested he be brought to Shangri-La because she’d read his books and thought they reflected the philosophical beliefs of their leader, the High Lama. The High Lama is very old and doesn’t have long to live and they want Robert to take his place.

Robert loves Shangri-La (and Sondra), as do all the other passengers, except for George. George resents being kidnapped and wants to leave with Maria (Margo), another woman who was kidnapped and brought to Shangri-La. Robert is forced to choose between staying in Shangri-La or leaving with his brother.

Spectacular. Simply spectacular. Mention the words “epic film” and you’ll likely think of Cecil B. DeMille or Ben-Hur, but Lost Horizon certainly has a place in that league of filmdom. The sets are grand and absolutely stunning, it’s full of intrigue and excitement, the story has a lot of depth to it so it isn’t overpowered by the grandeur of the sets, and the entire cast is amazing. Not only is Ronald Colman fantastic in it, he’s got an incredible supporting cast with the likes of Isabel Jewell, H.B. Warner, Sam Jaffe, Jane Wyatt, Edward Everett Horton, and Thomas Mitchell. It’s simply a first-rate film in all respects.

Raffles (1930)

The Amateur Cracksman is a pro at breaking into safes and making off with jewelery, but he always manages to stay out of reach of Scotland Yard. The real identity of the Amateur Cracksman is none other than A.J. Raffles (Ronald Colman).  Raffles has recently fallen in love with Gwen (Kay Francis) and is about to give up the safecracking racket and go straight so that he and Gwen can be married.  Just after he thinks he’s pulled his last heist, his friend Bunny (Bramwell Fletcher) attempts suicide over a gambling debt. So to help his friend out, Raffles decides to go for one more heist.

Raffles sets his sights on stealing a very valuable necklace belonging to Lady Kitty Melrose (Alison Skipworth), so he and Bunny attend a party at the Melrose estate and Raffles goes to work trying to get in good with Kitty.  But Raffles isn’t the only one after the Melrose necklace. A burglar named Crawshaw (John Rogers) also has plans to steal it, but Scotland Yard found out about his plan and Inspector McKenzie (David Torrence) comes to the house to let everyone know about it.  Later that night, Crawshaw breaks in and gets the necklace, but Raffles manages to take the necklace from Crawshaw.

The police nab Crawshaw on the spot, but he vows to come after Raffles someday. The next morning, Raffles heads off to London, feeling like he isn’t good enough for Gwen. Gwen doesn’t know that Raffles is the Amateur Cracksman, but she soon begins to put the pieces together and she still loves him.  Meanwhile, Inspector McKenzie is also beginning to figure out who Raffles really is and decides to let Crawshaw go free, hoping that he will go to London looking for Raffles.

Sure enough, Crawshaw does go to London, but Gwen gets there before him and warns him about McKenzie’s plan.  McKenzie is also in town, just waiting for Crawshaw to get Raffles to confess. When Crawshaw finally shows up, ready to kill, Raffles is so smooth that he manages to talk him down, return the necklace to the Melrose family, collect the reward money, confess to being the Amateur Cracksman, and escape to run off to Paris with Gwen.

If you’re a fan of either Ronald Colman or Kay Francis, you will absolutely want to see Raffles. They made an excellent team and both of them were perfect for their respective roles. I would have liked to have seen more of Kay in it, though. Raffles also features some very beautiful cinematography thanks to Gregg Toland, who was a co-cinematographer on it.  Even though this was fairly early in Toland’s career, it’s very clear that he had a bright future ahead of him.  If you’re in the mood for a short but clever heist film, Raffles comes very highly recommended. It’s slick, stylish, fast-paced, and sophisticated.

Kiki (1926)

Like so many other girls, Kiki (Norma Talmadge) longs to be a famous performer, but instead she’s out on the streets selling newspapers.  But Kiki is a pretty smart gal, and when she overhears a chorus girl getting fired, she seizes the opportunity to see the show’s producer Victor Renal (Ronald Colman), whom she’s long admired, to land a spot in the show.  When she can’t immediately see him, she waits around, and eventually another wannabe chorus girl walks in with a letter of introduction.  Kiki poses as Victor’s secretary, takes her letter, and passes it off as her own when she does see Victor.  It’s clear that Kiki isn’t really an experienced performer, but she can sing and Victor likes her spirit.

Getting into the show quickly proves to only be half the battle.  The real challenge is staying out of the warpath of Paulette (Gertrude Astor), the show’s star and Victor’s fiancée.  Kiki’s stage debut is disastrous and ends with her falling into the orchestra pit and getting tangled in a harp.  Even though the audience finds it hilarious, Paulette isn’t as amused and has Victor fire her.  Kiki breaks down in tears because now she has nowhere to go since she spent all her rent money on a new outfit to impress Victor.  Victor takes pity on poor Kiki and takes her out to dinner, much to the dismay of Paulette.  So Paulette asks Victor’s friend Baron Rapp (Marc McDermott) out to the same restaurant and Paulette makes sure Kiki gets good and drunk.  Instead of being put off by her, Victor feels sorry for her once again and lets her stay at his place for the night.

But one night turns into several.  Victor doesn’t have the heart to throw her out with no place to go and besides, he’s starting to like her.  Kiki makes herself right at home at Victor’s place and does everything she can to make him think that Paulette doesn’t love him anymore.  One day, the Baron comes over and tries to take Kiki off his hands by tying to convince her that if she comes to live with him, he can turn her into a star.  Victor overhears this and becomes just a bit jealous.  Meanwhile, Paulette is in the other room trying to convince Victor that she loves him.  Kiki almost falls for it, but she soon comes to her senses.  Paulette and Kiki end up getting into a big fight and Kiki is knocked unconscious.  Or so everyone thinks.  She fakes unconsciousness so well that a doctor claims she’s in a coma and could stay that way for two years.  When Victor decides he can’t leave her alone in that condition, Kiki is miraculously “cured!”  The two finally kiss and presumably go on to live happily ever after.

For as much as I love silent movies, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie starring any of the Talmadge sisters before now.  I know Norma was better known for her dramatic roles, but I really liked her in this comedy.  She had great movement, expressions, charisma, and charm.  The scenes where she’s supposed to be unconscious are just classic.  She played off of Ronald Colman and especially Gertrude Astor very well.  The movie is very fun and charming with some pretty hilarious intertitles.  “And may all your children be radio announcers!” has got to be one of my favorite silent movie insults.  If you only know Norma Talmadge for her serious roles, then Kiki is sure to be a refreshing change of pace.