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By Phil Hall | May 20, 2005

It seems difficult to conceive this today, but back in 1973 the Ross Hunter musical production of “Lost Horizon” was a highly anticipated prestige picture. The film’s Hollywood premiere was one of the biggest star-studded events of the 1970s, with then-Governor Ronald Reagan returning to Hollywood to lead the festivities. In the UK, “Lost Horizon” was selected for the annual Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II.

As a way to promote the film’s American release, a TV special was created to celebrate the production by focusing on the “Lost Horizon” composer, the celebrated Burt Bacharach. But strangely, “Burt Bacharach in Shangri-La” wound up having relatively little to do with the big-budget movie and too much to do with Bacharach’s career and ego. In fact, it is probably the most extraordinary display of musical onanism ever put on video.

“Burt Bacharach in Shangri-La” begins on the right promotional track, with Bacharach on the massive set of the film. The composer greets his first guest, Bobby Van, who has a supporting role in “Lost Horizon.” This is a strange choice on one hand, since Van was the least important star in the movie, but a logical choice on the other since he was the only cast member who possessed any musical background. Bacharach gives Van a back-handed compliment by noting: “I’m really sorry now that Gene Kelly wasn’t available for this movie.” Van, in turn, turns on his patented obnoxious personality to perform the “Lost Horizon” tune “Question Me an Answer” with a chorus of squeaky kids. Then Van, accompanied by a brigade of groovy women in flowing clothing, does wonky renditions of Bacharach’s classics “Close to You” and “This Guy’s in Love with You.” Van’s choreography, however, is so wild and wobbly that it looks as if he was tanked up on Tanqueray.

Then, from out of nowhere, comes the 5th Dimension singing another “Lost Horizon” tune, “Living Together, Growing Together.” Their rendition is more pop-oriented than the film’s version (which is performed by a procession of Zen monks). The 5th Dimension joins arms and skips along in unison, as if they are off to see the Wizard.

Inexplicably, a tennis court pops up in Shangri-La and Bacharach is playing against then-reigning champ Chris Evert. Bacharach proclaims that “Chris Evert is one of the top tennis players, male or female.” Male or female? Did Bacharach confuse Evert with Renee Richards? Evert’s talent with the racket is matched by her incompetence with reading manufactured bon mots from cue cards (“As a girl, love means everything!”). Fortunately, a group of ballboys run out on the court and begin to do balletic leaps while a faux-salsa Bacharach tune called “South American Getaway” pollutes the soundtrack.

After this, “Lost Horizon” stays lost as a tuxedo-clad Bacharach conducts an orchestra in a muzak-worthy melody of his hit tunes. We get “Alfie” and “Walk on By” and “Promises, Promises” and “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” – but we never get Dionne Warwick (who was involved in litigation against Bacharach at the time and was, not surprisingly, exiled from his Shangri-La.).

Then, for no reason whatsoever, Bacharach decides to orchestrate a new up-tempo pop version of the Negro spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” for the 5th Dimension. This sequence is not shot in Shangri-La, but rather in some cramped studio. The resulting song production is so bland and antiseptic that it is a surprise the 5th Dimension didn’t pummel Bacharach.

And then for the grand finale, Bacharach comes back to Shangri-La and finds (of all people) Richard Harris, who looks and sounds as if he was left out in the rain with his cake. Harris warbles a bit of the Jimmy Webb tune “Didn’t We?” from his camp classic album “A Tramp Shining” before launching full-throttle into the “Lost Horizon” ballad “If I Could Go Back.” Compared to Harris, Lee Marvin’s singing in “Paint Your Wagon” sounds like Mario Lanza.

Conspicuously absent from this promotion for “Lost Horizon” is, oddly, “Lost Horizon.” There are no clips from the film, no mention of the cast other than Bobby Van (the stars were Peter Finch, Michael York and Liv Ullmann), and no word as to when the film was opening. Aside from three songs, the score to the film was also MIA. As tributes go, this was the ultimate half-assed celebration.

“Burt Bacharach in Shangri-La” was only broadcast once, in January 1973. It was never released on home video, but bootleg DVDs can be located on eBay. As for “Lost Horizon” itself, that was on VHS and laserdisc at one time, but it is out of print. Yet some enterprising bootleggers have brought it to DVD, and those pirated copies are easy enough to locate.

If you love Burt Bacharach and hate good taste, this bootleg’s for you!


IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at Film Threat and the man who knows where to get the good stuff…on video, that is.

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  1. Terry Whittier says:

    This article is a scream. Despite being a big fan of Bacharach, I’m glad I didn’t see this TV special. Or maybe I DID see it, but thankfully blanked it from my memory. I’m truly sorry that you had to watch it in order to write this review. (On a side note, how many people remember who Renee Richards was?) You illustrate just how abysmal commercial television can be. This special sounds like a typical production planned by corporate “suits” who know nothing about entertainment, and who don’t want to.

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