Monday, February 4, 2013

LOST HORIZON Revisited

William H. Macy is one fine actor.  He's got a face like an unpaid bill, which gives extra texture to his character performances.  Without speaking, he can convey more with a glance than some handsome younger actors can with a full page of dialogue.  This is especially true in 2003's THE COOLER starring Macy as the unluckiest man in Vegas.

For a deeper appreciation of that film, I've got another weekend DVD double feature tip for you.  Watch Macy put a big chill on gamblers' hot streaks by simply walking through a casino after you watch a classic by Frank Capra.  The movie was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1937.  Ronald Colman starred as the idealistic British diplomat who seemed born with good luck.  The movie is LOST HORIZON, one of my favorites.

In THE COOLER, not only does a character refer to this movie but THE COOLER itself is an inversion of Capra's film.  Bernie Lootz (Macy) is the exact opposite of Robert Conway (Colman).  Capra's film opens with panic, chaos and danger.  There's military takeover action in China.  Westerners, white people, are privileged enough to have access to a flight out of the danger.  Conway leads their rescue.  We see his spirit.  He cared about the underprivileged minorities also in danger.  The group of evacuees on that plane, including Conway and his brother, will wind up lost in a snowbound uncharted area.
They'll be taken to Shangri-La, a mysterious utopia with a wonderful climate.
In this Shangri-La, all is restored, new, fresh, vibrant, alive.  Bernie works for a Vegas casino called Shangri-La.  It's old and baggy around the ankles.  It's seen better days.
In the hot Las Vegas climate, it's Bernie's job to freeze "Lady Luck" with his presence.
Shelly (Alec Baldwin in an Oscar-nominated supporting performance) is Bernie's host.  He hires Bernie and brings him into Shangri-La.  He's the dark version of tall, lanky Chang in LOST HORIZON.  Dangerous Shelly talks about the 1937 Capra film.
At the Shangri-La in Vegas, Buddy Stafford is the aging and unhealthy lounge singer.  He's played by Paul Sorvino.  Notice what old movie Buddy was watching on TV.
This character is the "opposites" answer to Sam Jaffe as the High Lama, the Shangri-La spiritual leader in LOST HORIZON.  The High Lama is well over 100 years old.
Bernie "The Cooler" has a brother named Mikey.  Mikey is with a young woman who is not what she seems.  This couple is to Bernie what conservative, selfish George Conway and his vain Shangri-La babe, Maria, are to Robert Conway in LOST HORIZON.
Robert falls in love with Sondra, the virginal young schoolteacher in Shangri-La who sees the goodness in him.  The romantic affection is mutual.  Jane Wyatt, who became a 1950s sitcom star as the mother on FATHER KNOWS BEST, stars as Sondra.
Her "opposites" version in THE COOLER is Maria Bello as the cocktail waitress who goes to Bernie's motel room and changes him from a jinx into a happy man with a magic touch.  But that magic touch isn't good for shady casino business.  He's now in trouble.

I won't reveal more plot details of THE COOLER.  I'll let you discover and enjoy them for yourself.  But if you know that the screenplay is a very clever twist on Capra's LOST HORIZON, it's even more enjoyable.  This is an example of why watching those old classics can pay off.  A film reviewer can have greater insight and awareness of the new screenplay if he or she has that classic film knowledge.  You'll have more of an idea of what the screenwriters seek to accomplish.  Also, you can compare and contract the visuals -- the film literature -- in Capra's LOST HORIZON and in THE COOLER, directed by Wayne Kramer.  Kramer also co-wrote the screenplay with Frank Hannah.  If you were an actor auditioning for one of the lead or supporting roles, watching Capra's classic would be essential homework in preparing for your audition.  It's more information.

Heroic Robert Conway is driven to return to uncharted Shangri-La against all odds.  It's the source of renewed life, fortune and true love.  It's his destiny.  Can Bernie Lootz have a long, happy life as an employee of the Shangri-La who has now found true love?  You have to watch THE COOLER and see for yourself.  After you see LOST HORIZON.


1 comment:

  1. As always, insightful analysis, Bobby. It's hard to believe that THE COOLER was Alec Baldwin's only career nomination. He gave a scorching performance in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, which should have gotten him his first Oscar nomination. The rest of the cast of THE COOLER is terrific as well - veteran character actor Macy and Maria Bello, who is outstanding as well.

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