Couple to see film again after 58 years

June 09, 1995|By Rona Hirsch | Rona Hirsch,Contributing Writer

In the 1937 movie "Lost Horizon," Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt stumble onto the hidden paradise of Shangri-La in the mountains of Tibet.

Edith and Barnett "Ben" Miller of Baltimore County found their own Shangri-La that year in New York's Radio City Music Hall. The Millers went to see the film on their first date on Oct. 12, 1937. They married 18 months later.

Now, months after their 56th wedding anniversary, the couple -- who have two children and three grandchildren -- will see the movie for a second time at tonight's showing of "Lost Horizon" at Slayton House Theatre's "Marvelous Movies and More" film series in Columbia.

"I just couldn't believe they were showing this," said Mrs. Miller, 80, who read about the film series in the magazine Modern Maturity. "I said, 'Ben, we've just got to see it again.' "

The haunting Frank Capra film, which has been restored to its original length, is about "five people stumbling into a strange Tibetan land where health, peace and longevity reign."

" 'Lost Horizon' was an unusual tale," said Mr. Miller, 82. "We liked everything about it. Could be we'll laugh at it today. But at that time, it was very interesting."

"Lost Horizon" is the final movie for this season's film series. In its third year, "Marvelous Movies and More" showcases classic American and foreign films films from the 1920s through the 1950s not typically available on video or shown on television.

"We like to get a mix of the familiar to the obscure," said David Pierce, a film historian who leads a discussion after each showing.

"Audiences have to take the unfamiliar films on faith, but they still have an enjoyable experience because they don't have any expectations."

The 30-minute discussions, followed by dessert, are designed to help audiences explore various aspects of the film, from the setting to the director.

"We discuss the audience's reaction to the film, what they liked and what they didn't like," said Mr. Pierce of Laurel. "And if an audience member has a question, we get the audience to answer it. It's not a film history class.

"In the theater, you leave; you don't communicate with the others there," he said. "Here, we turn it into a social occasion that we share with others."

Since it began in 1992, the series has expanded from four to 10 movies.

This year's series included "Gold Diggers of 1933," starring Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler and Ginger Rogers; "Oliver Twist," starring Alec Guiness; "The Kid Brother," starring Harold Lloyd; "Witness for the Prosecution," starring Tyrone Power and Marlene Dietrich; and "Lost Horizon."

" 'Lost Horizon' was a popular film," said Mr. Pierce. "It's about the search for eternal happiness, and what would you do if it was offered to you. Is that really what you want, perfection and joy? Or do you need the challenges of life? It's a moral question."

Nominated for best movie the year it came out, it lost to "The Life of Emile Zola."

"But 'Lost Horizon' best stood the test of time," said Mr. Pierce who has written for American Film and American Cinematographer magazines and co-produced "The Age of Exploration," a series of eight silent feature films.

"It's more familiar. People still use the phrase 'Shangri-La.' Everyone knows what it is."

The Millers' own foray into the unknown began when they met at a summer bungalow in New Jersey in 1937, a year when Franklin Roosevelt was president and Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio played for the World Series champion New York Yankees.

On their first date, the couple -- he from the Bronx and she from Brooklyn -- met at the elegant Astor Hotel in Manhattan and headed to Radio City. The movie was followed by a performance of the Rockettes and dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

"It was an expensive date," said Mr. Miller, 82. "Movie admission was about a half-dollar. I spent close to my whole week's allowance. What attracted me to her was that she was a terrific handball player."

Has it always been Shangri-La for the Millers' half-century union?

"We've had our ups and downs," said Mrs. Miller. "But we've come out of it. We're very happy."

Slayton House Theatre will present "Lost Horizon" at 7:30 p.m. today at the Wilde Lake Village Green in Columbia. Tickets are $5 and include dessert. Information: 730-3987.

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