So canny are the ingredients that where credulity perhaps rears its practical head, audiences will be carried away by the histrionic illusion, skill and general Hollywood ledgerdemain which so effectively capture the best elements in this $2.5 million saga of Shangri-La.
Ronald Colman, with fine restraint, conveys the metamorphosis of the foreign diplomat falling in with the Arcadian idyll that he beholds in the Valley of the Blue Moon.
Sam Jaffe is capital as the ancient Belgian priest who first founded Shangri-La some 300 years ago – a Methuselah who is still alive, thanks to the Utopian philosophy of the community he has nurtured.
As H.B. Warner (the venerable Chang and oldest disciple of the High Lama) expounds it, the peaceful valley’s philosophy of moderation in work, food, drink, pleasure, acquisition and all other earthly wants, is cannily scripted for audience appeal. Whether it’s James Hilton’s original novel or Robert Riskin’s celluloid transmutation, the scripting contribution is one of the picture’s strongest assets.
It opens vigorously in Bakul, showing the English community evacuating under the onslaught of Chinese bandits. The last plane out throws Colman together with the fussbudget archaeologist (Edward Everett Horton), the Ponzi plumber (Thomas Mitchell), the ailing waif of the world (Isabel Jewell), and Colman’s screen brother (well played by John Howard). It’s in Shangri-La that Jane Wyatt so vigorously establishes herself as Colman’s vis-a-vis, looking decidedly comely and handling her romance opportunities with definite understanding.
1937: Best Interior Decoration (Stephen Goosson), Editing.
Nominations: Best Picture, Supp. Actor (H.B. Warner), Score, Sound, Assistant Director (C.C. Coleman Jr)