on 1 January 2003
This is a superb, academy award winning film, directed by the late, great Frank Capra. Based upon James Hilton's book of the same name, it is as fresh today, as it was sixty six years ago when it was first released in 1937.
The film opens up in Baskul, China, somewhere near the Tibetan border in 1935, where a minor revolution appears to be occuring, and foreigners are being evacuated. A world weary and dashing diplomat, Robert Conway, magnificently played by the ever handsome, melliflously voiced Ronald Colman, is directing the evacuation efforts. He, his brother George, and three others, two men and one woman, manage to board the last plane out of this rife torn area of China. Unbeknownst to them their pilot has been overcome by another person, who comandeers the plane.
They finally realize something in wrong when they notice that the plane is traveling west instead of east. Moreover, they are unable to do anything about it, as no one on board other than the pilot can fly a plane. They seem to be flying in the Himalyan region, as they are surrounded by snow capped peaks, flying at an altitude of about 21, 000 feet. Suddenly, their plane lands in the mountains, the pilot dead at the controls. Strangely enough, they are met by a crowd of people, as if they were expected. At their head is a Mr. Chang, a very dignified gentleman, masterfully played by W.B. Warner, who provides them with appropriate clothing for a high altitude climb through a very daunting and precarious mountain pass. Fortuitously for all, Mr. Chang speaks English beautifully.
After a seeming death defying trek through the mountains, in what appear to be blizzard conditions, they arrive at a beautiful and peaceful valley protected from inclement weather. They have now reached the mythical and utopian kingdom of Shangri-La. It is here that Robert Conway meets Saundra, the woman of his dreams, played by a very young and beautiful Jane Wyatt. It is love at first sight.
He also discovers that his plane was comandeered with the express purpose of bringing him to Shangri-La, as it is the wish of their dying leader, Padre Perro, a Belgian priest, played with saintly spirituality by Sam Jaffee, that Conway should be the new leader of this utopian paradise, where people seem to live long, very long, lives. Touched by the saintliness of Padre Perro and in love with the beauty and peace he sees and feels all around him, Conway is very much interested in remaining. It is as if he had finally found that for which he had been searching all his life.
His brother, George, however, has no wish to stay, the only one on board the plane who feels that way. An attractive young woman whom he met in this idyllic spot, and who has fallen for George, professes to want to leave, as well. Together the two of them persuade Robert to leave. Giving in to them out of a sense of obligation, he leaves with them, but what happens on the way back to the world that they knew, convinces Robert that he must return to Shangri-la and the woman he loves at any cost. What happens next will not disappoint.
This film is a masterpiece that keeps the viewer enthralled. While some of the events that occur during the film are higly improbable, that does not dampen the enthusiasm that one is sure to develop for this well made movie. It is, without a doubt, a cinematic classic.