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Black Narcissus

Cynics may dub this lavish production Brief Encounter in the Himalayas and not without reason. Stripped of most of its finery, the picture [based on the novel by Rumer Godden] resolves itself into the story of two sex-starved women and a man. And since the women are nuns, there can be no happy ending except perhaps in the spiritual sense.

Cynics may dub this lavish production Brief Encounter in the Himalayas and not without reason. Stripped of most of its finery, the picture [based on the novel by Rumer Godden] resolves itself into the story of two sex-starved women and a man. And since the women are nuns, there can be no happy ending except perhaps in the spiritual sense.

At the invitation of an Indian ruler, five sisters of an Anglo-Catholic order open a school and hospital in a remote Himalayan village. They occupy an ancient palace, once known as ‘The House of Women,’ built on a ledge 6,000 feet in the air. The nuns find their task overwhelming and Deborah Kerr, as the sister in charge, has to call for help on the cynical British agent, David Farrar, in spite of her instinctive antagonism.

To add to their worries, a native girl in need of a few months cloistering is boarded with the nuns by Farrar. The peace of the convent is further disturbed when the young general heir to the ruler enrolls as a pupil. Materially the work of the convent prospers, but Sister Kerr feels that spiritually most of the nuns are out of harmony. Her thoughts stray back to her girlhood sweetheart in Ireland. Another Sister is obviously thinking too much of Farrar and is taken to task.

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Production has gained much through being in color. The production and camerawork atone for minor lapses in the story, Jack Cardiff’s photography being outstanding.

The cast has been well chosen, but Kerr gets only occasional opportunities to reveal her talents.

Most effective acting comes from Kathleen Byron who has the picture’s plum as the neurotic half-crazed Sister Ruth.

1947: Best Color Cinematography, Color Art Direction

Black Narcissus

UK

  • Production: Archers. Director Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; Producer Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; Screenplay Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger; Camera Jack Cardiff; Editor Reginald Mills; Music Brian Easdale; Art Director Alfred Junge
  • Crew: (Color) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1947. Running time: 100 MIN.
  • With: Deborah Kerr Sabu David Farrar Kathleen Byron Flora Robson Jean Simmons
  • Music By: