Black Narcissus

( 13 )

Overview

British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger once again deliberately courted controversy and censorship with their 1947 adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel. Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron play the head nuns at an Anglican hospital/school high in the Himalayas. The nuns' well-ordered existence is disturbed by the presence of a handsome British government agent David Farrar, whose attractiveness gives certain sisters the wrong ideas. Meanwhile, an Indian girl Jean Simmons is lured down the road to ...
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Overview

British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger once again deliberately courted controversy and censorship with their 1947 adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel. Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron play the head nuns at an Anglican hospital/school high in the Himalayas. The nuns' well-ordered existence is disturbed by the presence of a handsome British government agent David Farrar, whose attractiveness gives certain sisters the wrong ideas. Meanwhile, an Indian girl Jean Simmons is lured down the road to perdition by a sensuous general Sabu. While Kerr would seem most susceptible to fall from grace --we are given hints of her earlier love life in a long flashback--she proves to have more stamina than Byron, who delivers one of moviedom's classic interpretations of all-stops-out, sex-starved insanity. The aforementioned flashback was removed from the US release version of Black Narcissus so as not to offend the Catholic Legion of Decency. While the dramatic content of the film hasn't stood the test of time all that well, the individual performances, production values, and especially the Oscar-winning Technicolor photography of Jack Cardiff are still as impressive as ever.
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Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Karen Backstein
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, the film masters whose rich sense of atmosphere and fantasy made The Red Shoes a timeless favorite and made Stairway to Heaven so strangely perverse and original, bring the same hypnotic touch to this haunting, mystical tale. Based on a novel by Rumer Godden, Black Narcissus is set high in the Himalayas, where a group of nuns have transformed an old palace into a school and dispensary for the natives. Conflicts arise, though, as the sisters gradually fall victim to the erotic spell of their surroundings. The title has a double-edged meaning: It refers not only to the fragrant flower but also to the strong perfume worn by a bejeweled and handsomely adorned young prince. Nature's heady opulence and masculine sexuality combine to unsettle the holy women, bringing back forgotten memories, dreams, and desires. Remarkably, the breathtaking and intensely colorful visuals were studio-created rather than shot on location; the result is a world unto itself, bearing more relation to the unleashed imagination than to any reality -- which only heightens the feeling of being inside a living hallucination. Deborah Kerr, brimming with supressed emotions, shines in the lead, and well-deserved Oscars went to art director Alfred Junge and cinematographer Jack Cardiff.
All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
The casual perception of the British film industry is that it's a mere shadow of its American counterpart, especially where dramas and adventure films are concerned. That was doubly true during World War II, when even the best directors in England were hampered by low production values. The writer-producer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger -- known corporately as "The Archers" -- did their best to change that perception, and nowhere did they challenge it more forcefully than with Black Narcissus. The 1947 film, based on a novel by Rumer Godden, was so startlingly beautiful, intense yet quietly dramatic and fiercely sexual, that it managed to get censored at the behest of the Catholic Legion of Decency and, yet, even in that censored form, earned a brace of Academy Awards. The film was startlingly unusual for 1947: its plot centers around a group of Anglican nuns who, due to their own psychological and sexual shortcomings, fail to found a convent at the foot of the Himalayas. Over the decades, Black Narcissus has managed to hold its audience and find new admirers -- in the 1980s, 13 minutes that had been censored from the American version finally came to light in a new print of the film.
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Product Details

  • Release Date: 4/4/2000
  • UPC: 027616807038
  • Original Release: 1947
  • Rating:

  • Source: MGM (VIDEO & DVD)
  • Format: VHS

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Deborah Kerr Sister Clodagh
Sabu Young Prince
David Farrar Mr. Dean
Kathleen Byron Sister Ruth
Esmond Knight Old General
Flora Robson Sister Philippa
Jean Simmons Kanchi
Jenny Laird Sister 'Honey' Blanche
Judith Furse Sister Briony
Shaun Noble Con
Eddie Whaley Jr. Joseph Anthony
Nancy Roberts Mother Dorothea
May Hallatt Angu Ayah
Ley On Phuba
Technical Credits
Emeric Pressburger Director, Producer, Screenwriter
Michael Powell Director, Producer, Screenwriter
George Blackler Makeup
George R. Busby Producer
Jack Cardiff Cinematographer
Christopher G. Challis Camera Operator
W. Percy Day Special Effects
Brian Easdale Score Composer
Hein Heckroth Costumes/Costume Designer
Jack Higgins Special Effects
Alfred Junge Production Designer, Set Decoration/Design
Arthur Lawson Art Director
Reginald Mills Editor
Syd Pearson Special Effects
Ted Scaife Camera Operator
Sydney Streeter Asst. Director
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 13 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(7)

4 Star

(2)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(1)

1 Star

(0)

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2010

    Lasting High Quality Viewing and Thinking.

    A new and technically improved version of the film I did see as a university student. The photography is excellent. The sets and the acting are superior. This film provides a visual and intellectual experience much more above some of the modern noisy box office million getters that are not more than simple money makers.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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