Black Narcissus (1947)
Ostensibly the tale of an Anglican mission in the remote Himalayas, Black Narcissus is a film with decidedly more than religion on its mind, a sumptuous and unsettling plunge into the deep well of desire, devotion, and passion. Following their amazing Technicolor fantasy A Matter of Life and Death, the great Britain-based team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger decided to film Rumer Godden's exotic novel, and--with the Oscar-winning assistance of cinematographer Jack Cardiff--boldly re-created the spectacular mountain vistas on a studio soundstage. Adapted for the screen by the directors, Black Narcissus follows young Irish Sister Clodagh (a ravishing Deborah Kerr) as she leads a small group of nuns through the daunting task of establishing the mission (in what was once the local rajah's bordello) amid the isolated, disturbingly hypnotic surroundings and the earthy frankness of the locals. (Jean Simmons is startlingly convincing as a beautiful but immature native, Sabu refreshing as a blunt young general.) Helped and hindered by the rajah's drolly cynical English manager, Mr. Dean (David Farrar), Sister Clodagh finds herself faced with stirrings of her own romantic past and the mounting emotional tide brewing in Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron, who has a field day going starkers). An enthralling work that ranks among Powell and Pressburger's best.