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Black Narcissus

By Lee Gardner | Posted

So little really happens in Black Narcissus, and yet so much comes of it. In this 1947 proto-psychological drama from British writer/producer/director team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (The Red Shoes), a group of Anglican nuns struggle to establish a convent in a former pleasure palace high in the windy Indian Himalayas. As Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) and her charges get settled, they must adjust to dealing with the exotic locals (including an insouciant young spot of trouble played by Jean Simmons) and the irreverent British agent for the area (rugged David Farrar), not to mention the beautiful but unforgiving environment (created entirely on sound stages, with the help of breathtaking matte work). As events unfold, the sisters face temptation, ennui, and doubt, jeopardizing their mission and, ultimately, their sanity. Befitting a story that deals with the sensual overwhelming the austere, Black Narcissus is ravishingly beautiful and relentlessly composed; the visual impact of the film tells you everything the script leaves unsaid (cinematographer Jack Cardiff won the Oscar in 1948 and a lifetime achievement Oscar in 2001). In short, this is not only a semiobscurity that deserves to be better known, it's a big-screen must-make.

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