Black Narcissus [1947]

Director: Emeric Pressburger, Michael Powell
Stars: Deborah Kerr, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Jenny Laird, Judith Furse
Genre: Drama
Rating: Unrated
Runtime: 100 minutes

Appropriately enough for a picture named for a flower, Black Narcissus exists in a color-drenched, hothouse atmosphere. The setting is a nunnery in the Himalayas, where sister Deborah Kerr has her hands full with an envious nun (the remarkable Kathleen Byron) and a sardonic Englishman (David Farrar). Director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, the team responsible for the mid-forties masterpieces A Stairway to Heaven and The Red Shoes, decided to shoot Black Narcissus entirely in the studio, so they could create their own controlled, slightly unreal world. The choice paid off, as both art director Alfred Junge and cinematographer Jack Cardiff won Oscars for their blazing Technicolor work. The climactic sequence--a murder attempt on the cliffs of the cloister--bears special attention, as Powell "set" the sequence to a preexisting musical track, staging it as though it were a piece of visual choreography. Adding a bit of behind-the-scenes tension to the production was the fact that Kerr was the director's ex-mistress, and Byron his current one. "It was a situation not uncommon in show business, I was told," he later wrote, "but it was new to me." --Robert Horton

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