After opening a convent in the Himalayas, five nuns encounter conflict and tension - both with the natives and also within their own group - as they attempt to adapt to their remote, exotic surroundings.
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Sister Clodah is dispatched with four other nuns to establish a new convent far in the Himalayas. It's a difficult journey and their new house is a ramshackle old building on the edge of a cliff that had been abandoned by a religious Brotherhood many years before. They soon establish a school and an infirmary though the local General's agent, Mr. Dean, warns them against treating the deathly ill as they would no doubt be blamed if the patient doesn't recover. The location, the culture and the mountain air all begin to have a strange effect on the Sisters. Sister Clodagh, who is also on her first assignment as Sister Superior, begins to remember a romance she had as a young woman before entering the sisterhood. Another however, becomes obsessed with Mr. Dean, which leads to tragedy. Written by
The Legion of Decency still held great sway on filmgoing habits in America, and a Condemned film would eliminate a huge number of ticket sales. The film had already opened in New York and Los Angeles, but the ban interfered with scheduled openings in other cities, such as Detroit and Memphis. Rank was in a bad position. Parliament had just imposed a 75 percent duty on American films imported to England, and Hollywood was temporarily boycotting the British market. The few British films that could play well in America were encouraged as a goodwill gesture, so Rank was anxious that the film play in as many American cities as possible. The only option they saw was to make cuts to the film to satisfy the Legion of Decency. So, the film was edited by 900 feet or so - ten cuts in all. All of Sister Clodagh's memories of Ireland were cut, accounting for most of the offending footage. The close-up of Sister Ruth applying lipstick also fell victim to censorship, and a few lines of suggestive dialogue were also eliminated, for example Mr. Dean's line to Sister Briony, "You will be doing me a great favour when you educate the local girls." Finally, the wording of the foreword was changed so that there would be no mistaking that the order of nuns might be Catholic; now it said that "a group of Protestant nuns in mysterious India find adventure, sacrifice, and tragedy." Now satisfied, the ban was removed and the film was released with an A2 classification from the Legion. See more »
At 38:21, the way Clodah holds the pole changes. See more »
[Referring to Sister Briony, whose name Ayah does not yet know]
Please come and help the fat lady who has questions!
[Taken aback at Ayah's crudeness]
Sister Briony? Ayah, you MUST learn our proper names. Anyway, there aren't any patients yet.
Oh, aren't there? There are dozens waiting. And more coming every minute.
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Opening credits:- Convent of the Order of the Servants Calcutta See more »
Wind is always blowing throughout the monastery the Servants of God nuns have inherited in a remote part of India. In accepting being in charge of the new place, Sister Clodagh will question her faith as she faces one of the greatest challenges of her life.
Michael Powell, working with his usual collaborator, Emeric Pressburger, on the Rumer Godden's novel, created a film that stands the test of time. His achievement is even more incredible as he shot this film in an English studio. The film, brilliantly photographed by Jack Cardiff, one of the best men in the business, and a frequent ally of Mr. Powell, is one of the best pictures of the English cinema. The glorious Technicolor still looks great.
"Black Narcissus" questions how some Christians, in this case, nuns of a religious order, can be so blind about things that deviate from what it deems is the right way. When the young General wants to be part of the school the nuns are creating, they reject him, yet, he asks about how would a God, made human in the form of Christ, would respond to his petition.
Sister Clodagh is also put in a spot when she wants to get rid of the old man who day after day sits staring at the distant mountains. It's Mr. Dean who challenges her in asking how would her God deal with the old man. Sister Clodagh's past is revealed in flashbacks when she was a young woman and in love with a young man who wanted to emigrate to America and she wasn't ready to follow him.
Also, Sister Ruth, who is a rebel, decides to abandon the order because she is in love with Mr. Dean. The highlight of the film is the scene in which Ruth begins applying the deep red lipstick, which makes quite a contrast with her beautiful reddish hair to the horror of Sister Clodagh, who clearly is not prepared for the desertion.
There is also an undercurrent between Sister Clodagh and Mr. Dean, who one feels loves her. The nun is too loyal to the principles that made her take the vows. She realizes at the end that while she had the best intentions to transform the place, she is only a human being who suffers a defeat because of her surroundings.
Deborah Kerr enjoyed one of the best triumphs of her career with the role of Sister Clodagh. She is seen as a young woman of great beauty and the austere nun she became later in her life. David Farrar is Mr. Dean, the Englishman who is now living in that remote part of India and knows the people well. Kathleen Byron makes an excellent contribution as the rebel Sister Ruth. Flora Robson plays the kind Sister Philippa. Jean Simmons appears as a cruel Indian girl, and Sabu has some interesting moments in the film.
This is one of Mr. Powell's best movies in his influential film career. He was one of the most innovative film makers of his generation and it shows well in "Black Narcissus".
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