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
Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is promoted to Sister Superior, and sent to establish an Anglican mission/convent/school in a remote village high in the Himalayas. With her she brings several other nuns (a level-headed Judith Furse, an older nun Flora Robson, and a neophyte Kathleen Byron). The strange atmosphere of this remote region affects all those involved. Ruth (Kathleen Byron) falls hopelessly in love with a British jack-of-all trades and local agent (David Farrar). The surrounding events and Farrar's presence also rekindle Kerr's memories of a failed love affair she once had with a young man (Shaun Noble). When Noble left her life, Jesus Christ entered, and Kerr became a nun. Jean Simmons plays a beautiful beggar girl, who is placed in the care of Kerr by Farrar. Simmons later becomes Prince Dilip Raj's (Sabu's) wife, of sorts. The most stunning scenes occur toward the end of the movie. Ruth's mental disintegration and her pathetic pass at Farrar are very sad. Ruth's change in appearance is visually riveting, as much perhaps as Isabelle Adjani's transformation in The Story of Adele H. The performances by Kerr and Byron are superlative, their facial expressions revealing deep heartfelt emotion and pain. If you think Holly Hunter did a great (non-speaking) acting job in The Piano, see Black Narcissus for a real revelation!
This Powell-Pressburger film is one of the most beautifully photographed color movies ever made. Black Narcissus won two Academy awards, for art direction and cinematography. It would take over 3 decades for a comparable film (Days of Heaven) to come along. If you are fortunate enough to have viewed the laserdisc version of the movie, you will be able to listen to Powell and Scorsese do a running commentary of the movie. Toward the end, you will learn how the final scene was shot to a film score, and not the other way around.
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