Release Date: April 24th, 1947 (London premiere)
Directed by: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Written by: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Based on: Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden
Music by: Brian Easdale
Cast: Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, David Farrar, Flora Robson, Sabu, Jean Simmons
General Film Distributors, Universal-International, 100 Minutes
“Remember, the superior of all is the servant of all.” – Mother Dorothea
I’ve heard about Black Narcissus throughout the years, as it was a milestone film in cinematographer Jack Cardiff’s career. He won an Academy Award for this film, as did Art Director Alfred Junge, who was another guy at the top of his game when this was made.
The film is a magnificent piece of moving and living art. Cardiff’s cinematography is absolutely incredible in this film but it goes hand in hand with Junge’s attention to detail, style and the world he helped craft in order for Cardiff to capture real magic. From a visual standpoint, this movie is a prefect example of how two artists, deeply and genuinely on the same page, occupying the same space, can plant a seed that blossoms into a mesmerizing and perfect flower.
Black Narcissus, is hands down, one of the best looking films I have ever seen.
The rest of the film is pretty good but the look of this world that everyone is acting in, overshadows the rest of the picture. Not to say that the acting or the story were bad, they were much better than decent and the subject matter was very interesting but I just couldn’t stop myself from getting lost in the enticing and magnetic allure of the glamorous environment.
The story deals with a group of young Anglican nuns who open up a school and hospital in the Himalayas, close to Darjeeling. They are confronted with an unfamiliar culture and have to deal with the feeling of extreme isolation. This isolation leads to major challenges and tests for the nuns. One nun succumbs to the sexual sensuality she feels for a local British man, which then leads to a severe nervous breakdown.
The highlight of the film from an acting standpoint, at least for me, was seeing Indian actor Sabu in a role where he is older than what I’m familiar with. Growing up, I was a fan of his childhood films Jungle Book, Elephant Boy, Arabian Nights and The Thief of Bagdad. All old school classics that my grandma always had in rotation on her television when I was young.
Black Narcissus is a film that fans of art direction and cinematography have to at least see once in their lives. I’m sure it is something I will revisit again, just because the visuals are one of my favorite things about motion pictures. The matte paintings alone are incredible. It is amazing what top craftsman could accomplish, more than half a century before CGI became the norm.
Pairs well with: Other films where the cinematography is handled by Jack Cardiff, most notably The Red Shoes and Stairway to Heaven.