Rumer Godden (novel)
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (written by)
Cast (in credits order)
Deborah Kerr .... Sister Clodagh
Flora Robson .... Sister Philippa
Jean Simmons .... Kanchi
David Farrar .... Mr. Dean
Sabu .... The Young General
Esmond Knight .... The Old General
Kathleen Byron .... Sister Ruth
Jenny Laird .... Sister Honey
Judith Furse .... Sister Briony
May Hallatt .... Angu Ayah
Shaun Noble .... Con, Clodagh's Childhood Sweetheart
Eddie Whaley Jr. .... Joseph Anthony, Young Interpreter
Nancy Roberts .... Mother Dorothea
Ley On .... Phuba, Dean's Servant
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Joan Cozier .... Girl in classroom (uncredited)
Helen de Broy .... Clodagh's mother in flashback (uncredited)
Maxwell Foster .... Clodagh's father in flashback (uncredited)
Margaret Scudamore .... Clodagh's grandmother in flashback (uncredited)
George R. Busby .... assistant producer
Michael Powell .... producer
Emeric Pressburger .... producer
Original Music by
Film Editing by
Production Design by
Costume Design by
George Blackler .... makeup artist (uncredited)
Biddy Chrystal .... hair stylist (uncredited)
Ernest Gasser .... assistant makeup artist (uncredited)
June Robinson .... assistant hair stylist (uncredited)
Second Unit Director or Assistant Director
Sydney Streeter .... assistant director (as Sydney S. Streeter)
Laurie Knight .... third assistant director (uncredited)
Robert Lynn .... third assistant director (uncredited)
Pat MacDonnell .... second assistant director (uncredited)
Kenneth K. Rick .... second assistant director (uncredited)
Arthur Lawson .... assistant art director
Harold Batchelor .... chief construction manager (uncredited)
Allan Harris .... draughtsman (uncredited)
William Kellner .... draughtsman (uncredited)
Don Picton .... draughtsman (uncredited)
Elliot Scott .... draughtsman (uncredited)
Stanley Lambourne .... sound
Gordon K. McCallum .... dubbing
John Dennis .... chief production mixer (uncredited)
Ted Drake .... music recordist (uncredited)
George Paternoster .... boom operator (uncredited)
John Seabourne Jr. .... dubbing editor (uncredited)
Special Effects by
Ivor Beddoes .... special photographic effects (uncredited)
W. Percy Day .... special effects (uncredited)
Douglas Hague .... special effects (uncredited)
Jack Higgins .... special effects (uncredited)
Sydney Pearson .... special effects (uncredited)
Visual Effects by
Arthur George Day .... matte painter (uncredited)
Thomas Sydney Day .... matte painter (uncredited)
W. Percy Day .... matte painter (uncredited)
Peter Ellenshaw .... assistant matte artist (uncredited)
Joan Bridge .... associate color control
W. Percy Day .... process shots
Brian Easdale .... conductor: The London Symphony Orchestra
Natalie Kalmus .... color control
J. Arthur Rank .... presenter
Noreen Ackland .... second assistant editor (uncredited)
Dick Allport .... assistant camera: Technicolor (uncredited)
Joanna Busby .... assistant continuity (uncredited)
George Cannon .... still photographer: color (uncredited)
Christopher Challis .... camera operator (uncredited)
Ian Craig .... focus puller (uncredited)
Ronald Cross .... focus puller (uncredited)
Fred Daniels .... still photographer: portraits (uncredited)
Lee Doig .... second assistant editor (uncredited)
Winifred Dyer .... continuity (uncredited)
Dorothy Edwards .... wardrobe mistress (uncredited)
Elizabeth Hennings .... wardrobe supervisor (uncredited)
Vivienne Knight .... publicist (uncredited)
Michael Livesey .... clapper loader (uncredited)
Seymour Logie .... first assistant editor (uncredited)
Bill Paton .... assistant: Mr. Powell (uncredited)
Bob Rayner .... wardrobe master (uncredited)
Max Rosher .... still photographer (uncredited)
Stanley W. Sayer .... camera operator (uncredited)
Edward Scaife .... camera operator (uncredited)
Bill Wall .... lighting electrician (uncredited)
Awards for Black Narcissus (1947)
Academy Awards, USA
1948 Won Oscar Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color
Best Cinematography, Color
Golden Globes, USA
1948 Won Golden Globe Best Cinematography
New York Film Critics Circle Awards
1947 Won NYFCC Award Best Actress Deborah Kerr
1947 Nom NYFCC Award Best Actress Kathleen Byron
AMG Info for Black Narcissus (1947)
UK (1947)- 101 min. - Feature, Color
British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger once again deliberately courted controversy and censorship with their 1947 adaptation of Rumer Godden's novel. Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron play the head nuns at an Anglican hospital/school high in the Himalayas. The nuns' well-ordered existence is disturbed by the presence of a handsome British government agent (David Farrar), whose attractiveness gives certain sisters the wrong ideas. Meanwhile, an Indian girl (Jean Simmons) is lured down the road to perdition by a sensuous general (Sabu). While Kerr would seem most susceptible to fall from grace --we are given hints of her earlier love life in a long flashback--she proves to have more stamina than Byron, who delivers one of moviedom's classic interpretations of all-stops-out, sex-starved insanity. The aforementioned flashback was removed from the US release version of Black Narcissus so as not to offend the Catholic Legion of Decency. While the dramatic content of the film hasn't stood the test of time all that well, the individual performances, production values, and especially the Oscar-winning Technicolor photography of Jack Cardiff are still as impressive as ever.
The casual perception of the British film industry is that it's a mere shadow of its American counterpart, especially where dramas and adventure films are concerned. That was doubly true during World War II, when even the best directors in England were hampered by low production values. The writer-producer-director team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger -- known corporately as "The Archers" -- did their best to change that perception, and nowhere did they challenge it more forcefully than with Black Narcissus. The 1947 film, based on a novel by Rumer Godden, was so startlingly beautiful, intense yet quietly dramatic and fiercely sexual, that it managed to get censored at the behest of the Catholic Legion of Decency and, yet, even in that censored form, earned a brace of Academy Awards. The film was startlingly unusual for 1947: its plot centers around a group of Anglican nuns who, due to their own psychological and sexual shortcomings, fail to found a convent at the foot of the Himalayas. Over the decades, Black Narcissus has managed to hold its audience and find new admirers -- in the 1980s, 13 minutes that had been censored from the American version finally came to light in a new print of the film.
Amazon.com Review for Black Narcissus (1947)
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."
CineBooks' Motion Picture Guide Review for Black Narcissus (1947)
UK (1947): Drama
99 min, No rating, Color
CineBooks' Motion Picture Guide Review: 4.0 stars out of 5
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger were two of the more interesting filmmakers to come out of England (STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN, 1946; THE RED SHOES, 1948; TALES OF HOFFMAN, 1951) and their choice of material was always eclectic.
BLACK NARCISSUS, a radical departure from the filmmaking duo's ever-changing norm, concerns a group of Anglican nuns in the Himalayas who seek to maintain a school and hospital. Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) are the head nuns and Mr. Dean (David Farrar) is their local bugaboo, a cynical British agent assigned to the area. Dilip Rai (Sabu) is a rich general who uses the dangerous Black Narcissus perfume to woo young Kanchi (Jean Simmons), a nubile native girl.
In a melodramatic twist, Ruth exchanges her habit for a dress and makes a pass at Mr. Dean, who couldn't care less. Suspecting that Mr. Dean has eyes for Clodagh, a jealous Ruth attempts to kill Clodagh by pushing her from the bell tower; however, she only succeeds in killing herself. Realizing that they will never make any headway in this strange place, the sisters return to Calcutta.
Wonderfully photographed, BLACK NARCISSUS took an Oscar for Best Color Cinematography (Cardiff) and Best Color Set Decoration (Junge). Although Byron did a smashing job in this movie, her career wavered afterwards and she never achieved the success one would have thought she merited after her superb performance.
Leonard Maltin Review for Black Narcissus (1947)
UK (1947): Drama
99 min, No rating, Color
Leonard Maltin Review: 4.0 stars out of 4
Visually sumptuous, dramatically charged movie, from Rumer Godden novel, about nuns trying to establish a mission in a remote Himalayan outpost amid formidable physical and emotional challenges. One of the most breathtaking color films ever made (winning Oscars for cinematographer Jack Cardiff and art director Alfred Junge). Scenes in which Sister Superior Kerr recalls her former life, a key plot element, were originally censored from American prints.
Memorable Quotes from Black Narcissus (1947)
Sister Clodagh: We all need discipline. You said yourself they're like children. Without discipline we should all behave like children.
Mr. Dean: Oh. Don't you like children, Sister?
The Old General: Do you see that crate? Sausages! They will eat sausages. Europeans eat sausages wherever they go.
Mother Dorothea: Give her responsibility, Sister. She badly wants importance.
Sister Clodagh: Do you think it's a good thing to let her feel important?
Mother Dorothea: Spare her some of your own importance... if you can.
Sister Clodagh: Well. I really don't know what to do.
Mr. Dean: What would Christ have done?
Young Prince: 5am to 7am, algebra with the mathematical Sister. 8am to 10am, religion, especially Christianity with the scriptural Sister. 10am, art. 1pm to 3pm, French and Russian with the French and Russian Sisters, if any. 3pm to 4pm, physics with the physical Sister.
Mother Dorothea: Remember, the superior of all is the servant of all.
Trivia for Black Narcissus (1947)
The much admired Himalayan scenery was all created in the studio (with glass shots and hanging miniatures).
Jack Cardiff came up with the idea of starting the rainfall end scene by first having a few drops hit the rhubarb leaves before cueing a full-force rainstorm. He personally created the first drops with water from a cup when the scene was shot. Michael Powell was so pleased with the effect that he decided to make the scene, originally the penultimate one, the closing shot. Cardiff, however, was a great fan of the original scene (which had already been shot) that was supposed to follow this one and close the film. To this day Cardiff amusingly calls the opening drops of the rainfall "the worst idea I ever had."
The backdrops were blown up black and white photographs. The art department then gave them their breathtaking colors by using pastel chalks on top of them.
Because of the Technicolor camera and film stock, the sets needed an astounding 800 foot-candles of light just to operate at T2.8, which was the widest lens aperture setting.
Black Narcissus - Criterion Collection
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
Region: Region 1
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
DVD Release Date: January 30, 2001
Run Time: 101 minutes
Available Subtitles: English
Available Audio Tracks: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
Breathtaking new digital transfer, created with the participation of cinematographer Jack Cardiff
Audio commentary by late director Michael Powell and Martin Scorcese
Painting with Light, a new video documentary on Jack Cardiff and Black Narcissus by Craig McCall, produced exclusively for this release
A collection of rare behind-the-scenes production stills