Black Narcissus (1947)

Director: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Starring: Deborah Kerr

Awards: Academy Award for Cinematography and Art Direction

I got in a little trouble recommending this film to my sister, whose tastes gravitate toward romantic comedies of the Reese Witherspoon variety. This is definitely not one of those films. This is a film with some substance and a very unique style, and a very strange story to boot. Aside from the Flying Nun and Sister Act, there aren’t a lot of nun movies out there, and this is the only one I can think of that is good…ok, ok Sister Act II is pretty wonderful…if you like truly awful movies (stay tuned for the Baby Geniuses 2 review!!!).

Moving on, the film follows a group of nuns who start a floundering hospital and school in the remote hills of the Himalayas and start converting the heathens and teaching the unwashed masses. The lead nun pines for an old boyfriend and in turn starts a unrequited emotional fling with some local jackass who rides around the mountains shirtless wearing a straw hat on a, well, a jackass. The tension among the women is palatable and at the film’s climax, one of the nuns goes batshit crazy and tries to kill everybody. How many times have you hear that plot? Correct, exactly none times.

The story is heavily eclipsed by the cinematography and art direction though, and it won prestigious awards for it. To say this movie is visually spectacular is to not give it the justice it deserves. The entire film was shot on a sound stage at Pinewood Studios in 1947. That shot above was made in 1947! There are these amazing wide-angle “helicopter” dolly shots following the nuns as they walk about the cloister that still stand up today as location shots. The film is just incredible and a testamont to Jack Cardiff’s genius as a DP.

Other Notable Films by this Director: The 49th Parallel (1943), The Red Shoes (1949)