Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Black Narcissus (1947)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Black Narcissus (1947, UK)

In Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's dazzling, Technicolored cinematic masterpiece and religious-psychological drama:

  • the breath-taking imagery and Technicolor cinematography of the Himalayan palace (once a bordello) with a bell toweron the edge of a precipice (although the film was mostly shot on a British sound stage), where five Anglican-British nuns lived in the remote setting
  • the provocative and censor-defying dance through the palace by beautiful, alluring, orphaned, lower-caste local Indian maiden Kanchi (18 year-old Jean Simmons in her second major film role); later, she closed her eyes and sensuously smelled the perfumed essence (of black narcissus) of the Himalayan general's nephew Dilip Rai (Sabu), known as "the Young General"
  • the central character - devout, chaste and pious Sister Superior Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), who was repressing a failed romance she had left at home in Ireland, although reminded and tormented by it - and reliving her sexual frustrations through a series of sense-stimulated memories that jolted her memory - she admitted that she was being seduced by her environment: "I had forgotten everything until I came here": [Note: the offending four flashback segments were edited out of the film's original release, at the behest of the Catholic Legion of Decency]
    - during prayers, a view of a brilliant blue sky through an open window triggered, through a dissolve, a memory of waves on a sparkling lake during a romantic idyll with suitor Con (Shaun Noble) while fishing
    - a dog barking brought back another sight of fox-hunting hounds leading a group of horse-riders, including Sister Clodagh and Con on horseback
    - a mention of the words: "grandmother's footstool" brought back a memory of her own grandmother's emerald necklace in a case on a footstool, which was promised to her by her granny (Margaret Scudamore) for her expected marriage: "These emeralds are for you, my darling, when you marry"
    - the singing of Christmas hymns (i.e., "Noel") during services invoked a thought of Christmas-caroling, arm-in-arm with her suitor Con on a wintry night back in Ireland
Sister Clodagh's Flashbacks to Her Former Life in Ireland
Sparkling Blue Lake
Grandmother's Emerald Necklace
Singing of Christmas Hymns
  • the scenes with the mentally-insane character of a sexually-conflicted and starved Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) who turned mad with lust for British government intermediary-agent Mr. Dean (David Farrar)
  • Sister Ruth's climactic nervous breakdown and confrontational scene with Sister Clodagh - when she wore a forbidden red dress after renouncing her nunhood; Sister Clodagh begged: ("I know that you've left the order. I only want to stop you from doing something that you'll be sorry for"); as a symbolic statement of her break from the nunnery, Sister Ruth sensuously applied bright red lipstick in Sister Clodagh's presence
Insane Sister Ruth's Assault of Sister Clodagh
Reaction to Sister Ruth's
  • the cathartic ending scene in which intended victim Sister Clodagh was saved from death as she grabbed hold of the belltower rope after being pushed toward the precipice by jealous and vengeful Sister Ruth, who lost her balance and fell during the lethal struggle

The Himalayan Bell Tower

(Jean Simmons)

Sister Superior Clodagh
(Deborah Kerr)

Sex-Starved and Insane Sister Ruth
(Kathleen Byron)

Sister Ruth's Confrontation with Sister Clodagh

Sister Ruth Applying Bright, Sensuous Red Lipstick


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