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A group of Anglo-Catholic nuns on an isolated missionary assignment in the Himalayas face an assortment of worldly challenges, including sexual temptations, extreme weather, and other intriguing ups and downs. Adapted from the novel by Rumer Godden.
For more about Black Narcissus and the Black Narcissus Blu-ray release, see Black Narcissus Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 17, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger
Writers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, Rumer Godden
Starring: Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Esmond Knight, Flora Robson
» See full cast & crew
Black Narcissus Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 17, 2008
Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's "Black Narcissus" (1947) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors ITV. The supplemental features on the disc include a documentary on the making of Black Narcissus and trailer. In English, with optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-Free.
Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell's Black Narcissus (1947) tells the story of a group of nuns who settle on the top of a picturesque mountain somewhere in Northern India, looking to establish a vital Christian community. Led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr, From Here to Eternity), the nuns quickly set up a small school where the locals can learn Christian values. Almost immediately, however, they are faced with a series of awkward events that test their faith and devotion.
Black Narcissus offers an unusual mix of melodrama, erotica and satire in which personalities clash, egos are tested, and desires suppressed. There is also a bit of old-fashioned romance in the film, but it is hardly as enticing as some prominent critics have insisted have insisted during the years.
Similar to Jean Renoir's The River (1951), Black Narcissus is based on a novel by Rumer Godden. Unlike The River, however, upon its release Black Narcissus was given a lot more publicity, as it was Powell and Pressburger's first film in which sound and image were treated equally (after the score was completed, the film was actually shot to playback) - an experiment that proved rather successful, and gave the two directors the confidence to shoot The Red Shoes (1948).
Black Narcissus is an incredibly misleading film. It looks pretty and feels casual, but it is deadly serious in its condemnation of British pan-imperialism. At first, the arrival of the nuns high in the Himalayas with nothing else but noble intentions to spread the words of God is depicted as an admirable act, but after their faith and devotion are tested, and weaknesses exposed, everything becomes a giant farce.
Kerr, who had previously appeared in Powell and Pressburger's Contraband (1940) and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), shines in Black Narcissus, especially when she appears overwhelmed and then tormented by powerful memories of love and forbidden pleasures. Jenny Laird (The Girl of the Canal), Flora Robson (Saratoga Trunk), Jean Simmons (The Happy Ending) and Kathleen Byron (The Gambler and the Lady) are also fantastic, granting their characters terrific substance and depth.
It is David Farrar's (Cage of Gold) character, Mr. Dean, however, that transforms Black Narcissus into a very special experience. He causes great disturbance amongst the nuns, which eventually forces some of them to question their faith – and us to realize the deleterious effects of British pan-imperialism.
Shot in glorious Technicolor, Black Narcissus looks fantastic. With the assistance of production designer Alfred Junge and costume designer Hein Heckroth, legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff managed to recreate the timeless beauty of the Himalayas at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire. In 1948, Cardiff and Junge were awarded Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Black Narcissus also benefits from a very good music soundtrack courtesy of composer Brian Easdale, who was also awarded an Oscar Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture , a year later, for his contribution to Powell and Pressburger's beloved The Red Shoes.
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with VC-1 and granted a 1080p transfer, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors ITV.
This is a strong high-definition transfer. Generally speaking, fine object detail is pleasing, clarity good and contrast levels mostly stable. The color-scheme does not disappoint either; there are minor color pulsations that pop up here and there, but most, if not all, appear to be inherited. Damage - large scratches, cuts and stains - is not a serious issue of concern. All in all, this is a competent presentation of an important classic film. (Note: This is a Region-Free Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you will be able to access its content regardless of your geographical location. For the record, there is no problematic PAL or 1080/50i content preceding the disc's main menu).
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English Dolby Digital Mono. For the record, ITV have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The English Dolby Digital Mono track is pleasing, though far from impressive. Generally speaking, the dialog is clean, stable and easy to follow. Mild background hiss is present throughout the film, but it is not disturbing. For the record, while viewing the film I did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or dropouts to report in this review.
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Note: Some of the supplemental features on this Blu-ray disc are encoded in PAL. Therefore, if you reside in North America, or another region where PAL is not supported, you must have a Region-Free player capable of converting PAL to NTSC, or a TV set capable of receiving native PAL data, in order to view them.
Profile of "Black Narcissus" - a documentary on the making of Black Narcissus, produced in London in 2000, featuring interviews with members of the production team, including actress Kathleen Byron and cinematographer Jack Cardiff. In English, not subtitled. (PAL, 26 min).
Trailer - the original theatrical trailer for the film. In English, not subtitled. (3 min, 1080p).
Black Narcissus Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
British distributors ITV deliver a competent release of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus, which also happens to be Region-Free. The lack of serious supplemental features, however, is somewhat disappointing. RECOMMENDED.
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