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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

"Black Narcissus" (1947)

If you never thought you'd read the words "the sexiest nun movie ever made", then think again. This sui generis work of art has none of the expected nun movie trappings. No noble statements about self-sacrifice to Catholicism or religion. No heartwarming plot involving children, animals, or some wayward soul who needs salvation. No singing. No alps. And NO FLYING. This is a study of human frailty, specifically one's sexual yearnings and desires, despite a vow of fealty to God that can come into question. And it's got more passion than most bodice-ripping romance novels could hope for. Deborah Kerr is a young nun given the task of starting a new missionary high in the remote Himalayas. It's a maharajah's old palace that used to be a love nest for his harem. Along with four other sisters she has to contend with the local native culture but her pesky feelings for a strapping agent (David Farrar), an emissary to the local Indian General, are the real suspense here. Faith or Desire? What wins in the eternal struggle of the heart? Kerr is superb, practically giving a performance with just her eyes alone. Farrar is a walking sex bomb, he exudes testosterone making you wonder why this magnetic performance didn't garner him other notable roles. But the movie is stolen by Kerr's nemesis, Kathleen Byron as Sister Ruth. Her creepy portrayal of a fellow nun vying for the attentions of Farrar is feral, hauntingly intense, and unforgettable. When these two face off in the film's famous showdown it's electric. Cinematographer Jack Cardiff won the Oscar for his efforts here, it was a no-brainer. He studied the Great Masters like Vermeer and Caravaggio to create the painterly scenes and compositions. It's a stunning looking picure, unlike anything ever filmed. And the jaw-dropping trivia is that the production went nowhere near India, the whole thing was created with backdrops, matte paintings and technical wizardry in the studios of England! Credit to the celebrated British filmmaking team of director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger for one of the undisputed classics of the 2Oth Century film canon. Don't miss this one.

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