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 film featured breath-taking imagery and Technicolor cinematography of a Himalayan palace (once a bordello) with a bell tower on the edge of a precipice (the film was mostly shot on a British sound stage), where five Anglican-British nuns lived in the remote setting
  • the beautiful, alluring, orphaned, lower-caste local Indian maiden Kanchi (18 year-old Jean Simmons in her second major film role) performed a provocative and censor-defying dance through the palace; 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 was devout, chaste and pious Sister Superior Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), who was repressing a failed romance she had left at home in Ireland, although she was continually 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":
Most of Sister Clodagh's Flashbacks to Her Former Life in Ireland

Sparkling Blue Lake

Grandmother's Emerald Necklace

Singing of Christmas Hymns
  • four 'offensive' flashback segments - edited out of the film's original release at the behest of the Catholic Legion of Decency, included the following:
    • 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
  • one of Sister Clodagh's sisters was 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 experienced a 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
  • the film's climactic scene commenced with Sister Clodagh at 6:00 am exiting the building and walking along the edge of the cliffside precipice and chasm to the belltower, to reach for the rope and ring the morning bell; Sister Clodagh stepped up onto the bell platform, and dizzingly looked down as she pulled on the rope and the bell clanged
  • Ruth emerged from a doorway - with fiery evil and reddish eyes - her red dress was now transformed into a black shroud. She stealthily approached the bell-tower in the cathartic ending scene; she came up from behind her intended, unaware, and unprotected victim. A desperate struggle ensued as the jealous and vengeful Ruth rushed forward and pushed Sister Clodagh toward the chasm; Clodagh was saved from death by grabbing ahold of the belltower rope, but she still dangled precariously over the edge - she tried to regain her footing on the platform to save herself, while her hands grasped the bell rope above her. Ruth frantically attempted to peel her fingers away from the rope
  • when Sister Clodagh was able to right herself, Ruth lost her balance and plunged backward to her death, as Clodagh watched with horror as screams followed Ruth's body into the depths
The Crazed Appearance of Insane Sister Ruth Before Lethally Assaulting Sister Clodagh

The Himalayan Bell Tower

Kanchi (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

Reaction to Sister Ruth's Death-Fall


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