This explosive work about the conflict between the spirit and the flesh is the epitome of the sensuous style of filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (I Know Where I’m Going!, The Red Shoes). A group of nuns—played by some of Britain’s best actresses, including Deborah Kerr (From Here to Eternity, An Affair to Remember), Flora Robson (The Rise of Catherine the Great, Wuthering Heights), and Jean Simmons (Great Expectations, Hamlet)—struggles to establish a convent in the snowcapped Himalayas; isolation, extreme weather, altitude, and culture clashes all conspire to drive the well-intentioned missionaries mad. A darkly grand film that won Oscars for its set design and for its cinematography by Jack Cardiff (The Red Shoes, The African Queen), Black Narcissus is one of the greatest achievements by two of cinema’s true visionaries.
The Criterion Collection takes its second go at the Powell-Pressburger classic Black Narcissus
, first issued by the company as title no. 93 in 2001. This 2010 disc retains some extras from the first issue, including a commentary track with Michael Powell and Martin Scorsese, and a 25-minute documentary called "Painting with Light," focusing on the work of cinematographer Jack Cardiff. The new extras, some incorporated from recent international DVD releases, include a warm 9-minute introduction by filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier (accompanied by various production stills); an 18-minute featurette called "The Audacious Adventurer," again with Tavernier as guide through the film; and "Profile of Black Narcissus
," a 25-minute behind-the-scenes piece that includes comments from Cardiff, actress Kathleen Byron, and critic Ian Christie. All of these are affectionate and useful, if somewhat repetitive taken together. The most important reason for the Criterion reissue is improved technical quality for the film itself, as the previous release was deemed problematic compared to other international versions. Those improvements having been made, this version can only be called a wow. --Robert Horton