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CARMEN JONES(director: Otto Preminger; screenwriters: from the novel by Prosper Merimee/Harry Kleiner; cinematographer: Sam Leavitt; editor: Louis Loeffler; music: Georges Bizet; cast: Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones), Harry Belafonte (Joe), Olga James (Cindy Lou), Pearl Bailey (Frankie), Joe Adams (Husky Miller), Nick Stewart (Dink Franklin), Roy Glenn (Rum Daniels), Diahann Carroll (Myrt); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Otto Preminger; Twentieth Century-Fox;1954)
“Electric performance by Dorothy Dandridge as the sultry whorish Carmen Jones.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Tantalizing re-upholstered Hollywood updating of Bizet’s 1875 opera of “Carmen,” with an all-black cast. Director Otto Preminger (“Porgy and Bess”/”The Moon is Blue”/”River of No Return”) turns in his usual heavy-handed approach to the project, that’s an adaptation of the 1943 Broadway triumph but is saddled with the risible lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and a bunch of unsympathetic stereotyped and two-dimensional characters. But the energetic cast gives it its all to save it from the doldrums and for the most part succeeds, especially through the electric performance by Dorothy Dandridge as the sultry whorish Carmen Jones who ruins the life of a promising soldier. Though both costars Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge were pretty good singers, their opera voices were dubbed in by opera singers LeVern Hutcherson and Marilyn Horne.

It’s based on the novel by Prosper Merimee and is written by Harry Kleiner.

It features only African-Americans on an Army base in the segregated deep South during World War II, where Carmen Jones is a sexy parachute factory worker on the base and Joe (Harry Belafonte) is a stalwart and honored corporal about to be the only one in his group to go to flying school. He’s also set to marry his visiting country bumpkin nice girl sweetheart Cindy Lou (Olga James) on his 24-hour pass. But when Carmen causes a factory brawl among her fellow girl workers, Sgt. Brown (Brock Peters) orders Joe, his rival for the affections of Carmen, to take her to the civil authorities in town. Carmen lures Joe into a night of romance in her old neighborhood and in the morning she skips out. This lands Joe some stockade time for negligence of duty. Carmen sends Joe a rose, and he now forgets his love for Cindy Lou and waits only for the day he can meet the vamp again. She’s found doing a singing gig in a Louisiana night spot. One night braggart champion boxer Husky Miller (Joe Adams) and his entourage arrive, and he falls for the “heatwave.” But she rebuffs him. Husky bullies his manager Rum to persuade Carmen to accompany him to Chicago, but instead the manager falls for the other roadhouse singer and fortune teller Frankie (Pearl Bailey) and Husky settles for the singer Myrt (Diahann Carroll). The two roadhouse workers go with the boxer to the Windy City and live off his gravy train. When Sgt. Brown makes a play for Carmen after running into her accidentally, Joe gets into brawl with him and fatally pummels him. To avoid arrest by the military Joe goes AWOL with Carmen to Chicago, where she soon hooks up with Husky and dumps pretty boy when he becomes a penniless bore. That leads to a crazed and jealous Joe realizing he’s in love with a slut but is so crazed he can’t get her off his mind, which results in doom for the star-crossed lovers.

This bouncy musical, living off its fancy nature, has a few Otto moments that sparkle (though I think another director could have served this whimsical material better) and it gets an A for effort. It’s noted for Dandridge becoming the first African-American woman to earn an Academy Award Best Actress nomination.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”