Reviewed bymctheimerVote: 9/10/10
This film shows just how much talent existed and was mostly unused becauseof the small number of pictures made with African-American casts during theGolden Age of Hollywood.
It's a remake of Bizet's "Carmen", and was originally performed on Broadwayin the 1940's. Otto Preminger filmed the play during the 1950's. Thesongsall retain Bizet's original music, but the lyrics have been updated toEnglish. If you've never seen the opera, and are intimidated by opera ingeneral, this film would actually be a good introduction to thetopic.
The plot is moved from a Spanish village during the late 1800's to theAmerican South during WWII. The cigarette factory is now a parachutefactory, and the bullfighter is now a prize fighter. Generally, I thoughtthe update was done well, just as some Shakespearean updates work well.Theonly part which doesn't work for me is that some of the dialogue and lyricsare in what I think of as "Porgy and Bess Ebonics", e.g. "dees", "dem","dat", etc.
Carmen is played by Dorothy Dandridge, who is known as the African-AmericanMarilyn Monroe. The two women's lives sadly parallel each other, althoughDandridge could find even fewer scripts to show off her acting talents.Harry Belafonte plays the seduced male lead. Both are stunning beautiful,and at their prime.
All of the singing voices are dubbed by first rank operatic voices; thesongs for Carmen Jones are dubbed by Marilyn Horne, forexample.
The tragedy is realizing how many great actors and actresses could have hadbrilliant careers except for their skin color. It was interesting and sadto watch the Movietone Newsreel coverage of the premiere, which cameattached to the copy of the tape I had. It features all of the white moviestars attending the premiere, the white studio heads -- and just happens tohave a second or two of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge at theend.
Reviewed bybkoganbingVote: 8/10/10
Even after the success of Oklahoma, the partnership ofRodgers&Hammerstein was not cast in stone yet. After Oklahoma debuted,Oscar Hammerstein, II went to work on his next Broadway show with adead collaborator. He wrote new lyrics for the music of Georges Bizet'sopera Carmen and wrote a new book for an all black cast to perform it,in the tradition of Porgy and Bess.
That show was Carmen Jones and it ran for 502 performances on Broadwayfrom 1943 to 1945. Hammerstein discovered what the team of RobertWright and Chet Forrest had previously found out in adapting EdvardGrieg's melodies into their hit, Strange Music. That there's nothinglike writing with a collaborator who can't complain and who's melodiesare already a hit.
In fact while the show was originally on Broadway, Rise Stevens hadsung in Going My Way the song that eventually became Dat's Love. AndNelson Eddy and sung The Toreador Song in his film Balalaika.Hammerstein brilliantly capitalized on some free publicity for his ownshow.
Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge give great acting performancesthough it's kind of strange to hear other voices coming from the mouthsof two good singers. Their voices weren't operatic though, yet thesingers dubbing them matched well with the personalities of both theleads. And Dandridge had Marilyn Horne, you can't do much better thanthat.
The whole thing originates from the French novelist's Prosper Merimee'sstory of the ill effects of passionate love. Harry Belefonte's on hisway to being a Tuskegee airman and he runs afoul of Carmen Jones.Belefonte's got himself a gal, but Dandridge puts on her Delilahroutine and Belefonte's dead meat.
In addition to Samson and Delilah the Belefonte character is remarkablysimilar to George Hurstwood in Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie.Another man who threw it all away for passion. I wouldn't be surprisedif Dreiser refined Merimee's theme.
But Dandridge's performance is the best. As the hedonistic CarmenJones, she's a wonder on screen. Seeing her realize that part on thescreen, we can well understand why Belefonte threw it all away forlove. Dandridge became the first black woman nominated in the BestActress category, but she lost the Oscar sweepstakes to Grace Kelly forThe Country Girl.
For those who like the opera Carmen, I think they'll be well pleasedwith Oscar Hammerstein, II did with Bizet's music and Merimee's story.
Reviewed byEdward ReidVote: 8/10/10
Some greatness here. Dandridge's performance is riveting, and PearlBailey is a wonderful addition. Bizet's music is as appealing asalways. The singers are excellent. The dancers at Billy Pastor's areanother high point.
Too many slips for me to rate it a 10. It's lip-synced -- like everyother movie musical, and (despite what one other reviewer said), one ofthe best lip-sync jobs I've seen. Only My Fair Lady does better (ofthose I've seen). Dandridge, Belafonte, and Bailey are particularlygood; Olga James much less so. But I always find lip-syncing painfullyobvious and distracting and will probably never have a chance totop-rate a movie musical as a result. It's also quite distracting whenJoe breaks into song, because LeVern Hutcherson's voice is so differentfrom Harry Belafonte's. It's a real shame that experienced singers likeDandridge and Belafonte weren't allowed to sing. Marilyn Horne, wow --but I like the voice to match the face.
The acting is uneven. Some is excellent, led by Dandridge, and othersdo well too. But some of the acting is stiff.
Then there's the re-setting. Oh, moving the place is fine. It's funnythat a couple of reviewers have referred to "how the Spaniards do it"and "Spanish opera". Hey, Carmen is set in Seville and Bizet attemptedto use some Spanish musical idioms, but Carmen is a French operathrough and through. Bizet was French, Prosper Merimee was French, thelibretto is in French. But Carmen Jones only uses the top arias fromCarmen, and ends up adding a lot of dialog to fill in the time. Thestory is true to the original, but Bizet told more in music andHammerstein tells more in words. Oscar should have trusted Georgesmore.
I notice that Alvin Ailey is uncredited as a dancer. I found a coupleof photos of him on the web -- it's hard, because his dance company hasbeen so much more famous than the man, but I found a couple. I *think*I figured out which one he is -- some slo-mo work there -- but most ofthe dancers' faces don't come into focus for long enough to know forsure. It would be mostly a curiosity to know, since the movie doesn'tshow enough of the dance to see any personal style.
At an all-black army camp, civilian parachute maker and "hot bundle" Carmen Jones is desired by many of the men. Naturally, she wants Joe, who's engaged to sweet Cindy Lou and about to go into pilot training for the Korean War. Going after him, she succeeds only in getting him into the stockade. While she awaits his release, trouble approaches for both of them. Songs from the Bizet opera with modernized lyrics.