Feb 21, 2010
Carmen Jones

That’s Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte in Carmen Jones. As you might imagine from the picture Otto Preminger had a bit of trouble with the Hollywood censors, the Breen office, in getting Carmen Jones a seal of approval. This was made in the early part of 1954 and released in October of that year.

The musical is derived from Bizet’s opera, and as such follows the plot of the original while moving the events from Spain to the American South, and changing the era to the 1940s.

Dandridge oozes sex, unlike modern actresses who simply ooze. Her Carmen Jones is almost pure libido, while Belafonte’s Joe is strangely passive. He rarely acts, he reacts. It is Carmen who sets her eyes on Joe, and seduces him. When he acts, as when he strikes the sergeant, he does so after being provoked by her. The act that brings the film to its tragic conclusion is provoked by Carmen’s unfaithfulness.

Carmen’s amorality and seductiveness puts her in a line that starts with Eve, who seduces Adam into transgressing, and ends with the latest poor slob who killed a guy over a dame.

The cast, aside from Dandridge and Belafonte, includes Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll (Myrt), and Olga James (Cindy Lou). Dandridge and Belafonte, who were both accomplished singers, were dubbed by Marilyn Horne and LeVern Hutcherson, who were operatic voices. Diahann Carroll’s voice was also dubbed. Pearl Bailey sang her big number.

Musically and dramatically the film is powerful and moving. If you’ve got a sweetie who says she doesn’t like opera, this may be the way to seduce her into the joys of that genre.