CARMEN JONES (1954) C widescreen 105m dir: Otto Preminger

w/Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Olga James, Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Roy E. Glenn Sr., Nick Stewart, Joe Adams, Brock Peters, Sandy Lewis, Maurie Lynn, DeForest Covan, Rubin Wilson, Carmen De Lavallade & Archie Savage

From Variety's contemporary review of the film: "As a wartime [1943] legit offering Carmen Jones --- the modernized, all-Negro version of [Georges Bizet's] opera Carmen --- was a long-run hit both on Broadway and on the road. Otto Preminger has transferred it to the screen with taste and imagination in an opulent production.

"The screenplay closely follows the lines of the stage libretto by Oscar Hammerstein II in which Carmen is a pleasure-loving southern gal who works in a Dixie parachute factory where Joe (Jose) is a member of the army regiment on guard duty. She lures him away from Cindy Lou (Micaela) and he deserts with her. ...

"Preminger directs with a deft touch, blending the comedy and tragedy easily and building his scenes to some suspenseful heights. He gets fine performances from the cast toppers, notably Dorothy Dandridge, a sultry Carmen whose performance maintains the right hedonistic note throughout."

From Have You Seen ...? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films by David Thomson: "Carmen Jones appeared on Broadway in 1943, prompted by Oscar Hammerstein's urge to give the Bizet score modern lyrics. It was the classic opera set in a cigarette factory in the American South, done with an all-black cast. It wasn't quite Porgy and Bess, but it was a big hit, and eventually Otto Preminger managed to bring it to the screen at Twentieth Century Fox.

"Harry Kleiner did a good screenplay for the musical, and it was always Preminger's intention to make it a dramatic film with songs. His Carmen was Dorothy Dandridge, a fascinating if tragic Hollywood story, and Preminger's mistress. The soldier, Joe, would be Harry Belafonte.

"The production went to the South, and Sam Leavitt did a great job photographing the open spaces and Edward Ilou's sets in CinemaScope. A young Herbert Ross worked on the dance numbers, and they involve a dynamic moving camera treatment from Preminger in which the energy of the players pushed against the limits of their world. Of course, the actors could not do the singing themselves, so Dandridge is dubbed by Marilyn Horne, Belafonte by LeVern Hutcherson, Diahann Carroll by Bernice Peterson, and Joe Adams by Marvin Hayes. But the dubbing is done so well that there is not the usual feeling of dislocation in the performances. The cast also includes Olga James, Brock Peters, and Pearl Bailey, who does sing 'Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum,' to tremendous effect.

"Dandridge delivers Carmen sultry and insolent --- she is still one of the best Carmens offered on film (in all forms of song, dance, or overacting). She was Oscar-nominated as Best Actress, the first time a black performer had been so rewarded for a lead role. That she lost to Grace Kelly in The Country Girl (maybe Kelly's worst performance) only adds to the chagrin --- she could at least have lost to Judy Garland in A Star is Born. Dandridge was dead by 1965 (aged forty-two).

"Five years later, Preminger took on Porgy and Bess, another great score. He was given more means, and he had Dandridge again and Sidney Poitier in the leads, with Sammy Davis, Jr., as Sportin' Life. It is a far inferior film, moving slowly and somehow managing a much faker view of black life. But there the matter stands. Apart from The Wiz (misguided in every way), we have not really had a black musical since, and it certainly doesn't even have to be all black --- no matter that in our culture black music has been so dominant in the years since.

"Carmen Jones still has creative excitement attached to it, and the feeling that a breakthrough was being accomplished. Moreover, it is set in a real South, whereas Porgy and Bess was in a picture-postcard landscape that the Gershwins had chosen to idealize. What a treat it would be if somehow we could muster the ambition to do the life of Louis Armstrong, say, as a largely black enterprise. Blacks in the South are among the great untold movie stories to this day."

CARMEN JONES was nominated for two Oscars: Best Actress (Dandridge) and Score (Herschel Burke Gilbert).