In 1943, Oscar Hammerstein Jr. took Georges Bizet’s opera Carmen, rewrote the lyrics, changed the characters from 19th century Spaniards to World War II-era African-Americans, switched the locale to a Southern military base, and the result was Carmen Jones. Dorothy Dandridge stars as Carmen Jones, tempestuous employee of a parachute factory. Harry Belafonte plays Joe (originally José), a young military officer engaged to marry virginal Cindy Lou (Olga James). When Carmen gets into a fight with another girl, she is placed under arrest and put in Joe’s charge. Succumbing to her attractiveness, Joe accompanies Carmen to her old neighborhood, where, after killing a sergeant sent to retrieve him, he deserts the army. Carmen tries to be faithful, but fortune-telling Frankie (Pearl Bailey) warns her that she and her soldier are doomed. Enter Joe Adams in the role of boxer Husky Miller (a play on Carmen’s bullfighter Escamillo), who sweeps Carmen off her feet, ultimately with tragic consequences. Alhough both Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte were singers, their opera voices were dubbed in by LeVern Hutcherson and Marilyn Horne.
Preminger’s heavy-handed adaptation of a Broadway triumph combines gorgeous music with risible lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; the project is saved by a terrific cast. ~TV Guide
Frankie: Somethin’ tells me Chicago’s gonna be real good for you.
Myrt:Somethin’ tells me you gonna be real bad for Chicago.
Dorothy Dandridge became the very first black woman to receive Best Actress Oscar nomination for Otto Preimger’s audacious (for the early 1950s) all-black musical of the famous opera. ~E.Levy
Worth seeing for Danridge’s sultry, sweet performance. ~B. Accomado
Carmen Jones: ‘Scuse my dust, gentlemen. The air’s gettin’ mighty unconditioned ’round here.