Wednesday, February 27, 2013

281. Carmen Jones (1954)

Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Otto Preminger
Written By: Harry Kleiner, from the novel Carmen by Prosper Merimee
Main Cast: Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Olga James, Joe Adams
Click here to view the trailer


I had to halt the "Ozu Hat Trick" festivities, in order to check out "Carmen Jones", a movie that is currently streaming via Netflix, but that is scheduled to stop streaming as of March 1. Not wanting to have to add it to my "At Home" queue, I decided to just go ahead and knock it out.

For the unaware, "Carmen Jones" is a musical and opens with Cindy Lou (James) arriving at an Army base in North Carolina to visit her man Joe (Belafonte).  On the army base, is also a parachute factory, where the free-spirited Carmen Jones works. Carmen is an independent woman and if she lived in this day and age, she'd probably be called a "diva". Carmen could have any man she wants and when she spots Joe, eating lunch with Cindy Lou, she decides she wants him. Joe wants no part of Carmen Jones, however, as he's committed to Cindy Lou. When Carmen, oozing with sass, picks a fight with one of her co-workers, Joe is selected to drive her to a nearby town, where she'll be brought up on charges and jailed. When she tries to get away from him, Joe chases her down, even jumping a moving train and finally tackling her & tying her up and when his Army Jeep breaks down, Carmen invites him to her neighborhood, which they happen to be near. At Carmen's house, Joe finally gives into temptation and allows himself to be seduced by the beautiful Carmen. The next morning, however, she's gone, citing that she just can't allow herself to be cooped up. Joe is put in the stockade for allowing his prisoner to escape and when he's released he finds Carmen working at Billy Pastor's, a Louisiana nightclub. After Joe knocks out a superior officer in Louisiana, the two hop a train to Chicago, courtesy of Husky Miller, heavyweight boxer and another would-be suitor for the vivacious Carmen, where they plan to hide out while Joe's trouble blows over. Can Carmen bring herself to be "cooped up" with Joe and can she resist the lavish lifestyle that a life on the arm of Husky Miller would allow her?

Fun Fact: I had no idea this was a musical until the opening credits started to roll and I spotted the name Hammerstein, put two and two together and came to a realization. It's hard to believe that the same man who directed Jimmy Stewart in "Anatomy of a Murder" and Robert Mitchum in "Angel Face", was also the same man who directed Dorothy Dandridge in "Carmen Jones". Honestly, I wasn't gaga about this film or anything, but a lot of little things added to the amazing abilities of Dorothy Dandridge gets it at least a mild recommendation. Let me just say that Dandridge OWNED the screen! Without her, this movie would have totally failed with me and let me just say that I thought she was brilliant. She was nominated for an Academy Award at the 1955 ceremony and while I haven't seen any of the other nominees from that year, I have a hard time believing that anyone had as much of a powerful screen presence as Ms. Dandridge. And hey, don't let me gloss over the talents of Mr. Belafonte either - he was a fine casting choice and held his own very well standing beside the great actress. THE BOOK poses the question as to why Dandridge and Belafonte's voices were dubbed and I second it. I really didn't know whether or not Dorothy Dandrige was a singer (apparently she was), but as I watched, I knew that Harry Belafonte WAS and wondered why he was being so obviously dubbed.

Now, again, despite the performance of Dandridge, I'd only really be able to give this one a mild recommendation. The story is good, but my main problem is with the music, which, more often that not, hinders the progression of the film, instead of helping it along, as it should be doing. Aside from Pearl Bailey's rendition of "Gypsy Song" and Dandridge's initial rendition of "Habanera", the rest of the songs I REALLY could've done without. Also, like I mentioned above, the voices are so obviously dubbed that it's more distracting than enjoyable. Give this one a shot, but being a fan of musicals is going to help you (not entirely though, as I'm a mild fan of musicals and the musical aspect here was lost on me) and don't go in expecting a run of the mill Preminger vehicle. Instead, go in expecting a dynamite performance from Dorothy Dandridge and a decent story with a good ending.

RATING: 6.5/10  Good, but just misses out on the '7', a number that would mean that it crosses the threshold from good to great.


February 27, 2013  1:47am

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