Carmen Jones

Carmen Jones


The original Carmen, which premiered in 1875, was set in Spain and tells the story of a gypsy woman who works in a cigarette factory. She falls for a soldier, but eventually transfers her affections to a bullfighter with tragic results. In 1943, Oscar Hammerstein II adapted the opera as a Broadway musical. Setting it in the contemporary southern states of the USA, with an all-black cast, it ran for over five hundred performances. For his 1954 film version of the show, Otto Preminger gives it a wartime setting, with the heroine Carmen a worker in a parachute factory and her lover Joe, a soldier; the toreador is changed into a professional boxer.

The all-black cast is led by Dorothy Dandridge, whose vibrant performance resulted in the first Oscar nomination for a black actress. She stars in the title role as the passionate sexy creature who lures handsome GI Joe (Harry Belafonte) away from his sweetheart Cindy Lou (Olga James). Following a brawl with his sergeant, Joe deserts his regiment with the sultry femme fatale. Carmen soon tires of him and takes up with a heavyweight prize-fighter (Joe Adams), triggering Joe's tragic revenge. Helping to set the screen on fire are Pearl Bailey, who sings the dynamic 'Beat Out That Rhythm on a Drum', and Diahann Carroll. Other popular songs include 'You Talk Just Like My Ma' and 'That's Love'.

Though not the first Hollywood film to feature an all-black cast, Preminger is rigorous in his casting; even in the street scenes in Chicago the only faces visible seem to be black. It was a risky and daring move in the Fifties, but by this stage in his career Preminger had become an independent producer, and welcomed the opportunity to make unusual or controversial films. He also makes striking use of both colour and the Cinemascope process, introduced by Twentieth Century Fox the previous year.

Technical Specs

Director: Otto Preminger
Year: 1954
Country: USA
Language: English
Duration: 105 min
Colour: Colour
Certificate: U