CARMEN JONES (1954)
Directed by Otto Preminger
I’ve always wanted to see this film so I’m glad the big screen opportunity came my way. I had never seen a Dorothy Dandridge film before and I am just absolutely amazed! She radiates heat, sexuality, energy and passion in every frame of the film. She owns it 100%. I was bowled over. I did have a few problems overall with the film however. The first problem is the the singing. Harry Belafonte (the male lead-“Joe”) and Dorothy Dandridge were known to have incredible singing voices, but instead their singing was dubbed by white opera singers. It makes no sense whatsoever. When they open their mouths to sing the voices that come out don’t fit at all! Besides that, the dubbed voices just drain the soul right out of the music. I’m really curious as to who was behind this decision. I may look up some information on the production history so I can find out why this was done. It is really distracting. The other problem have with the film is that some of the musical numbers just don’t fit. Instead of enhancing the action, they halt it right in it’s tracks. There are some musical numbers involving the supporting actors and anytime Dorothy wasn’t on screen—I found myself missing her and wishing she was there. I was also shocked at how sexy the film was for 1954. The scene where Carmen takes off Joe’s belt and puts it back on was teaming with lust and longing—which is something you really didn’t see in films at that time. There was also a pretty steamy scene where Carmen is in a tiny silk robe and Joe blows her toe nails dry. I can’t recall seeing any sort of cinematic lust that blatant since the days of pre-code in the early 1930s. I was also a bit surprised at the scene where Carmen is in her bra and panties getting dressed. Again that was not a common site. I mean this was the era where Luci & Desi had separate beds on TV even though they were married! CARMEN was brazen, predatory, self destructive and throughly unapologetic. I always find these types of characters to be much more fun to watch than the “good girl” types.
Otto Preminger’s direction here is steady and masterful. He doesn’t use a lot of close ups. He mainly shoots in medium shots and doesn’t rely on lots of editing. This approach really works because it gives you the feeling like you are a fly on the wall…and that’s a VERY interesting wall to be on! The actors are all uniformly great and Preminger seems to always have a knack for drawing the best out of them. The print looked a little faded in a few places and the focus was soft in a few places as well. I can’t help but notice this stuff.
It makes me sad to think that this was one of the few great roles Dorothy Dandridge would ever have. She was so talented and so magnetic. There should have been many more.