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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Carmen Jones (1954)

During WWII, an independent flirt (Dorothy Dandridge) who lives by her own set of rules works in a parachute factory in the South. She seduces an Army Sergeant (Harry Belafonte) even though he's engaged to another woman (Olga James). But one man can never hold her for long and her need for freedom will be her undoing. This musical re-imagining of the Bizet opera CARMEN (via the 1943 Broadway musical) uses Bizet's famous score but Oscar Hammerstein (THE SOUND OF MUSIC) provides updated lyrics. It should be godawful but it's surprisingly entertaining. In the title role, Dorothy Dandridge, who was the first black actress to receive an Oscar nomination for her performance here, is terrific in the title role. Hands on hips, prowling around like a cat in heat, eyeing Belafonte as if he were a dish on a menu, she's a fiery force of nature. Otto Preminger's direction doesn't bring much verve to the proceedings but he's smart enough to know what he has in Dandridge and lets her take center stage. Though they were both singers, Dandridge and Belafonte were dubbed by operatic voices (Marilyn Horne, LeVern Hutcherson). Fortunately, Pearl Bailey as Dandridge's slinky mink and diamond minded friend is allowed to sing in her own inimitable voice. Also in the cast: Diahann Carroll (a singer but also dubbed), Joe Adams, Brock Peters and Roy Glenn.

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