Carmen Jones

dir. Otto Preminger

TIFF Cinematheque - Hollywood Classics

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Dorothy Dandridge became the first African American to ever be nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award for her blazingly hot performance in Otto Preminger's electrifying widescreen musical.
Electrifying. "Fiery and petulant, with whiplash hips in a hot pink skirt" was how Pauline Kael described the majorly dangerous Dorothy Dandridge in this all-black, Southern-set version of Bizet's Carmen, a blast of joyous invention that has to be seen on the big screen, especially in this recent restoration. Dandridge (who became the first person of colour to be nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award) bursts from the CinemaScope screen as Carmen Jones, the incendiary femme fatale of Oscar Hammerstein's musical comedy-tragedy, which cleverly transforms Don José into a G.I. called Joe (Harry Belafonte), Carmen into a worker at a parachute (not cigarette) factory, and Escamillo, the toreador, into Husky Miller (Joe Adams), a prizefighter. The Bizet arias are mostly maintained, reset to contemporary idioms. (Though both stars were singers, they were dubbed for the musical numbers, Dandridge by the wonderful Marilyn Horne.) Images of fire and electricity light up almost every review of the film and its star, including one by Hedda Hopper in which she confessed to burning a hole in the front of her dress: "Yes, the film is that hot." "Energy is the essence of this picture; the audience is not merely stimulated; it is all but electrocuted" (Time Magazine).