Carmen Jones works in the parachute factory of an army camp. She is the object of all the men’s desire, but only has eyes for Joe, the one man who doesn’t give her a second glance. Joe is engaged to Cindy Lou and about to go into pilot training. Carmen’s temper and desires get her into trouble and quickly get Joe into trouble as well. Our heroine also has a horrible foreboding of the future. Joe and Carmen are like magnets and run away together, making utter chaos only to find tragedy in the end. I think my very favorite scene is when Carmen beckons Joe to blow on her freshly painted toe nails, and he does. There is a reason the girl is nicknamed heat wave….
Dorothy Dandridge almost lost the role of Carmen, director Otto Preminger didn’t find her seductive enough at their first meeting. The irony being during production they started a four year affair. Harry Belafonte, had already popularized Calypso music and landed the lead in only his second film role. Diahann Carrol auditioned for the role of Carmen as well before being cast as one of Carmen’s cohort’s, Myrt. Pearl Bailey is an absolute star as Frankie, Carmen’s best friend and partner in crime. My eyes are on Pearl whenever she is on screen. LOVE!
Of course there is the wardrobe that makes me want to wear wiggle dresses, pencil skirts and off the shoulder tops. In fact this movie kind of makes me want to run wild and live free. Carmen was the first major motion picture studio release starring an all Black cast in contemporary life with fabulous costumes, shot in Cinemascope and DeLuxe Color.
Although Black movie productions had existed from the beginning of the 20th century, established white directors also dabbled in all Black productions prior to Carmen, like Vincente Minneli’s Cabin in the Sky and would continue after like Arnold Laven’s Anna Lucasta. Carmen Jones was a mainstream breakthrough and received a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture in 1954. Preminger took home a Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin International film Festival. And you may remember that Dorothy Dandridge became the first Black woman to be nominated for Best Actress by the Academy Awards in 1954. What is there not to love about Carmen Jones? The girl just didn’t want to be cooped up.