HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Carmen Jones
HTS Overall Score:69
For those of you who don’t know, “Carmen Jones” is actually a film production of Georges Bizet’s “Carmen” one of his only crowning achievements. Hammerstein decided to twist it all around and remake “Carmen” as an all (and I mean ALL) African American cast and set it during World War II. Georges Bizet didn’t have a lot of success, and lived a fairly tragic life, but before he died did one great bombshell in the form of “Carmen”. Riveting and visceral it stands as a great in modern operas. Strangely enough, “Carmen Jones” fits in as an operatic musical. Much of the opera signing is dubbed over for the actors (and some of the dialogue too) since an actor who can look good AND sing classical Opera are few and far between.
Coming out in 1954, “Carmen Jones” was a testament to the fight for segregation and its existence is almost a reverse testament to that situation, with its all African American cast. Dorothy Dandridge, ironically enough, was the first woman to break into the best Actress category in a NON segregated manner (meaning she was nominated for best actress in general, not best “black” actress etc. which was quite common back then). With its flashy colors and glitzy apparel, “Carmen Jones” imitates the original play quite well, albeit some of the language is rather dated and relevant to the times and sociopolitical situations of the day.
Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge) is a vivacious flirt, working in a parachute making factory for the war effort in World War II. Not one to be tied down she has an insatiable desire to be a siren, wooing men and then watching them crash upon the breakers of love. If she can’t have him, then it only makes her crave the attention more. She now has her sights set on Joe (Harry Belafonte), a good ole country boy who’s getting ready to be married to his childhood sweetheart before he’s shipped off to flight training school. After getting in a fight with another worker, Carmen is to be shipped off to civilian jail and Joe has to escort her. Along the way Carmen gets her hooks into Joe with some rather shaky consequences. For now Carmen has actually fallen for the man.
Joe and Carmen run away together after another fighting incident leaving Joe a hunted man by the Military Police. Holing up in Chicago the two are as twitterpeeted as they can be. However, for a girl like Carmen, the restless urge is not far behind. Becoming bored and feeling tied down she starts gallivanting around the town leaving Joe a very jealous and unstable fellow. Joe, as simple as may seem has a dark side and that dark side starts to surface when he realizes he’s losing Carmen. The rest of the story is a game of cat and mouse where Carmen teases Joe, and Joe constantly pursuing Carmen, who stays juuuuuuuuuuust out of reach with her socialite friends. This all leads to a tragic ending, ala the play where Joe snaps and pulls a “if I can’t have her then NOBODY will” scenario.
The plot is very simple and the glitz and glamour apparent, but this iteration of Carmen felt a little too hollow. Bizet’s work has always been more about flash and glamour rather than substance, but for some reason the tragedy that he wants to portray doesn’t come across as viscerally as it could have. Joe is very sweet and simple, with an apparent dark side, but it’s really Dorothy Dandridge’s portrayal of Carmen Jones that steals the show. Here facial movements, her acting and even her facial tics all just reek of the Femme Fatale that she is. You almost start to feel sorry for her during as the film progresses when you realize that she’s digging her own grave. What she has sown, she now will reap with a lifetime of cruelty and teasing now comes crashing down on her head. At the same time you watch Joe, a kind young man, turned inside out with jealous rage and watch him ruin an amazing chance at life, for blind, unrequited infatuation. Even through all the clunky drama the sheer visceral acting of the two leads causes the screen to sizzle when they’re at it tooth and nail.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14019[/img]“Carmen Jones” 2.55:1 AVC encode is definitely quite serviceable. Shot in full cinemascope it looks like it has fared very well over the years with minimal print damage and only the occasional splotch or scratch on the film. There’s some detail lost due to focusing issues prevalent in cinemascope films, you’ll notice that the upfront items stay in focus while the background starts to lose focus, especially during panning shots, however there is a beautiful layer of natural film grain covering the entire picture giving a it a nice authentic look, free of digital manipulation, which is really all we can ask for with these older films. Black levels are excellent and really don’t have any major problems, besides the rare scene where I noticed some black crush. Colors stay very earthy and give the film a brown and orange tinge to it. Contrast is excellent and really the only complaints I can give is relative to the filming style, mainly the focus problem. Other than that it looks like a very solid presentation.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=14020[/img]“Carmen Jones” 4.0 DTS-HD MA track is boisterous and full thanks to the copious musical numbers. Being an operatic musical the 4 main channels get the most use with the score flowing in from all directions. The surrounds are mainly utilized during the musical scenes, but they do occasionally pour out ambient noises, such as the sound of Joe’s military jeep rumbling over the road, or the cries from the boxing ring, echoing all around. Now without a center channel all of the dialogue comes from the mains. Many people can use a phantom center, but as good as that can be I can still notice little nuances, such as the dialogue shifting to one side of the mains every once in a while as the actor turns etc, and it isn’t as firmly locked to the center as I’d have liked it to be. Still it’s a very solid presentation with some minimal LFE being interjected into the musical numbers. For what it is, it’s very well done. A musical score with a musical setup in the audio track.
• Theatrical Trailer
I’m a huge fan of musicals, so it comes as a shock to me when I don’t actually LIKE one. “Carmen Jones” is a tragedy by opera, and a shaky musical on film, and the two just didn't seem to mesh well with me after a couple viewings. Hammerstein’s fingers are heavily in the pie as you can tell, but that still doesn't save the film from running into the roadblocks of only being 1 hour 45 minutes long and giving up much of the meat that makes the opera “Carmen” so strong. I’d give it a check out status for genre fans, or a Netflix rental, but not much else. Sadly I can’t give it a rousing recommendation as with the last few classic films I've reviewed.
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey
Directed by: Otto Preminger
Written by: Harry Kleiner
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 4.0, Spanish DD Mono
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Runtime: 105 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: Dec 3rd, 2013
Buy Carmen Jones Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Rent It
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