Carmen Jones (1954)

Carmen Jones (1954)

“I’ve gotta be free, or I don’t stay at all.”

An alluring factory worker (Dorothy Dandridge) seduces a flight school candidate (Harry Belafonte) away from his sweet fiancee (Olga James), and soon he follows Carmen (Dandridge) to Chicago, where she’s being wooed by a prizefighter (Joe Adams).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • African-Americans
  • Dorothy Dandridge Films
  • Femmes Fatales
  • Harry Belafonte Films
  • Love Triangle
  • Musicals
  • Otto Preminger Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Star-Crossed Lovers

Twentieth Century Fox’s second CinemaScope offering after The Robe (1953) was this all-Black musical produced and directed by Otto Preminger, based on Oscar Hammerstein II’s stage musical of the same name, which was itself based on Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera Carmen. Dandridge had to convince Preminger that she was sultry enough to play the seductive Carmen, and she succeeded, with some truly sizzling scenes emerging on-screen:

Unfortunately, I found it hard to have much sympathy for Carmen, whose very first song has her gloating openly:

If you’re hard to get
I go for you.
And if I do,
Then you are through, boy —
my baby, that’s the end of you.

She does everything she can to lure Belafonte away from poor James, who’s done nothing wrong and is simply waiting to marry the man she loves.

If one can get past this initial insult, however, it’s easy enough to get caught up in the travails of star-crossed Dandridge and Belafonte — and along the way, we’re treated to some rousing songs, including “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum” by Pearl Bailey as Frankie, an acquaintance who wants to take Carmen with her to Chicago:

… and “Whizzin’ Away Along de Track”:

… among others. Carmen Jones remains worthy viewing both for Dandridge’s Oscar-nominated performance (her too-short life and career were truly tragic), and for the film’s historical relevance.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Dorothy Dandridge as Carmen
  • Beautiful gowns by Mary Ann Nyberg
  • A fine musical score

Must See?
Yes, for its historical significance and Dandridge’s performance. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book. Selected in 1992 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.


  • Historically Relevant
  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)


One thought on “Carmen Jones (1954)

  1. First viewing (7/17/20). A once-must. Though not a personal fave, it’s a significant work in cinema history. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “What’s the matter? You still don’t trust me, huh? Or don’t you trust yourself?”

    ‘Carmen Jones’ (1954): L’amour fou – in song! That’s Entertainment! Strange that I hadn’t seen this before now. But this is why I always warn people about opera… and operatic things. Characters get hurt! BAD! I guess that’s the main part of the attraction (though not for me).

    That said, this is a surprisingly compelling film musical. I don’t know whether or not the Broadway score was truncated but – unlike many other film musicals – it doesn’t *feel* truncated; there’s quite a bit of music / musical numbers so the film feels faithful to the source: the Bizet / Hammerstein Broadway smash.

    It’s quite nicely filmed by DP Sam Leavitt – who would go on to work with director Otto Preminger several more times. Singing was dubbed for most of the main cast (Marilyn Horne sang for Carmen) but that seems to work smoothly enough. Oscar-nommed Dorothy Dandridge (who went on to a sad future, following her 4-year ‘thing’ with Preminger: see Wikipedia) is electric as Carmen; Harry Belafonte goes from being stalwartly adorable with first girlfriend Olga James to miserably boxed-in by passion for Dandridge; as Dandridge’s sort-of-BFF, Pearl Bailey is simply delightful (I could not stop watching every little move she makes). Preminger’s direction is no-fuss, solid and efficient.

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