This film shows just how much talent existed and was mostly unused because of the small number of pictures made with African-American casts during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
It's a remake of Bizet's "Carmen", and was originally performed on Broadway in the 1940's. Otto Preminger filmed the play during the 1950's. The songs all retain Bizet's original music, but the lyrics have been updated to English. If you've never seen the opera, and are intimidated by opera in general, this film would actually be a good introduction to the topic.
The plot is moved from a Spanish village during the late 1800's to the American South during WWII. The cigarette factory is now a parachute factory, and the bullfighter is now a prize fighter. Generally, I thought the update was done well, just as some Shakespearean updates work well. The only part which doesn't work for me is that some of the dialogue and lyrics are in what I think of as "Porgy and Bess Ebonics", e.g. "dees", "dem", "dat", etc.
Carmen is played by Dorothy Dandridge, who is known as the African-American Marilyn Monroe. The two women's lives sadly parallel each other, although Dandridge could find even fewer scripts to show off her acting talents. Harry Belafonte plays the seduced male lead. Both are stunning beautiful, and at their prime.
All of the singing voices are dubbed by first rank operatic voices; the songs for Carmen Jones are dubbed by Marilyn Horne, for example.
The tragedy is realizing how many great actors and actresses could have had brilliant careers except for their skin color. It was interesting and sad to watch the Movietone Newsreel coverage of the premiere, which came attached to the copy of the tape I had. It features all of the white movie stars attending the premiere, the white studio heads -- and just happens to have a second or two of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge at the end.
At an all-black army camp, civilian parachute maker and "hot bundle" Carmen Jones is desired by many of the men. Naturally, she wants Joe, who's engaged to sweet Cindy Lou and about to go into pilot training for the Korean War. Going after him, she succeeds only in getting him into the stockade. While she awaits his release, trouble approaches for both of them. Songs from the Bizet opera with modernized lyrics.
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