Fox Home Entertainment presents
Carmen Jones (1954)
"She's what the fellas back home call a 'hot bundle,' I guess."- Cindy Lou (Olga James)
Stars: Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Joe Adams
Other Stars: Pearl Bailey, Olga James, Diahann Carroll
Director: Otto Preminger
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild sexual themes)
Run Time: 01h:44m:37s
Release Date: 2002-01-22
DVD ReviewWhat do you get when you take Bizet's famous opera, Carmen, and transpose it into Oscar Hammerstein II's concept of African-American life with a new book and new lyrics? You get Carmen Jones, an interesting cultural artifact that was made into a movie in 1954. Dorothy Dandridge stars as the sensuous Carmen, a love-'em-and-leave-'em girl who seduces Joe (Harry Belafonte) away from his betrothed, sweet little Cindy Lou (Olga James). After meeting Carmen, Joe ends up in a military stockade, then punches out a superior officer and goes AWOL, running off to Chicago with Carmen, who takes up with the entourage of champion boxer Husky Miller (Joe Adams). Passions boil over, with tragic consequences.
Some of the choices made in this adaptation are inspired—the famous Toreador number works well as a boxer's anthem of bravado, and Dandridge captures the archetypal bad-girl appeal of Carmen with verve and fire unseen in more staid productions—but the conventions of opera and the American musical butt heads on several occasions. Hammerstein without Rodgers seems unsure of how best to use music—the movie is fairly dialogue-heavy, utilizing "highlights" from Carmen as opposed to the entire score, and the selections he does use sometimes seem awkward. Poor Pearl Bailey is saddled with the nearly-unsingable Beat Out That Rhythm on a Drum, and Harry Belafonte is stuck with a love aria that brings the action to a screeching halt as he takes a break from the chain gang to rhapsodize about his lost love. Hammerstein's efforts to capture African-American dialect have also dated poorly—both Dandridge and Belafonte seem far too educated for the "straight in de eye" lyrics foisted upon them here.
Otto Preminger brings the stage production to the big screen with respect for its origins—long continuous takes and "stagey" dialogue maintain the feel of a Broadway show, while exterior location shooting opens the story up a bit. The style prefigures West Side Story in some ways, but the milieu here isn't realized with much conviction—it's a fantasy of African-American life, filled with honest soldiers, juke joints, boxers, and wealthy promoters, bound together by uncontrollable passions but precious little reality. The characters are driven by plot more than by internal struggles or feelings, and there's a subtle scent of segregation in this 1954 production—the cast is uniformly African-American, up to and including the numerous extras in the Chicago street scenes. The tone isn't extreme to the point of being offensive, but one has to take a 1950s' racial perspective into account, and it's hard to take several "intense" moments seriously.
Still, Carmen Jones is an interesting relic of its time, and a worthwhile curiosity for opera and musical fans. Dorothy Dandridge is phenomenal in the title role, and she's supported by a classy cast of Broadway veterans and talented performers (though a few challenging segments are dubbed by operatically-trained singers). See it for its attempt to "modernize" a classic opera—make some popcorn, and enjoy the good parts.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
|Aspect Ratio||2.55:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Fox presents Carmen Jones in its original 2.55:1 CinemaScope widescreen theatrical aspect ratio, with a solid anamorphic transfer drawn from a reasonably clean source print. There are quite a few small damage flecks and speckles, the early anamorphic camera lens gives the extreme edges a pinched look, and a few shots are handicapped by lighting instabilities and shallow depth-of-field. But the "Color by De Luxe" is rich and vibrant, details are clear and stable, and the 1954 production looks just great on DVD. A fine transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Carmen Jones on DVD features a Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track, as well as an unusually-formatted Dolby Digital 3.1 soundtrack that provides a broad front soundstage and an LFE channel. Neither track contains any surround information; the 3.1 track is considerably crisper than the 2.0 version, with much better separation of dialogue and music. The film's CinemaScope heritage is apparent in the sound mix—the voices of characters who approach the boundaries of the screen are shifted into the extreme left and right edges of the soundstage, which can be distracting (the Dolby 2.0 mix is more straightforward in this regard). Frequency range is competent, though the film's crisp highs aren't matched by the relatively inactive subwoofer channel; minor hiss is present throughout, and the noise level often changes from scene to scene. But the film sounds better than one might expect given its 1954 vintage, and I can't complain about the DVD transfer.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 30 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Marilyn Diamond Collection, Oklahoma!, The Rose, Sound of Music, South Pacific
Layers Switch: 01h:03m:27s
- Original One-Sheet
Extras Grade: D+
Final CommentsCarmen Jones is an interesting take on Bizet's Carmen, though it hasn't dated especially well. Fox's DVD features a solid transfer and several entertaining musical trailers. Fans of the American musical and classic opera will want to check this one out.
Dale Dobson 2002-01-14