Blallywood Film Review: Carmen Jones, Revisiting a Classic

by on March 2, 2013


This second installment of “Revisiting a Classic,” is a true blast from past.  The Golden Age of Hollywood gave us a rich and enduring legacy of classic films.  Historically relevant and timeless, these films are the foundation on which modern cinema is built.  Though black actors were scarce, they too left an indelible mark on some of the classics.  Few were as magnetic and significant as Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge.

Based roughly on the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet, Carmen Jones is the story of a beautiful civilian parachute maker working for the US Army.  Carmen (Dandridge) is bold, abrupt, sexy, and forward.  She sets her sights on Joe, an engaged and budding pilot, who quickly falls victim to her seductive ways after being tasked with transporting her to another military base after she’s caught fighting another civilian worker.  Carmen and Joe (Belafonte) fall in love but Carmen refuses to be tied down and leaves Joe to be with her friends in Chicago.  Joe tracks her down and in a fit of rage strangles her to death in cinematic fashion after realizing she’s a “no good tramp.”                      

Movies like these are valuable to the cinematic cannon for many reasons.  Considering period, for a major studio to develop and focus energy on an entirely black ensemble was a leap forward for black actors.  It also provided Dorothy Dandridge with an Oscar nomination, the first for an African-American actress.  The film, while stunningly done, still holds true to the nostalgic stereotype of the Southern Negro, particularly the scene in which they visit Carmen’s hometown.  The story is thin and, in a way, portrays the players as hopelessly devoted to their sexual desires.  The dubbed sung sections of the movie, though convincingly lip-synched by the actors, are a little awkward.  The emotional tone of the songs and singers often feel out of dialect and mood for the preceding scene.

However, the chemistry between Dandridge and Belafonte is undeniable. They sizzle on screen and their performances are just as relevant, immediate, and sexy as they were then.  That is as classic as it gets.  It’s currently streaming on Netflix until March 1st. A.



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