Carman Jones (1954) is an American musical film produced and directed by Otto Preminger.
The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy.
Carmen Jones also earned two Academy Award nominations. Dorothy Dandridge was nominated for Best Actress (the first African American to be nominated for Best Actress) and a second nomination for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture for Herschel Burke Gilbert.
The movie is based on the screenplay by Harry Kleiner is based on the 1943 stage production of the same name by Oscar Hammerstein II, which was inspired by an adaptation of the 1845 Prosper Mérimée novella Carmen by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.
Otto Preminger realized no major studio would be interested in financing an operatic film with an all African American cast, so he decided to produce it independently Because he himself was sensitive to the issue of racial representation in the film, Preminger had no objections when Zanuck urged him to submit the script to Walter Francis White, executive secretary of the NAACP, who had no objection to it.
In adapting it for the screen, he wanted to make "a dramatic film with music rather than a conventional film musical," so he decided to return to the original source material - the Prosper Mérimée novella - and hired Harry Kleiner, whom he had taught at Yale University, to expand the story beyond the limitations imposed upon it by the Bizet opera and Hammerstein's interpretation of it.
Otto Preminger next began to assemble his cast.
Harry Belafonte (Joe), was a folk singer who recently introduced Calypso music to mainstream America and only had one film to his credit. But he had just won the Tony Award and Theatre World Award for John Murray Anderson's Almanac.
Pearl Bailey's (Frankie) sole screen credit was the 1948 film Isn't It Romantic?, but she had achieved success as a band singer and was familiar to television audiences from her appearances on Your Show of Shows.
Joe Adams (Husky Miller), was a Los Angeles disc jockey with no acting experience, but Preminger felt he had the right look for Husky.
Diahann Carroll auditioned for the title role of Carmen, but she was so terrified of the director she could barely focus on the scene, and Preminger cast her in the small supporting role of Myrt instead.
Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen) was not Otto Preminger's first choice. He was familiar with Dorothy Dandridge but felt she was incapable of exuding the sultry sex appeal the role of Carmen demanded. Preminger suggested she audition for the role of Cindy Lou. Dandridge took the script and left, and when she returned she was dressed and behaved exactly as Preminger envisioned Carmen. She won the role.
Recent Juilliard graduate Olga James was cast as Cindy Lou.
Although Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte were singers, neither was capable of singing the operatic score, so Marilyn Horne and LeVern Hutcherson were hired to record their operatic vocals. Marvin Hayes was hired to provide the vocals for the role of Husky Miller.
The movie is set during World War II, and focuses on Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge), a vixen who works in a parachute factory. When she is arrested for fighting with a co-worker who reported her for arriving late for work, foreman Sgt. Brown (Brock Peters) assigns young soldier Joe (Harry Belafonte) to deliver her to the authorities, much to the dismay of Joe's fiancée Cindy Lou (Olga James), who had agreed to marry him during his leave.
While en route, Carmen seduces Joe and the next morning he awakens to find a note in which she says although she loves him she is unable to deal with time in jail and is running away. Joe is locked in the stockade for allowing his prisoner to escape, and Cindy Lou arrives just as a rose from Carmen is delivered to him, prompting her to leave abruptly.
Having found work in a Louisiana nightclub, Carmen awaits Joe's release. One night champion prizefighter Husky Miller (Joe Adams) enters with an entourage and introduces himself to Carmen, who expresses no interest in him. Husky orders his manager to offer her jewelry, furs, and an expensive hotel suite if she and her friends Frankie (Pearl Bailey) and Myrt (Diahann Carroll) accompany him to Chicago, but she declines the offer.
Just then, Joe arrives and announces he must report to flying school immediately. Angered, Carmen decides to leave with Sgt. Brown, who also has appeared at the night club, and Joe severely beats him. Realizing he will sentenced to a long prison term for hitting his superior, Joe flees to Chicago with Carmen.
While Joe remains hidden in a shabby rented room, Carmen secretly visits Husky's gym to ask Frankie for a loan, but she insists she has no money of her own. Carmen returns to their room with a bag of groceries, and Joe questions how she paid for them. The two argue, and she goes to Husky's hotel suite to play cards with her friends. When she draws the nine of spades, she interprets it as a premonition of impending doom and descends into a spiral of alcohol and debauchery.
Cindy Lou arrives at Husky's gym in search of Carmen just before Joe appears. Ignoring his former sweetheart, he orders Carmen to leave with him and threatens Husky with a knife when he tries to intervene. Carmen helps Joe escape the military police.
At Husky's big fight, Joe finds Carmen and confronts her and says he loves her and can't live without her. When she rebuffs him, Joe strangles Carmen to death just before the police arrive to apprehend him for desertion.
This is a wonderful films with an incredible cast. The songs are delightful and Dorothy Dandridge is one of a kind as Carmen.