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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. Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
Even after the success of Oklahoma, the partnership of Rodgers&Hammerstein was not cast in stone yet. After Oklahoma debuted, Oscar Hammerstein, II went to work on his next Broadway show with a dead collaborator. He wrote new lyrics for the music of Georges Bizet's opera Carmen and wrote a new book for an all black cast to perform it, in the tradition of Porgy and Bess.
That show was Carmen Jones and it ran for 502 performances on Broadway from 1943 to 1945. Hammerstein discovered what the team of Robert Wright and Chet Forrest had previously found out in adapting Edvard Grieg's melodies into their hit, Strange Music. That there's nothing like writing with a collaborator who can't complain and who's melodies are already a hit.
In fact while the show was originally on Broadway, Rise Stevens had sung in Going My Way the song that eventually became Dat's Love. And Nelson Eddy and sung The Toreador Song in his film Balalaika. Hammerstein brilliantly capitalized on some free publicity for his own show.
Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge give great acting performances though it's kind of strange to hear other voices coming from the mouths of two good singers. Their voices weren't operatic though, yet the singers dubbing them matched well with the personalities of both the leads. And Dandridge had Marilyn Horne, you can't do much better than that.
The whole thing originates from the French novelist's Prosper Merimee's story of the ill effects of passionate love. Harry Belefonte's on his way to being a Tuskegee airman and he runs afoul of Carmen Jones. Belefonte's got himself a gal, but Dandridge puts on her Delilah routine and Belefonte's dead meat.
In addition to Samson and Delilah the Belefonte character is remarkably similar to George Hurstwood in Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie. Another man who threw it all away for passion. I wouldn't be surprised if Dreiser refined Merimee's theme.
But Dandridge's performance is the best. As the hedonistic Carmen Jones, she's a wonder on screen. Seeing her realize that part on the screen, we can well understand why Belefonte threw it all away for love. Dandridge became the first black woman nominated in the Best Actress category, but she lost the Oscar sweepstakes to Grace Kelly for The Country Girl.
For those who like the opera Carmen, I think they'll be well pleased with Oscar Hammerstein, II did with Bizet's music and Merimee's story.
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