Carmen (1915) Poster

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The Divine Farrar
rudy-4629 March 2001
This early screen version of the famous French tragic grand opera is worth viewing, if nothing else, for the grand performance and exquisite beauty of opera diva Geraldine Farrar. However this is a worthy piece of early cinema. The great DeMille was honing his craft and his innovativeness was evidently seen in the various techniques and tinting of certain scenes. These were very effective to create a certain ambience necessary to the story. I think all these elements peaked the following year with the great epic "Joan the Woman." I would still have to count this as the best screen version of the celebrated Merimee story. Through the years there have been various adaptations, one being 1954's "Carmen Jones", with Dorothy Dandridge. This was set with a contemporary black cast of the time. But to me there is no other Carmen but Farrar. The role, the whole story just seems tailor made for her. The fine 1997 score featuring Bizet's famous compositons were ideally synchronized to accompany the appropriate scenes. I highly recommend this film. Ms. Farrar is fabulous.
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short but sweet
didi-56 December 2000
An hour to tell the tale of Carmen the gypsy tease may not seem much, but this is a nicely succinct version with some very appealing tinting - blue for the smugglers, reds and pinks for Carmen. Geraldine Farrar is a little too much on the overacting side at stages, but she makes a passionate and fiery little Carmen who scratches and bites her way through life. Wallace Reid is a charming Don Jose, driven mad with love to the tragic conclusion. The video version I saw has some Farrar arias tacked on with stills from the film, and the whole is extremely affecting. Joan the Woman is better but this is still a fascinating little piece.
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David Jeffers for
rdjeffers11 January 2006
Sunday January 15, 4:00pm The Paramount Theater

By 1915 Geraldine Farrar had established herself as premier soprano of the opera world. With radio nearly a decade away, her phonograph records had found their way into millions of homes. These audible wonders of the modern age made Farrar immensely popular. Records could not convey the wonderful theatrics of her performance on the stage. She held a captive audience from La Scala to San Francisco and chose the moment of her greatest popularity to step in front of the camera. Farrar was drawn into this other new and equally exciting indulgence of motion pictures by one of the greatest popular directors of the day, Cecil B. DeMille. For two years she was the jewel in his crown, making six feature films for DeMille, five with her co-star Wallace Reid. Film work also allowed Farrar to rest her fragile voice after years of abuse. Her brilliance and intensity on stage was fully realized in these films, which made Farrar unique in both the worlds of opera and film. No other performer had ever approached this simultaneous degree of popularity and success. Legions of obsessed young fans even referred to themselves as "Gerry–flappers". Among the brightest stars in the universe of twentieth century entertainment, Farrar also became a great social leveler, horrifying the class conscious opera world by lowering herself to the level of common everyday moviegoers. In turn, the price of a ticket offered the illusion of entering the privileged world of Grand Opera. There are sadly only two of these six films known to survive today, they are however, likely the best, Carmen and Joan The Woman. They are also among the very best works of C. B. DeMille. Carmen is the story of a wild and beautiful gypsy girl from Seville. She seduces handsome young Don José, ruins him, betrays him, and in the passionate climax of the story he seeks his revenge. Few tales have gained such admiration and have been retold in film and on the stage as often. Carmen was the greatest role of Geraldine Farrar's illustrious career and the signature piece for which she was known around the world. She played the dark-haired cigarette girl of Prosper Mérimés' novella with ferocious intensity for decades. Signing this legendary star to a multi-picture contract with his greatest director Cecil B. Demille was quite a feather in the cap for Jesse Lasky. Wisely, DeMille insisted Farrar shoot another film, "Marie Rose" first, so she could acclimate to the film environment. The first picture was then held back until after Carmen was released. On screen Farrar displayed a magnetic and effortless, natural quality. Two scenes in particular are tremendously exciting, the first, a knockdown drag-out fight between Carmen and another girl in the cigarette factory was added to the original story for the film, the other is the spectacular finale at the bullring. The fight, with DeMille's future screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson, created such a sensation it has been included in most versions of the story ever since.
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"My love is mine, to give or deny"
Steffi_P11 August 2008
The relationship between cinema and opera has always been a bit on-off, but occasionally has yielded some good things. Cecil B. De Mille was one of the first filmmakers to acknowledge the similarities between the two mediums, creating what was perhaps the first true opera film.

The casting of renowned opera star Geraldine Farrar was more than just a publicity stunt. Screen acting was still in development, but opera acting – which is similar in that plot and character must primarily revealed visually through gesture and presence – had been going for centuries. Farrar fits right in on the screen, giving a realistic performance with a touch of dynamic dramatics – the style that De Mille favoured and that was central to his silent era work.

Farrar apparently enjoyed the freedom of not being so constrained by the music, and being able to act in her own time. However, De Mille's Carmen is still very much an adaptation of Georges Bizet's opera, rather than Prosper Merimee's novel. It not only follows the opera's libretto more closely than it does the original text, certain key sequences do appear to have been staged to fit Bizet's music – in particular the final climactic scene. Funnily enough, when Raoul Walsh made his Carmen the same year, he deliberately based it on the novel, not the opera, as Fox could not afford the hefty fee for the rights to the libretto. Sadly Walsh's version, which he goes into some detail about in his autobiography, is lost.

In Carmen we can also see the De Mille style which made his silent films so watchable was really beginning to mature. One of the best things about his silent pictures is the sparseness of the intertitles. Not only are they used purely when necessary, De Mille also ensures they are spaced out we are never bombarded with them. Whereas many silent films might have a title when a character asks a question, followed a few seconds later by another title giving the response, with De Mille each title stands alone. If two characters are talking to each other, the majority of the conversation will be conveyed by gesture, expression and context. This means that the flow of each scene is not broken up. A good example is when Don Jose and Carmen are dancing in the tavern, Don Jose hears the bugler calling him back to his post, he is reluctant to go, but an officer persuades him. Whereas many other directors would have interrupted this sequence with two or three speech titles, De Mille credits the audience with the ability to be able to read the scene visually, which allows us to really watch the performances.

De Mille was also coming along in his handling of crowds scenes – the extras in the cigarette factory and the bullring look particularly naturalistic, although he perhaps needed a bit more practice and drawing the audience's eyes to the most important part of the frame. Another De Mille trademark makes an early appearance here too – the scene in which Carmen has her fortune read is shown with "Rembrandt lighting", that is with actors illuminated while that background is shrouded in darkness. This not only gives a moody atmosphere, it also isolates characters, really focusing us upon their performance.

Good as he was, De Mille was certainly also a rather pompous and pretentious figure, and it seems his contemporaries were already onto him. Charlie Chaplin's brilliant Burlesque on Carmen expertly skewers the seriousness of De Mille's vision (the parody is clearly based on this version, mimicking the sets, costumes and even some of the camera set ups). In his autobiography Walsh also talks about rushing out his version in order to upstage his rival (although he was a single day late). The self-important De Mille was probably more or less deserving of this derision, but he still made some great films. It is also interesting that De Mille, Walsh and Chaplin all took on Carmen at this time, as it was these three very different directors who would now take over from Griffith as being at the forefront of cinematic development.
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Technically, this is an amazing film,...if seen and heard in all its glory
MartinHafer3 September 2006
First I've gotta say that I was quite impressed by this silent film by DeMille. Unlike so many of his later epics, this film doesn't seem too huge and overly grand--something I dislike about many of DeMille's famous films. In other words, his films can seem very cold by over-emphasizing grandeur over acting. But, this film had amazing production values and yet seemed like a smaller and more accessible film.

Secondly, in an age of silent films, it was quite the audacious undertaking to produce a silent opera with the intention of having a huge orchestral accompaniment and even live singing. I assume that in this form, it must have been an amazing film to witness back in 1915. Unfortunately, in smaller venues, the film would probably only merit a 5 or 6--having only a piano or organ for accompaniment.

Fortunately for us in the 21st century, Video Artists International has produced an exceptional version of the film--with orchestral accompaniment, some operatic singing and a relatively clean print complete with original tinting!! It is in this light that I give this film a 9. It is amazing for a silent film and commands my respect--even if I am not a fan of opera.
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Geraldine Farrar Hits the Screen as Carmen
wes-connors11 October 2007
Geraldine Farrar (as Carmen) is a Gypsy involved with a gang of smugglers; to help them, she agrees to deflect Officer Wallace Reid (as Don Jose)'s attention with a seduction. Mr. Reid is so smitten with Ms. Farrar, he decides to pursue her; but Farrar only has eyes for bullfighter Pedro de Cordoba (as Escamillo)… Farrar, with a flower in her teeth, is unintentionally amusing (and not very convincing to modern eyes) as a seductress. Nonetheless, she was a big Metropolitan Opera star, and Bizet's "Carmen" proved to be a popular film debut. In fact, Motion Picture Magazine conducted an extensive poll to determine "Screen Masterpieces of Acting". and Farrar's "Carmen" was the best female performance of the year 1915; she outpolled not only Mae Marsh (in "Birth of a Nation") and Mary Pickford (in "Rags"), but also Theda Bara in a competing version of "Carmen".

A movie highlight is Farrar letting her hair down and cat-fighting with another woman in the cigarette factory where they work - and almost ripping the other woman's shirt off! Reid is a very handsome leading man, who doesn't overact throughout; making a scene where he nearly rapes Farrar more convincing. Mr. de Cordoba always uses his eyes to great advantage. Cecil B. DeMille shows improvement as a director - near the end, Farrar and de Cordoba play a nicely staged scene before the bullfight; though, Farrar ruins it by approaching the camera like she's going to take a bow. After the bullfight, Reid and Farrar take more "affective" bows.

****** Carmen (10/31/15) Cecil B. DeMille ~ Geraldine Farrar, Wallace Reid, Pedro de Cordoba, Horace B. Carpenter
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Bizet is bizarre!
richard-camhi20 February 2013
As some of the other reviewers have said, Geraldine Farrar is quite extraordinary in this film. She is most evidently having the time of her life, freed from the shackles of the operatic stage and the tyranny of those conventions which demand conformity. Her instincts were obviously spontaneous, and her body language and facial expressions go far beyond what was expected in an operatic performance, in those days and even now. "You have killed me, but I am free!" You can sense this freedom in every frame of the movie. The restored film is beautiful, amazingly clear and vibrant, with the tinting adding greatly to the effect. The one thing I found jarring, however, was the music! Gillian Anderson (the conductor, not the actress) performed a labor of love in resuscitating Hugo Riesenfeld's original orchestral score, complete with vocal soloists, but for all that, frequently the music is at odds with the film, despite -- or perhaps because of -- being excerpted from Bizet's opera. There are too many episodes in the film that have no direct counterpart in the music, and I feel it would have been better to give a Carl Davis or his brilliant equivalent the freedom to write a totally new score, especially since the film is based on Merimee's novel rather than the opera libretto of Halevy. Until that happens, I'll prefer to watch the film without sound, but watch it I will!
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Innovative and attractive
MissSimonetta31 October 2019
Cecil B. DeMille's CARMEN is one of the most entertaining of Hollywood's 1910s output. The visuals are simple but atmospheric, and the acting is marvelous. Geraldine Farrar is a natural in front of the camera, giving her Carmen an easy sexuality and playful attitude that come off as rather contemporary, nothing at all like the nostril-flaring vamping you'd expect from a movie of this vintage. Wally Reid is a likeable and passionate lead.

I've revisited this movie about three times and it never disappoints. With the sister release of even more visually innovative THE CHEAT, 1915 seems to have been a golden year for the young DeMille.

And once again, people other than DW Griffith were breaking new ground in 1915.
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Simply superb!
JohnHowardReid1 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Copyright by Jesse L. Lasky: 4 October 1915. A Paramount Picture. New York opening at the Strand: 31 October 1915. 75 minutes.

COMMENT: The story is too well-known to need repeating but let me just say that the film is based on the novel, not the opera. The main difference is that Carmen is just an out-and-out no-good in the novel. She is not at all romanticized as in Georges Bizet's opera. In this, her first movie, world-famed soprano Farrar was so impressed with this more realistic (if less sympathetic) characerization, she employed it when she returned to the Metropolitan, much to the annoyance of her stage co-star, Enrico Caruso, who was playing the opera's more rounded (if still luckless), Don José. In the movie (as in the novel), Don José is almost a minor part. Wallace Reid's offhand performance doesn't help gain audience sympathy either. But then Escamillo, the toreador, hardly figures in the movie action at all. Blink, and you'll miss Pedro de Cordoba.

Geraldine Farrar deservedly became the screen's model Carmen - super-sexy, viciously self-centered yet thoroughly charismatic. DeMille's direction was likewise always remarkably assured. Aside from the obvious use of newsreel material at the bullfight climax, all the action - particularly the fight in the cigarette factory - is staged most realistically. A typically extensive DeMille budget helps, while the photography (thanks to the beautiful tinted print available on the VAI DVD) cannot be rated as anything less than superb. An added attraction is Hugo Riesenfeld's original arrangement of Bizet's score, now played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
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Geraldine Farrar is superb in this breathtaking silent film directed by Cecil B. DeMille!
vquinterocastro11 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Cecil B. DeMille's "Carmen" is a breathtaking silent film. DeMille's outstanding talent as a director and producer shines in all of his films. Geraldine Farrar's spirited portrayal of Carmen is one of the best acting performances in the entire history of cinema. Alvin Wyckoff's cinematography is splendid, and William C. deMille's screenplay is very memorable. Wallace Reid and Pedro de Córdoba also give skilled performances, as does Jeanie Macpherson (DeMille's exclusive screenwriter) as Carmen's adversary. The on-screen fight between Farrar and Macpherson is also realistic.

Farrar's captivating performance and DeMille's expert direction make "Carmen" one of the best films ever made.
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A Streamlined Adaptation with a Riveting Performance by Geraldine Farrar
CJBx727 August 2014
CARMEN (1915) is Cecil B DeMille's adaptation of the famed opera, starring operatic legend Geraldine Farrar in the title role. Carmen is an independent minded, sultry Gyspy girl who agrees to seduce an idealistic army officer, Don José (Wallace Reid) in order to distract him from smuggling activity. José falls in love with Carmen and becomes part of a love triangle that leads to tragedy.

The script distills the essence of the opera into a movie that runs just shy of an hour, eliminating extraneous characters and focusing on the main plot threads. Carmen and Don José receive the most emphasis in this treatment. Geraldine Farrar had played this role on stage over 60 times before making the film. Farrar is truly mesmerizing, playing Carmen with abandon and verve. Her expressive performance and strikingly unusual beauty made it impossible for me to take my eyes off of her. She really embodies Carmen very well, teasing and tempting, then showing ferocious independence and an iron will. Although accustomed to the stage, where larger than life acting was the order of the day, Farrar successfully scaled her performance for the camera. It's a big performance, to be sure, but her work has its subtleties as well. Wallace Reid is also very believable as the once upright army officer whose love turns to obsession and leads to tragedy. Reid was one of the early superstars of American cinema, and he also proves very charismatic. There is undeniable and abundant chemistry between Farrar and Reid. Pedro de Cordoba also does fine work as Escamillo, a bullfighter who loves Carmen.

The work of the actors is in general quite well done, in line with the style of the time but not so much as to be laughable today. The cinematography is for the most part competent rather than brilliant, but there are touches of innovation here and there, like DeMille's fondness for chiaroscuro lighting. There is also some intriguing tinting during the scene in the bar where Carmen dances for José and his response arouses the jealousy of her real love, Escamillo. Close-ups are used sparingly, but effectively, particularly when it comes to Carmen.

Although lacking the grandeur (and, of course, the music) of the opera, CARMEN succeeds in presenting the main thrust of the story, and the main interest today rests on Geraldine Farrar's charismatic performance, as well as her chemistry with Wallace Reid. SCORE: 8/10.
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Geraldine and Wally sizzle!
MissSimonetta21 July 2014
Geraldine Farrar and Wallace Reid make for a sexy couple in this 1915 Cecil B. DeMille production of Carmen. Fast-paced, action-packed, and containing little of the overacting common of the earlier 1910s, this film is for those who think old movies were all creaky, dull affairs for a naive, prudish audience.

Though not as visually stunning as his production of The Cheat (1915), DeMille shows great skill behind the camera here. Though there are one or two moments of stagey set-ups, for the most part, this is cinematic through and through.

I know The Birth of a Nation (1915) is an important film and all, but honestly, DeMille's one-two punch of Carmen and The Cheat make for much more fun (and less morally repugnant) viewing.
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American Beauty
Spondonman25 November 2012
True blue Yankee soprano Geraldine Farrar was the first internationally adored entertainer, she reached more people as a film actress than she did singing at the Met, or indeed through her records. Over her career she made 14 films, recorded about 200 sides, and gave 671 performances in 29 operas. She recognised her voice wasn't up to the likes of Melba for instance, but she wanted primarily to be an actress – and when she put her mind to anything she got it, hence her personal motto through life: Farrar Fará (Farrar Will Do It). With endless confidence and a dynamism unusual in opera divas she made this Carmen for DeMille in 1915.

Story of fiery gypsy woman winning the heart of a soldier (cherub faced Wallace Reid) and using him ruthlessly to her and her people's own ends. Farrar wanted the part badly! The version I've just seen was a brilliant restoration production of a print from George Eastman House by VAI, complete with modern orchestral arrangements and perfect tints based on the original production notes and a Pre and Postlude chockful of background information (even with 3 original recordings from Farrar herself). The acting and production were good, sometimes surprisingly so for such an early film. Farrar piled on the drama for the camera, she portrayed a different emotion every 5 seconds to offset the lack of words – or lyrics! Her dress at the bullfight was something to look at, lovingly captured by DeMille and his film crew.

Maybe Joan The Woman was a better picture overall but Carmen is a wonderful little film, a curio as presented now but very easy to watch and at 75 minutes long with all the extras left me wanting more. Bravo!
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Ugh... Farrar
Cineanalyst14 February 2005
As Carmen pretends to be in love with Don Jose for pride and profit, Geraldine Farrar pretends to act for presumably similar reasons. Farrar is obnoxious. She parades, grins and gestures, positions herself constantly for the camera, even appears to glance at the camera occasionally, to wink or check for framing. She flaunts her eyes to and fro and pats her attire, or fondles her body, whenever she's not using her arms for needless and annoying gesticulation. Blame opera or DeMille's consistently inept direction of actors, but Farrar stands out in this movie, and compared to contemporaneous films, because she is excessively tactless.

As for DeMille's direction otherwise, it is unremarkable compared to "The Cheat" of the same year. Being trained in 1914, he obviously understood the rudiments of the art form by the time he made this "Carmen". He used low-key lighting in "the message of the cards" scene, and the tinting is nice, as others have mentioned. Nothing innovative. The story is worthless, although I was slightly amused by the tacit feminism. Perhaps, someday, I'll see if the 1954 version does better in promoting racial equality. If you watch DeMille's "Carmen", see Chaplin's burlesque on it--it'll makeup for lost time.
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The Silent Opera!
bsmith555221 July 2007
Warning: Spoilers
"Carmen" was in effect, a silent version of the famed opera, directed by Cecil B. De Mille and starring the legendary opera star Geraldine Farrar. It's actually a drama but with Ms. Farrar in the lead, the viewer was left to his/her own imagination in terms of the operatic version of the story.

Cafe owner Pastia (Horace B. Carpenter) is a smuggler of contraband working with a local tribe of gypsies. He tries to bribe a young army officer Don Jose (Wallace Reid) to allow him to bring the goods through a breach in the wall surrounding the settlement but fails.

At the gypsy camp, gypsy girl Carmen (Geraldine Farrar) offers to go to the town and "charm" Don Jose into complying. She takes a job in a local factory in order not to arouse suspicion as to her true intentions. She does manage to lure the love struck Don Jose away from the wall long enough to allow Pastia and his gang to bring in the smuggled goods.

At the factory, Carmen gets into a fight with another worker and is arrested by Morales (Billy Elmer). As she is being taken off to prison Don Jose, Morales and Carmen go to Pastia's cafe where a fight breaks out between Don Jose and Morales. Don Jose kills Morales thus becoming a fugitive himself. The gypsies take him to their camp where he meets Carmen who had also escaped to the camp. Don Jose professes his love to Carmen but she rejects him, having no further use for him.

Carmen decides to run off to Seville with toreador Escamillo (Pedro de Cordoba). Don Jose learns of this and follows them to Seville, confronts Carmen and.............................................

The petite Ms. Farrar having had extensive experience on the operatic stage, adapts to acting on the screen easily. This was her first film of a five year film career. She would appear in several other De Mille films during this period. Wallace Reid was a good ten years her junior but it doesn't show here. He was on the brink of becoming one Hollywood's first major stars. He too would work for De Mille again. His well documented personal problems cut short his career at the age of 32 in 1923.

Charlie Chaplin filmed "A Burlesque on Carmen" the following year in which he made fun of the classic drama/opera.
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Shallow entertainment
thinbeach17 December 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Sex and violence seems to be what De Mille relies upon here for entertainment, in a drama filled with attractive Spanish settings and unattractive characters. Carmen is an outrageous flirt who comes within inches of kissing several men, seeming to be on the cusp of it every time she is on screen, which is often, and often running her hands over her body and flaunting her eyes about, all for the sake of profit. Elsewhere we get a nasty all female fight, where of course layers of clothing are shred so that one woman looks in trouble of losing her top, followed by a sword fight and a bull fight.

Given the type of violence and nudity that are accepted on screen today, some might wonder what the fuss is about, and the answer is that it is tasteless. There is neither humour nor insight nor depth here - it is but an unashamed excuse for fancy costumes (is it a broom or a helmet?) and profit. Carmen's use of sex appeal to trick men into giving her what she wants could be an apt metaphor for the way she, and the film as a whole, use her sex appeal to trick audiences into buying tickets for it - an audience watching a film about robbery, unaware that it is they who are being robbed.

Having said that De Mille shows some technical talent, featuring a larger variety of angles and shot sizes then you typically see during the period. If only he had a better story to use it on.
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Her most famous part without her most famous asset
bkoganbing14 December 2014
The tragic tale of Carmen and Don Jose is the subject of one of Cecil B. DeMille's best received silent pictures. To hear DeMille tell it in his autobiography it was quite the casting coup to get Geraldine Farrar from the Metropolitan Opera to go and recreate her most famous part without her most famous asset being her voice.

In those teen years of the last century Geraldine Farrar was quite the popular figure, for women she was to grand opera what Caruso was for men. Even with no famous the grand gestures needed for interpreting a role are exactly what the silent screen called for. Her early records plus this film were a great marketing tool for her live concerts and opera performances. DeMille grasped intuitively how Farrar could be a success in films.

Playing Don Jose the guardsman she seduces and drives mad enough to kill and disgrace himself is Wallace Reid. And the man playing Escamillo the matador who as a baritone gets the most famous aria to sing when Carmen is an opera is Pedro DeCordoba.

You'll not hear a note of Bizet's famous score I guess because DeMille figured that the contemporary would expect sound if he used it. Instead a good score was written, the best part being a Spanish guitar as the only musical accompaniment in several key scenes.

Carmen stands up well for today's audiences. It's a universal story.
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Michael_Elliott11 March 2008
Carmen (1915)

** (out of 4)

Carmen (opera star Geraldine Farrar) pretends to be in love with soldier Don Jose (Wallace Reid) so that she and her gypsy pals can sneak smuggled goods in. When Don Jose sees that this is all a fraud love soon turns to outrage. Another early effort from Cecil B. DeMille is probably the weakest film I've seen from him. Like 1914's The Squaw Man, the story is actually pretty interesting but the director does nothing with it and in the end it comes off way too bland. The only major highlight is the performance from Farrar who does a remarkable job throughout the film. She's certainly no beauty but her sexual performance makes us understand why Don Jose would want her.
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