Vintage 50s Film Style: Carmen Jones (1954)
Carmen Jones, a film musical from 1954, doesn’t sound as though it should work when you first hear it described. The classic opera of Carmen is moved from Seville in the early 1800s to North Carolina in the 1940s, and the original score by Bizet reinterpreted by Oscar Hammerstein. And instead of being a gypsy, Carmen is a worker in a parachute factory.
But it is completely and utterly brilliant. The modern lyrics work fantastically well with the updated but not bastardised music, Harry Belefonte is great as the slowly unravelling Joe, and Dorothy Dandridge is smouldering as Carmen. The clothes are also fabulous, and the credits were done by the famous designer Saul Bass.
The director Otto Preminger had to seek private funding to get this film made, as at the time the studios in Hollywood would not produce a film with an all black cast. Not long into filming, he and Dorothy began an intense affair. Critics gave mixed reviews of the film, but Dorothy was nominated for an Oscar and the film won the Golden Globe for best musical.
This is a selection of screenshots from the film, but you can see more on my Flickr page. The full film is also available to watch on YouTube in ten parts.