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Cindy Lou travels to a wartime parachute manufacturing plant to say goodbye to her sweetheart Joe. Scheduled to depart for military flying school the next day, Joe is overjoyed to see Cindy Lou and suggests they use his twenty-four-hour pass to get married. Cindy Lou accepts his proposal, even though her concern is aroused when Carmen Jones, a lively and beautiful factory worker who is desired by practically every man at the plant, asks Joe to pick her up that night for a private farewell party. When Carmen fights with another worker for reporting her late arrival to the foreman, Sgt. Brown, whose attentions Carmen has spurned, cancels Joe's leave and orders him to deliver her to the authorities in Masonville. As Cindy Lou watches Joe and Carmen drive away, Sgt. Brown announces that Joe volunteered for the assignment. Riding in the jeep, Carmen suggests that she and Joe stop off for a meal and a little romance. Joe pushes her away, but this only intensifies her attraction to him. Anxious to return to Cindy Lou, Joe opts to take a shorter but more treacherous road to Masonville. The jeep ends up in the river, and Carmen, highly amused, suggests that they catch the Masonville train when it passes through her home town that evening. In her grandmother's house, Carmen gives Joe a peach and begins to brush the mud off his pants. Finally submitting to her charms, Joe kisses her passionately. The next morning, as he dons his shirt, Joe finds Carmen's farewell note, in which she explains that, although she loves him, she cannot tolerate being locked up in jail. Joe is put in the stockade for allowing his prisoner to escape, and Cindy Lou visits him just as a package from Carmen arrives. When Cindy Lou sees a rose inside, she leaves without a word. For weeks, Joe carries the rose with him, dreaming of Carmen as he works in the hot sun. Meanwhile, Carmen, having found work in a Louisiana night spot, waits impatiently for Joe's release. The club stirs with excitement as Husky Miller, a winning prizefighter, arrives with his entourage in an expensive car. Husky sings for the admiring crowd and then introduces himself to Carmen, who rebuffs him. Flustered, Husky orders his manager Rum to persuade Carmen to accompany him to Chicago. Rum and his cohort Dink, promising her diamonds, furs and an expensive hotel suite in exchange for her company, hand Carmen, along with her friends, Frankie and Myrt, train tickets to Chicago. Carmen is tempted but finally decides to remain at the club and wait for Joe's release. Just then, Joe arrives. Overjoyed, Carmen kisses and embraces him, but when he announces that he must depart immediately for flying school, she becomes enraged. Sgt. Brown appears, insults Joe, and starts to leave with Carmen, whereupon Joe gives him a severe beating. Realizing he will go to prison for striking a superior officer, Joe flees with Carmen to Chicago. Because the military police are after him for desertion, Joe remains hidden in a shabby, rented room, while Carmen secretly visits Husky's gym in the hope of obtaining a loan from Frankie. Dressed in satin and diamonds, Frankie claims she has no money of her own, but her efforts to persuade Carmen to leave Joe are fruitless. Carmen, still penniless, arrives at the boardinghouse with a full bag of groceries, leading Joe to wonder aloud how she could have obtained the necessary cash. Following their argument, Carmen visits Husky's hotel suite, where she joins her friends at cards. Drawing the nine of spades, Carmen assumes the card is an omen of impending death and abandons herself to a few final days of drinking and debauchery. Cindy Lou, still in love with Joe, reads about Husky's new girl friend in the newspaper and arrives at Husky's gym just before Joe appears. Brushing Cindy Lou aside, Joe orders Carmen to leave with him, and when she refuses, he threatens Husky with a knife. Carmen helps Joe to escape the military police, but later, during Husky's big fight, Joe finds Carmen in the crowd and pulls her into a storage room. Joe begs Carmen to return to him, but she maintains that their affair is over. Completely broken down, Joe strangles Carmen to death just before the police arrive.