Cast & Crew
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.
Le Vern Hutcherson
Joseph E. Crawford
Margaret Lancaster Hairston
Claude E. Carpenter
Herschel Burke Gilbert
Oscar Hammerstein Ii
Edward L. Ilou
Arthur L. Kirbach
Louis R. Loeffler
Mary Ann Nyberg
Herman E. Webber
Best Music Original Dramatic Score
Carmen Jones is a retelling of Bizet's opera about an independent woman who lives by her own rules and discards men when she grows tired of them. The characters were changed from Europeans to African-Americans on an Army base in the deep South. Preminger admitted, "This was really a fantasy, as was Porgy and Bess. The all-black world shown in these films doesn't exist, at least not in the United States. We used the musical-fantasy quality to convey something of the needs and aspirations of colored people."
Fantasy or not, the idea created a stir amongst African-American actors both in Hollywood and New York. Dorothy Dandridge wrote in her autobiography, "Earl [Mills, Dandridge's manager] telephoned me to say that Otto Preminger was about to produce a movie adaptation of the Billy Rose stage hit Carmen Jones. For days there were rumors on the West Side about who would secure the lead, and from my informants I gathered I wasn't even being considered. There was a search for some natural Carmen, a new actress. For example, Ray Robinson's wife, an attractive girl who wasn't an actress and isn't now, was mentioned for the part. So were other Negro women based on their personal charm, looks, or the community position of their husbands. A singer Joyce Bryant and a Broadway actress Elizabeth Foster seemed to be in the running." When Dandridge met with Preminger, he admitted that he had not considered Dandridge because he thought she was too "ladylike" for the role. In real-life, Dandridge always prided herself on being elegant and conducting herself like a lady. She had gone to the interview with Preminger dressed in a fashionable but plain suit and light makeup. He wanted her to read for the part of Joe's demure sweetheart, Cindy Lou, but Dandridge refused. She pleaded for the opportunity to return the next day and read for Carmen. He reluctantly agreed. The next day Dandridge, decked out in floozy garb, wind-blown hair and heavy makeup showed up late for the interview and shocked Preminger into giving her a screen test. The test was made with actor James Edwards. In it, Carmen holds out her leg to Joe and asks him to blow on her freshly painted toenails, saying, "Blow on 'em sugar. Make 'em dry faster". Preminger called it "the best screen test I've ever seen". On May 26th, the official announcement was made. Preminger had found his Carmen. The other cast members, it was further announced, would be actor and singer Harry Belafonte, who Preminger had seen onstage in John Murray Anderson's Almanac for which Belafonte had won a Tony award; popular singer Pearl Bailey, stage actress Olga James, and two actors making their film debuts, Brock Peters and 19-year-old Diahann Carroll.
Ironically, as much as Dandridge had campaigned for the role, once she had secured it she was overcome by anxiety. For days she stayed in her apartment refusing to see anyone and seriously considered quitting the picture. One of her concerns was that the role (which in the 1950's might have been termed a 'whore') would not be a positive portrayal of an African-American. She worried over what the response from the African-American community might be. It was only after Preminger drove to her home and assuaged her fears - promising that he would support her throughout filming - that Dandridge felt secure enough to play the role.
Although the film would be released through Twentieth Century Fox, filming would take place at the RKO lot in downtown Hollywood. It was there that the cast rehearsed for three weeks on the already completed shooting sets and using the actual props. Preminger knew how important this film was to be and wanted everything worked out in advance. While both Dandridge and Belafonte were primarily known at that time as singers, their songs in the film would be dubbed. As Belafonte later remembered, "Because this was to be a black movie, and because blacks were still exotic to Europeans - and the movie had to be a financial success in Europe as well - Otto had to find a way to please the Bizet estate, which did not like what Hammerstein had done to the original work. They felt turning Carmen into a folk opera was not servicing the best needs of the opera, so Otto appeased them by hiring two opera singers to dub the main voices."
Le Vern Hutcherson, who had starred onstage in Porgy and Bess, dubbed Belafonte. Dandridge was initially to be dubbed by Katherine Hilgenberg, but when she failed to please Preminger she was replaced by 20 year old USC student and future opera mega-star Marilyn Horne. Horne (known as "Jackie" in those days) was putting herself through college as a singer with Tops Records, a company that made copy-cat recordings of popular hits using the same arrangements and hiring singers who could imitate the singer on the hit record. She recalled, "Even though I was at that time a very light lyric soprano, I did everything I possibly could to imitate the voice of Dorothy Dandridge. I spent many hours with her. In fact, one of the reasons I was chosen to do this dubbing was that I was able to imitate her voice had she been able to sing in the proper register." Marvin Hayes dubbed Joe Adams' character Husky Miller, and Brock Peters, who played Sgt. Brown, dubbed fellow cast member Roy Glenn. Pearl Bailey, herself famous as a singer, and Olga James were allowed to sing their own parts. Soundtrack recording began on June 18th at Twentieth Century Fox and filming commenced at RKO on June 30th.
Otto Preminger was a brilliant director, but he had a well-earned reputation for being a bully on the set. As Geoffrey MacNab wrote, "No one could deny that Otto Preminger had a temper. When he was displeased, his eyes would bulge, his cheeks swell, his veins pop, his face turn puce, and you could imagine that steam was about to come out of his ears and nostrils. What made it worse was that his dressings-down were always given in public, and he invariably picked on the most vulnerable. The bigger the audience, the more vicious the invective. Some actors at the receiving end of one of his tirades claim never to have recovered from the experience."
"With him, I became a nervous wreck, crying and jumping when the phone started ringing, incapable of walking calmly across a room," said Jean Seberg, having been plucked out of Iowa obscurity to play the martyred heroine in his 1957 film, Saint Joan. Lana Turner, meanwhile, walked out of his 1959 production, Anatomy of a Murder, telling the press that she couldn't cope with his domineering personality. Turner was also quoted as saying "I thank God that neither I nor any member of my family will ever be so hard up as to have to work for Otto Preminger".
The cast of Carmen Jones were not spared the wrath of Otto. Dandridge, who had become Preminger's lover shortly after they met, wrote in her autobiography, "Otto had a way of screaming at the performers. He did this with almost everyone except me. [...] I was sharp with him about one person in particular. I said, "If you scream at Glennet any more, I'll leave the set." "Why?" he asked, in consternation. He had no view of himself at all. "Because Glennet can't defend himself. He's a simple man who needs a job. When you scream at him, he falls apart, and I want to leave the set." Two days later, Otto screamed at Glennet. I left the set. Everything halted. The cameras came to a stop. The actors went off to the side. There was a hush...Otto came to the dressing room, "Darling, what's the matter?" "For God's sake, there must be another way of coping with people without batting them on the head and making them feel stupid in front of other people! I can't stand it!" Otto was flustered, "I know," he said, "I promised I would not, but this man is an idiot....Once more Otto calmed me. He promised again to be kind to the actors. I walked back to the set. Once more everything was fine...if anything in the making of Carmen was fine." The calm didn't last long. One day it nearly led to blows. Brock Peters and Preminger got into an argument. Peters remembered, "He chewed me out in front of a lot of people. Crew, cast and extras. He said something about, 'This New York actor...' Some disparaging things. And, of course, I was on the spot. It was my first picture. I was wanting desperately for it to work. I lost my temper. And I went for him. And Pearl Bailey and somebody else grabbed me." Bailey warned Peters that he would never work again - and later told him "Honey, I just saved your life." Joe Adams received his share from Preminger during the "Stand Up and Fight" sequence. After several takes, Preminger screamed over a megaphone, "Mr. Adams. What exactly is it you call yourself doing? I've got a milkman that's a better actor than you." Again, it was Pearl Bailey who held back an angry actor, telling him, "Now, honey, you just be cool. You're being paid a whole lot of money to do something that a whole lot of people would pay money to do." Adams, who was ready to walk off the set, did one more take, which Preminger loved. Adams thereafter believed that this was Preminger's way of goading an actor into a good performance.
Preminger did indeed get good performances from his actors and from Dorothy Dandridge in particular. When the film was premiered on October 5, 1954, her portrayal of Carmen Jones made her an overnight sensation with the public and both the black and white press. Not only was Dandridge the first African-American actress to be ranked among the world's top beauties, but she was also the first African-American to be nominated as Best Actress by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Producer: Otto Preminger
Director: Otto Preminger
Screenplay: Harry Kleiner, Prosper Merimee (novel)
Cinematography: Sam Leavitt
Film Editing: Louis Loeffler
Art Direction: Edward L. Ilou
Music: Georges Bizet
Cast: Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones), Harry Belafonte (Joe), Olga James (Cindy Lou), Pearl Bailey (Frankie), Joe Adams (Husky Miller), Nick Stewart (Dink Franklin).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Geoffrey MacNab "Otto Preminger: The Method in his Madness " The Independent, Mar 25, '05
Dorothy Dandridge, Earl Conrad "Everything and Nothing : The Dorothy Dandridge Tragedy"
Otto Preminger "Preminger, An Autobiography"
Thanks, but I don't drink.- Joe
Boy, if the army was made up of nothin' but soldiers like you, war wouldn't do nobody no good.- Carmen Jones
Somethin' tells me Chicago's gonna be real good for you.- Frankie
Somethin' tells me you gonna be real bad for Chicago.- Myrt
We'll be livin' off the fatheads of the land.- Frankie
'Scuse my dust, gentlemen. The air's gettin' mighty unconditioned 'round here.- Carmen Jones
Otto Preminger wanted to film on location in Chicago and South Carolina, but studio records show the movie was shot entirely on the RKO lot.
The singing voices of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge were dubbed by LeVern Hutcherson and Marilyn Horne respectively, even though Belafonte and Dandridge were both accomplished singers.
Joyce Bryant and 'Elizabeth Foster' also did screen tests for the role of Carmen Jones. Dorothy Dandridge did her screen test working opposite veteran actor 'James Edwards' in the role of Joe. Edwards, whose career was on the decline, was never considered for the role.
Filming commenced on June 30, 1954 and wrapped up in early August. The soundtrack for the film was recorded at 20th Century Fox Studios on June 18, 1954.
This film was selected to the National Film Registry, Library of Congress, in 1992.
The film's opening title card reads: "Oscar Hammerstein's Carmen Jones." On June 26, 1952, Hollywood Reporter announced that theatrical producer Billy Rose had acquired the screen rights to Hammerstein's work and intended to make the film with an all-black cast. The news items also stated that Rose intended to "handle his own financing and release, with the premiere engagement of the film to take place at the Ziegfeld Theatre, where he will make his headquarters." According to a July 9, 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, Rose signed Elia Kazan to direct the picture. Rose apparently abandoned his plans and sold the rights, as a December 23, 1953 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Otto Preminger and Twentieth Century-Fox would be filming the project.
Although an March 11, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item stated that Hammerstein would be collaborating on the film's screenplay with an as-yet unnamed writer, only Harry Kleiner is credited onscreen as the screenwriter. According to Preminger's autobiography, he and Kleiner, who had been Preminger's student at Yale University, decided not to use the text of Hammerstein's musical, or the libretto of Bizet's opera as a basis for the script, but to go back to Prosper Mérimée's short story, while retaining Bizet's music and Hammerstein's lyrics. Preminger states that he first took the project to friends at United Artists, but they turned him down because they felt they could not risk backing an all-black film.
According to the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Fox entered into a distribution deal with Preminger's Carlyle Productions in which Fox agreed to advance the film's negative costs, up to $825,000. Fox production head Darryl F. Zanuck was to have final script and cut approval. Legal records also state that Hammerstein, at the behest of Zanuck, submitted the script to Walter White, the executive secretary of the N.A.A.C.P., for comment. White praised the screenplay, but added that he was opposed to an "all-Negro" show in principle, because of his organization's ongoing fight for integration. Although a December 23, 1953 Daily Variety news item stated that Preminger planned to shoot the film in Hollywood, Chicago and South Carolina, studio records indicate that the picture was shot entirely on the RKO lot.
According to legal records, Katherine Hilgenberg was originally hired as the singing voice of "Carmen." Marilyn Horne, whose first name was misspelled in the onscreen credits, sang the part, however. Brock Peters (1927-2005), whose surname was misspelled "Broc" in the oncredits, was first considered for the role of "Husky Miller," according to legal records. The film marked the motion picture debut of the actor, who is perhaps best known for his role as the falsely accused "Tom Robinson" in To Kill a Mockingbird (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70).
On May 29, 1953 Hollywood Reporter noted that Dorothy Dandridge, Joyce Bryant and Elizabeth Foster were being considered for the title role. According to a October 24, 1954 New York Times article, Preminger was reluctant to cast Dandridge because she seemed "too sweet, too regal." Dandridge convinced Preminger to hire her by dressing in flashy clothing and visiting the director, arguing, "Look, I know I can do it. I understand this type of woman. She's primitive, honest, independent, and real-that's why other women envy her." In the same article, Harry Belafonte, when asked if Carmen Jones would lead to a greater utilization of black talent in films, replied, "Not really...but I think it will provide some help symbolically. It proves there's no corner of human drama that Negroes cannot play. However, I don't think Hollywood, as a whole, is geared to pioneering of this sort."
Hollywood Reporter production charts and news items include the following actors and dancers in the cast, althought their appearance in the final picture has not been confirmed: Mme. Sul-te-Wan, Archie Savage, Carmen De Lavallade, June Eckstine, Max Roach, Sam McDaniels, Don Derricks, James Green, Don Blackman, Lonny Malone, Reuben Wilson, Jane Hanibal, Ramona Bruce, Vera Frances, Madie Comfort, Lawrence La Marr, Charles Fleming, Ruby Berkeley Goodwin, James Craig, Otis Greene, Orchid Oliver, Michael Wallace, Donna Rae Brown, Pat Taylor, Christyne Lawson, Ercelle Anderson, Gloria Jones, Pat Sides, Pola Dukes, James Truitte, Alvin Ailey, Clyde Webb, Archie Allison, Graham Johnson, Daniel Lloyd and Charles Carter. Modern sources credit John De Cuir as co-art director and Dimitri Tiomkin as co-music director.
A December 1, 1957 New York Times article commented that the film titles designed by Saul Bass, which featured a sinuous animated flame flickering around a rose, introduced design, color and animation to the display of film credits. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, Bass was awarded a special citation from the Los Angeles Art Directors Club and a gold medal from the New York Art Directors Guild for his work on Carmen Jones. Dandridge received an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress and was also nominated by BAFTA for Best Foreign Actress. Herschel Burke Gilbert was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture, and the film won a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture-Musical/Comedy. In 1992, Carmen Jones was selected for the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress.
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the film at first had problems being exhibited in Europe because Preminger had not cleared the European rights to Bizet's music before production on the picture began. On November 15, 1954, Hollywood Reporter noted that the rights to Bizet's score were in the public domain in the United States but were still privately owned in Europe. When Preminger received an invitation to screen the picture at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival, he planned to show it aboard an American aircraft carrier, which would constitute "extra-territorial grounds" so that he would not be "breaching technicalities" prohibiting showings on the Continent, according to a April 20, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item. By April 26, 1955, however, a special, out-of-competition screening was arranged so that it could be held on the main festival grounds.
Many films have been based on or inspired by the story and opera of Carmen, including two 1913 three-reel versions, one with Marion Leonard made by the Monopol Film Co., the other with Marguerite Snow, made by the Thanhouser Corp.; two 1915 versions, a Fox Film Corp. production, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Theda Bara, and a Jesse L. Lasky production, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and starring Geraldine Farrar (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1911-20); Gypsy Blood, directed in 1918 by Ernst Lubitsch and starring Pola Negri; Loves of Carmen, produced by Fox Film Corp. in 1927, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Dolores del Rio (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30); the 1948 Columbia film The Loves of Carmen, directed by Charles Vidor and starring Rita Hayworth (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50); a 1983 film produced in Spain entitled Carmen, directed by Carlos Saura; a 1983 France/Switzerland production entitled Prenom Carmen, directed by Jean-Luc Godard; Bizet's Carmen, a 1984 France/Italy production, directed by Francesco Rosi; and a 2001 MTV television production entitled MTV's Hip Hopera: Carmen, starring Mekhi Phifer and Beyoncé Knowles and directed by Robert Townsend.
Released in United States Fall October 1954
Released in United States 1998
Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.
Selected in 1992 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States Fall October 1954
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) as part of program "Twentieth Century Fox and the Golden Age of CinemaScope" July 3 - August 15, 1998.)