In 1943 Oscar Hammerstein had the brilliant idea to adapt George Bizet’s popular opera Carmen for the American musical stage, and his new book and lyrics for an African-American-based production resulted in one of the biggest hits of his career apart from his shows with Richard Rodgers. Carmen Jones ran for more than a year in New York and toured for almost two years, and when the time came to adapt it for the screen, Otto Preminger was selected to produce and direct turning out a vibrant screen version that pretty much hits the right notes both musically and dramatically.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.55:1
Audio: English 4.0 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 1.0 DD (Mono)
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 45 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-raykeep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 12/03/2013
Working in a World War II parachute factory, sultry Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge, singing by Marilynn Horne) latches eyes on the attractive Joe (Harry Belafonte, singing by Le Vern Hutcherson) who’s headed for flight school to become an Air Force pilot after he marries his hometown sweetheart Cindy Lou (Olga James). Not one to take no for an answer, Carmen steals Joe away from Cindy Lou and after trouble involving each of them, eventually talks him into going AWOL with her to Chicago. But Carmen is a girl who’s easily bored, and when she catches the eye of heavyweight contender Husky Miller (Joe Adams, singing by Marvin Hayes) who can support her in style and not have her caged in a hotel room for fear of Joe’s being discovered by MPs, she makes her mind up that Husky is the man for her leaving Joe feeling betrayed and uncontrollably angry.Though Harry Kleiner has adapted Oscar Hammerstein’s stage libretto faithfully, the tinge of its stage origins never fully leaves the fringes of Preminger’s production. There are a couple of obvious attempts to get the action moving outdoors (Joe and Carmen’s lengthy detour as she tries to escape to her hometown after his jeep is involved in a roadside accident) or in activities that would be hard to mount on the stage (Husky’s big fight against the South American champion), but more often than not, the actors are rather stationary singing their hearts out in less than exciting staging of their numbers. The exceptions are Carmen’s introductory aria “Dat’s Love” as she flirts sinuously around the factory cafeteria and with Carmen’s friend Frankie (Pearl Bailey) as she “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on the Drum” at a local roadhouse. Preminger’s first Cinemascope production finds him using the widescreen with some clever framing, especially in the last named number where Frankie is planted left of frame while the uninhibited dancing is going on beside and behind her out to the edge of the other side. Preminger also makes sure to spread his large cast of principals across the screen on several occasions to make use of the entire cinematic real estate.Though Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, and Diahann Carroll (who plays Frankie’s best friend Myrt) were all well known singers, the operatic nature of the music required the use of voice doubles. Dandridge had the good fortune to get the teenaged Marilynn (as she spelled it then) Horne for her vocals, and the power and control in her numbers is certainly indicative of the operatic diva she was inevitably to become. Dramatically, Dandridge is sizzlingly peerless wrapping herself around men as nonchalantly as breathing and constantly displaying that yearning itch to be on the move and on the make. Belafonte’s voice double Le Vern Hutcherson sings beautifully, but unlike Horne’s voice which matches Dandridge’s pretty well, there is no question here that someone else is singing. Belafonte certainly handles the dramatic chores skillfully as he sinks ever deeper into Carmen’s web. As she had done in several Broadway musicals up to that time, Pearl Bailey (who sings with her own voice even if the keys have been altered to fit her) walks away with all of her scenes and songs as the irrepressible and avaricious Frankie. Olga James is a sweet Cindy Lou, Joe Adams is forceful as Husky (and handles himself well in the boxing sequence), and Brock Peters impresses as the taunting sergeant who constantly makes life hard for Belafonte’s Joe. Ironically, Peters supplies the singing voice for Roy Glenn who plays Husky’s trainer!
The Production Rating: 4/5
The early Cinemascope theatrical aspect ratio of 2.55:1 is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Because there were some problems with focus using early Cinemascope lenses, there are occasional moments where sharpness is not consistent across the screen (certainly not the fault of the transfer), but for the most part, the image is pleasingly sharp with vivid color (Carmen’s red skirt in her opening scene is quite striking) which is nicely controlled. Skin tones are realistic and appealing throughout. No age-related artifacts mar the visual presentation. The film has been divided into 30 chapters.
Video Rating: 4.5/5 3D Rating: NA
The DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 sound mix replicates the sound design of this early Cinemascope production wonderfully. There is both directionalized dialogue and singing which makes terrific use of the front soundstage. The fidelity of the stereophonic music is quite powerful and alluring though the rear surround channel only gets some echoes of the music from the fronts. There is no hiss or any other age-related problems with this excellent sound presentation.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Theatrical Trailer (2:47, SD)
Special Features Rating: 1/5
This African-American musical revamp of Bizet’s Spanish-based operatic production may not be the most cinematically invigorating of musicals from the 1950s, but there is no quibbling about the quality of the singing or performing of the material in Otto Preminger’s screen version of Carmen Jones. Recommended!
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Matt Hough
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