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Pearl Bailey, Dorothy Dandridge, "Carmen Jones" (1954)

Pearl Bailey, Dorothy Dandridge,

Directed by Otto Preminger, Oscar Hammerstein II's all-black musical drama based on French composer Georges Bizet's controversial, provocative opera "Carmen," premiered in 1954. The cast included the exquisite Dorothy Dandridge (November 9, 1922 - September 8, 1965) in the title role, as well as Harry Belafonte (b. March 1, 1927), Pearl Bailey (March 29, 1918 - August 17, 1990), Olga James (b. February 16, 1929), Joe Adams (b. April 11, 1922), Brock Peters (July 2, 1927 - August 23, 2005), Roy Glenn (June 3, 1914 - March 12, 1971), Nick Stewart (March 15, 1910 - December 18, 2000), and ingenue stage actress, singer, and model Diahann Carroll (b. July 17, 1935), in her first film role.

Dandridge became the first African-American actress to be Oscar-nominated for "Best Actress in a Leading Role" for her electrifying performance as femme fatale Carmen, and was the first African-American woman to grace the cover of Life magazine.

Storyline, via IMDb:
At an all-black army camp, civilian parachute maker and "hot bundle" Carmen Jones is desired by many of the men. Naturally, she wants Joe, who's engaged to sweet Cindy Lou and about to go into pilot training for the Korean War. Going after him, she succeeds only in getting him into the stockade. While she awaits his release, trouble approaches for both of them. Songs from the Bizet opera with modernized lyrics.

About the film, via Wikipedia:
"Carmen Jones" is a 1954 American musical film starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, produced and directed by Otto Preminger. The screenplay by Harry Kleiner is based on the libretto for the 1943 stage production of the same name by Oscar Hammerstein II, which was inspired by an adaptation of the 1845 Prosper Mérimée novella "Carmen" by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Hammerstein also wrote the lyrics to music composed by Georges Bizet for his 1875 opera "Carmen."
"Carmen Jones" was a CinemaScope motion picture that had begun shooting within the first 12 months of Twentieth Century Fox's venture in 1953 to CinemaScope Technicolor as its main production mode. The historical costume drama, the western, and the war film had filled Fox's production schedule and this all-black musical drama based on an established and popular opera would surely be a box-office success, as proved true. "Carmen Jones" was released in October 1954, exactly one year and one month after Fox's first CinemaScope venture, the Biblical epic "The Robe," had opened in theatres.
In 1992, "Carmen Jones" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The Broadway production of "Carmen Jones" by Billy Rose opened on December 2, 1943 and ran for 503 performances. When he saw it, Otto Preminger dismissed it as a series of "skits loosely based on the opera" with a score "simplified and changed so that the performers who had no operatic training could sing it." In adapting it for the screen, he wanted to make "a dramatic film with music rather than a conventional film musical," so he decided to return to the original source material - the Prosper Mérimée novella - and hired Harry Kleiner, whom he had taught at Yale University, to expand the story beyond the limitations imposed upon it by the Bizet opera and Hammerstein's interpretation of it.
Preminger realized no major studio would be interested in financing an operatic film with an all-black cast, so he decided to produce it independently. He anticipated United Artists executives Arthur B. Krim and Robert S. Benjamin, who had supported him in his censorship battles with "The Moon Is Blue," would be willing to invest in the project, but the two felt it was not economically viable and declined.
Following the completion of his previous film, "River of No Return," Preminger had paid 20th Century Fox $150,000 to cancel the remainder of his contract, so he was surprised when Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck contacted him and offered to finance the film while allowing him to operate as a fully independent filmmaker. In December 1953, he accepted $750,000 and began what became a prolonged pre-production period.
On April 14, 1954, six weeks before principal photography was scheduled to begin, Preminger was contacted by Joseph Breen, who was in the final months of his leadership of the office of the Motion Picture Production Code. Breen had clashed with Preminger over "The Moon Is Blue" and still resented the director's success in releasing that film without a seal of approval. He cited the "over-emphasis on lustfulness" in "Carmen Jones" and was outraged by the screenplay's failure to include "any voice of morality properly condemning Carmen's complete lack of morals." Preminger agreed to make some minor adjustments to the script and even filmed two versions of scenes Breen found objectionable, although he included the more controversial ones in the final film.
Because he himself was sensitive to the issue of racial representation in the film, Preminger had no objections when Zanuck urged him to submit the script to Walter Francis White, executive secretary of the NAACP, who had no objection to it.

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Photo taken on 8 April 2018 (© classic_film / Flickr)

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