Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones

Dorothy Dandridge made history when she became the first black woman to receive a Best Actress nomination for playing Carmen Jones in Otto Preminger's opera movie, Carmen Jones. Despite this nomination she did not have many other big roles. If I really think about it, then she may have been third in the voting process, but fourth or fifth is (unfortunately) more likely. It was mainly a so-called "two-horse race".

Carmen Jones is a... movie. I really don't know what to say about it. It's very interesting and entertaining, but probably it's mostly strange. Many people consider it a classic, but I think that might be due to the fact that it was very groundbreaking as there were only black people in the cast. Nevertheless, it's very enjoyable, though there are some moments which are hard to follow since the film slows down sometimes. The actors give quite tolerable performances, though Harry Belafonte is a bit annoying sometimes.

But it's the movie of Dorothy Dandgridge, everything is about her, we see her, we root for her, we hate and love her at the same time. First of all, I must say how unusually beautiful Ms. Dandridge was. She had a kind of wild charisma and she was so sexy and attractive. Yes, the key word for this performance is probably attractive. This role is neither baity nor demanding, but there's some kind of a force which makes you pay attention to Dandridge's acting.

Dorothy did not do her own singing, but that takes nothing away from her achievement. What she actually does in this movie is quite great and memorable. Plus during the singing scenes the face is so expressive that you can turn down the volume and you know what Carmen sings by only watching her.

I was instantly mesmerized by her presence in her very first scene, but that's also due to the great directing. Everyone in the movie looks at Carmen, so you have to do that too. There's a woman, who's lively, beautiful, sexy and you just cannot take your eyes off her. Dandridge has a very unusually magnetic screen presence, which makes her performance very sharp, natural and a bit rough, if you know what I mean.

Dorothy has her best scenes in the beginning where the guy named Joe has to take her to prison, while Carmen wants to both escape and seduce the guy. And along with Joe, we are certainly seduced too. She so perfectly portrayed the wild and restless nature of this woman, that it left me speechless. Again: it attracted my attention.

Another interesting aspect of the performance is that Dandridge never really tries to make the audience sympathize with her nor makes Carmen a tragic heroine. Instead she shows all the flaws of this very complex character and carefully (and invisibly) developes her. Though I must say that she should have concentrated a bit more on the development as every change in Carmen is a bit sudden.

Although I have been mostly raving about her, Dandridge's performance is not flawless: it's not as thin as Jane Wyman's yesterday, but it's much less emotionally effective. Although I was very much entertained by Dorothy, she did not really move me (she did not even try as I said). As I previously said, it's very interesting that she did not make Carmen a tragic heroine, but a little emotional connection with the audience would not have harmed her acting. And this is not a minor thing as in some way, a performer should connect to the audience emotionally.

However, I must admit that I was totally charmed and mesmerized by the magnetic presence and extraordinary beauty of Ms. Dandridge, who gave a very exciting, wild, sexy and attractive performance as a very complicated woman. It's legendary status may be questionable, but it's a great achievement by a great talent, who knew how to impress the audience. It's a very strong and deserving four.
So what do you think? Any predictions, observations, off-topic questions? Judy is next and her review comes tomorrow.


Fritz said...

I love the opera 'Carmen' so I thought the movie was quite entertaining because it used the wonderful score. As you said, strange but entertaining.

Louis Morgan said...

Sounds like an odd film, it is rather odd that this performance is talked about so little due to its historical importance.

joe burns said...

It sounds like a good film. I 'm looking forward to see her.

Anonymous said...

The movie is legendary and your critique is dull. She was the black Marilyn Monroe of the time. her acting in Carmen Jones was spot on and she probably deserved to win for Best Actress. Hollywood however was not ready to give a Best Actress Award at that time to a black actress.