Showing posts with label 1954. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 1954. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

#28DaysofBlack Review: All Black Cast is Glorious in "CARMEN JONES"

[For her performance as the title character in Carmen Jones, Dorothy Dandridge became the first African-American actress to be nominated for the “Academy Award for Best Actress.” Dandridge was also the first Black actor nominated for an Oscar in a leading role category, besting by four years Sidney Poitier, the first Black man nominated for “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (for 1958's The Defiant Ones). Dandridge was dead a little under 11 years after the release of Carmen Jones.]

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 5 of 2021 (No. 1743) by Leroy Douresseaux

Carmen Jones (1954)
Running time:  105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes)
PRODUCER/DIRECTOR:  Otto Preminger    
WRITERS: Harry Kleiner (screenplay); Oscar Hammerstein 2nd (lyrics and book); (based on the opera by Georges Bizet)
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Sam Leavitt (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Louis R. Loeffler    
COMPOSERS:  Herschel Burke Gilbert (musical director); Georges Bizet (original music)
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Harry Belafonte, Dorothy Dandridge, Pearl Bailey, Olga James, Joe Adams, Brock Peters, Roy Daniels, Nick Stewart, and Diahann Carroll

Carmen Jones is a 1954 American musical film produced and directed by Otto Preminger.  It is a film version of Oscar Hammerstein II's 1943 stage musical, Carmen Jones.  Hammerstein wrote the book (story) and lyrics to Carmen Jones and set them to the music of Georges Bizet's 1875 opera, Carmen.  However, Carmen Jones is a contemporary version of the Bizet opera, with new lyrics, and it features a lead cast of all African-American and black actors.

Carmen Jones is set during World War II.  The story opens as a young woman, Cindy Lou (Olga James), arrives at the “Parachute Division” of A.J. Gardner Manufacturing Corp. (apparently located in North Carolina), where U.S. Army soldiers provide security.  Cindy Lou is there to meet her betrothed, Corporal Joe (Harry Belafonte), a young soldier who is about to enter flight officers training school.  But Cindy Lou isn't the only young woman with her eye on Joe.

Carmen Jones (Dorothy Dandridge) is an employee at the parachute factory.  One of her fellow employees describes Carmen as a “hip-swinging floozie.”  She arrives late to work wearing a loud red skirt, and she shamelessly declares that he wants Joe – mainly because she is attracted to men who play hard to get with her.  Joe seems bound and determined to focus only on Cindy Lou, and, in fact, he wants to marry her right away.

However, after Carmen gets in a fight with another female employee, scheming Sgt. Brown (Brock Peters) orders Joe to take Carmen to a civilian jail in the town of Masonville, which is over fifty miles away from the parachute plant.  Fate and circumstance seemed bound and determined to bring Carmen Jones and Corporal Joe together, but the cards and the spirits seem to say they are bound for tragedy.

When it comes to Carmen Jones the musical film, I can take it or leave it.  Oh, I enjoyed it enough, and some of the songs actually tickles my senses.  For me, the joy of Carmen Jones is its magnificent cast.  It is a shame how things were for African-American actors and performers in film back in those days.  This cast includes actors who should have dominated their craft and profession.

When Dorothy Dandridge first appears as Carmen Jones, she cuts through this film like a red hot knife through butter, and it is not only because of the hot red skirt she wears, which could launch a thousand ships.  Her presence is glorious, and director Otto Preminger clearly makes her the center of the film – as if he had a choice.  Because Dandridge, who was a singer, did not sing opera, she does not sing in the film; her singing voice is dubbed by Marilyn Horne, but Dandrige's lip-syncing is so convincing that it is hard to believe that she is actually not singing.  I can see why she captured the imaginations of enough voters in the Academy Awards to earn a “Best Actress” Oscar nomination as Carmen.

That is saying something considering that Harry Belafonte as Joe throws off quite a bit of energy himself.  When he wants to, Belafonte moves about like a panther, all power and lightning.  Belafonte's name appears first onscreen among the performers, and he acquits himself very, very well.  Belafonte's singing voice is also dubbed (by LeVern Hutcherson), but he also does some powerful lip-syncing, probably because he is also a singer.

If there is another actress in Carmen Jones packing as much dynamite as Dandridge, it is Pearl Bailey as Frankie, one of Carmen's friends.  Wow!  I am almost without words to describe how mesmerizing Bailey is the moment.  When she sings “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum (Gypsy Song),” Bailey pumps so much sexual heat into the film that I am surprised that scene did not get cut out by censors.

So I recommend Carmen Jones to anyone ready to see that an all-black cast can be magnetic on the screen.  They can be sexy and alluring and make you want to follow them on any adventure.  They can transport you to another world, and … they make Carmen Jones much more than it could have been.

8 of 10

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

1955 Academy Awards, USA: 2 nominations: “Best Actress in a Leading Role” (Dorothy Dandridge) and “Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture” (Herschel Burke Gilbert)

1955 Golden Globes, USA:  2 wins: “Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical” and “Most Promising Newcomer – Male” (Joe Adams)

1956 BAFTA Awards:  2 nominations: “Best Film from any Source” (USA) and “Best Foreign Actress” (Dorothy Dandridge-USA)

The text is copyright © 2021 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this blog or site for syndication rights and fees.


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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Review: "Seven Samurai" is One of the Best Films Ever (Happy B'day, Akira Kurosawa)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 81 (of 2006) by Leroy Douresseaux

Shichinin no samurai (1954) – B&W
Seven Samurai (1954) – USA title
Running time:  206 minutes (3 hours, 26 minutes) - USA restored version
DIRECTOR/EDITOR:  Akira Kurosawa
WRITERS:  Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni, and Akira Kurosawa
PRODUCER:  Sojiro Motoki
COMPOSER:  Fumio Hayasaka
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Takashi Shimura, Toshirô Mifune, Yoshio Inaba, Seiji  Miyaguchi, Minoru Chiaki, Daisuke Katô, Isao Kimura, Keiko Tsushima, Kamatari Fujiwara, Yoshio Kosugi, Bokuzen Hidari, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Yukiko Shimazaki, and Kokuten Kodo

The subject of this movie review is Seven Samurai (original Japanese title: Shichinin no samurai), a 1954 samurai drama and period adventure film from director Akira Kurosawa.  Set during Japan’s Sengoku period (warring states period), the film focuses on a poor village, the bandits that attack the village, and the seven unemployed samurai that the villagers recruit to help defend themselves.

Not only do I consider Seven Samurai to be one of the ten best films every made, but I also love it as one of my all-time favorite movies.  I was surprised to learn that the film is believed to have contributed structural narrative innovations to film storytelling or was among the first to use those innovations.  That’s great, but I don’t need that information on innovations to know that Kurosawa’s film overwhelms me.

Late 16th century, Japan:  a small farming village finds itself annually besieged by bandits, who usually arrive just after harvest so that they can steal the villagers’ crops.  Tired of being beaten into starvation, a small group of farmers leaves the village and heads for a town in hopes of convincing a large number of samurai to defend their village from the encroaching bandits.  The farmers happen upon a scene wherein a master samurai, Kambei (Takashi Shimura), disguises himself as a monk in order to save a child kidnapped by a madman.

Impressed by his bravery, the villagers convince Kambei to help their village, although the only payment that the farmers can offer the samurai is enough rice to eat.  Kambei and the farmers make the same offer to a number of samurai, many of whom are greatly insulted by the offer.  However, six others eventually accept, including a scruffy ronin (Toshirô Mifune) and a novice samurai.  The seven samurai and the farmers return to the village, where together they build the rest of the villagers into a militia, while the bandits lurk in the nearby forest.  Eventually, the bandits’ raids on the village begin, and it culminates in an epic, bloody battle pitting the samurai and villagers against the bandits.

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is one of the ultimate auteur films, coming from a director, who like Stanley Kubrick, is an ultimate auteur.  It’s hard to believe that there is anything on the screen that Kurosawa didn’t want, and everything is so carefully considered:  the composition of scenes, the cinematographer, the execution of the action, the editing, the lighting, etc.  The film filled my senses, controlled my emotions, and had my mind on overdrive as I tried to figure out the next move, the next scene, or the narrative flow.  I have found very few films to so move me with such power, exhilaration, fear, anticipation, and Seven Samurai even has a few laughs.

If you’re looking for flying, super powered samurai, this isn’t it.  If you want an epic film about honor, sacrifice, and duty set in a romantic past, Seven Samurai is it.  This is easily one of the ten best motion pictures ever made.

10 of 10

1957 Academy Awards:  2 nominations:  “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (Takashi Matsuyama) and “Best Costume Design, Black-and-White” (Kôhei Ezaki)

1956 BAFTA Awards:  3 nominations:  “Best Film from any Source (Japan), “Best Foreign Actor” (Toshirô Mifune of Japan), and “Best Foreign Actor” (Takashi Shimura from Japan)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Updated:  Sunday, March 23, 2014

The text is copyright © 2014 Leroy Douresseaux. All Rights Reserved. Contact this site for syndication rights and fees.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Animated Short Review: "Baby Buggy Bunny" is One of the Great Bugs Bunny Shorts (Happy B'day, Mel Blanc)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 163 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Baby Buggy Bunny (1954)
Running time: 7 minutes
DIRECTOR: Charles M. Jones
WRITER: Michael Maltese
PRODUCER: Edward Selzer
ANIMATORS: Ken Harris, Abe Levitow, Lloyd Vaughan, and Ben Washam
LAYOUT ARTIST: Ernest Nordli
COMPOSER: Milt Franklyn


Starring: (voice) Mel Blanc

The subject of this review is Baby Buggy Bunny, a 1954 animated short film directed by Chuck Jones and written by Michael Maltese. This animated film is part of the “Merrie Melodies” series of cartoon shorts from Warner Bros. Pictures. The film stars Bugs Bunny, as he takes on an orphaned baby who is definitely more than he seems.

In Baby Buggy Bunny, Baby-Faced Finster (aka Ant Hill Harry) (Mel Blanc) robs a bank, but his loot ends up in Bugs Bunny’s (Mel Blanc) home (the hole in the ground, rabbit hutch). Finster disguises himself as an orphaned baby, and perches himself on Bugs’ doorstep as an orphaned infant, left with a note by the missing mother in which she ask Bugs to care for Baby Finster. Bugs takes Finster in, but finds the baby quite ornery. Soon, Bugs figures out that Baby Finster is really Baby-Faced Finster, hot off a bank robbery, and Bugs is determined to see justice done.

Although there are so many Looney Tunes animated shorts that I could call a favorite, Baby Buggy Bunny stands out because the entire cartoon is top-notch – from the stylish character designs and quicksilver animation to the superb sketch comedy and gag writing. This is one of the Looney Tunes that is as much for adults (if not more so) as it is for children.

Classic Bugs Bunny cartoons usually set the rabbit up against worthy adversaries; in the case of Baby-Faced Finster, the short film has a nasty and sneaky creep who is as malevolent as he can be in Looney Tune cartoon. A good villain really kicks Bugs Bunny’s smarts and luck into high gear, and Finster certainly does that. Outside of cartoons featuring Bugs Bunny vs. Daffy Duck or Yosemite Sam, Baby Buggy Bunny is one of the better fight Tunes.

8 of 10

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: "On the Waterfront" is Still an American Classic (Happy B'day, Marlon Brando)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 75 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

On the Waterfront (1954) – Black & White
Running time: 108 minutes (1 hour, 48 minutes)
DIRECTOR: Elia Kazan
WRITER: Budd Schulberg; from a story by Budd Schulberg (suggest by the series of articles “Crime on the Waterfront” for the New York Sun newspaper by Malcolm Johnson)
PRODUCER: Sam Spiegel
EDITOR: Gene Milford
Academy Award winner


Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Lee J. Cobb, Rod Steiger, Eva Marie Saint, Pat Henning, Leif Erickson, James Westerfield, John Hamilton, Marty Balsam, Fred Gwynne, and Pat Hingle

The 1954 “Best Picture” winner, On the Waterfront, remains one of the all-time greats of American cinema. A landmark “issue” film, its screenplay is based upon Malcolm Johnson’s series of articles for the New York Sun, “Crime on the Waterfront;” the Pulitzer Prize-winning series focused on organized crime’s control of the longshoreman’s union, specifically in New York City. However, On the Waterfront is more than just an important film or some kind of docu-drama, it is film art as truth, taking real life and wringing the drama out of it into a story that is compelling because it portrays true crime and also because it beautifully depicts the struggle of real lives.

Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando in an Oscar-winning role) was a prizefighter who threw fights for his corrupt boxing manager and for his brother Charley “the Gent” Malloy (Rod Steiger), who was in tight with organized crime. Now, Terry feeds his pigeons and runs errands for Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), the corrupt boss of the longshoreman’s (or dock workers’) union, but one of those errands leads to the death of an acquaintance, Joey Doyle, at the hands of Friendly’s thugs. Now, the Waterfront Crime Commission is about to hold hearings on the underworld’s infiltration of unions, specifically the longshoremen.

Terry feels pangs of guilt, especially after he meets and falls for Joey Doyle’s sister, Edie (Eva Marie Saint, who won an Oscar for supporting actress for the role). Spurred on by Edie (who sees more in Terry than he sees in himself) and Father Barry (Karl Malden), a local priest who wants to stop the corrupt union from preying on desperate workers, the washed up boxer contemplates taking on the corrupt union boss, Friendly, much to the chagrin of Friendly and Friendly’s right hand man, Terry’s brother Charley.

Marlon Brando gives one of the great screen performances as Terry Malloy, and the cab ride with Terry and Charley having a man-to-man chat in the backseat is one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history. Brando embodies a man who is soured on life and made cynical by his bad decisions, the cruel injustices, and minor (and major) disappointments in life. We can watch Brando struggle to better himself against the part of him that really believes in nothing more than getting by each day, a man who believes that you live longer if you don’t have ambitions. This performance is a work of art that established Brando in many minds as the greatest screen actor of all time.

Don’t let Brando’s performance take away from the rest of the cast. There are some really great supporting performances here. Eva Marie Saint is fetching as a young woman who can be both relentless in her quest for justice and coy in her play at getting a man. Karl Malden’s Father Barry also has a great scene at the dock when he delivers a powerful “eulogy” about standing up like Christ to injustice and accepting that Christ is in each and every man, making each man your brother – powerful stuff.

On the Waterfront is superbly directed; it’s as if Elia Kazan couldn’t help but make the right choice every time. He was blessed with Budd Schulberg’s screenplay, which mastered the perfect balance of gritty realism and potent drama. Combine excellent cinematography with the real locations in NYC, and you have must-see cinema.

10 of 10

1955 Academy Awards: 8 wins: “Best Picture” (Sam Spiegel), “Best Director” (Elia Kazan), “Best Actor in a Leading Role” (Marlon Brando), “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Eva Marie Saint), “Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White” (Richard Day), “Best Cinematography, Black-and-White” (Boris Kaufman), “Best Film Editing” (Gene Milford), and “Best Writing, Story and Screenplay” (Budd Schulberg); 4 nominations: “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Lee J. Cobb), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Karl Malden), “Best Actor in a Supporting Role” (Rod Steiger), and “Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture” (Leonard Bernstein)

1955 BAFTA Awards: 1 win: “Best Foreign Actor” (Marlon Brando, USA); 2 nominations: “Best Film from any Source” (USA) and “Most Promising Newcomer to Film” (Eva Marie Saint)

1955 Golden Globes: 4 wins: “Best Motion Picture – Drama,” “Best Cinematography - Black and White” (Boris Kaufman), “Best Director” (Elia Kazan), and “Best Motion Picture Actor – Drama” (Marlon Brando)

1989 National Film Preservation Board: National Film Registry

Saturday, May 21, 2005


Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: "Rear Window" Always Looks Great (Happy B'day, Jimmy Stewart)

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 212 (of 2004) by Leroy Douresseaux

Rear Window (1954)
Running time: 113 minutes (1 hour, 53 minutes)
WRITER: John Michael Hayes (from the story, “It Had to be Murder,” by Cornell Woolrich)
EDITOR: George Tomasini
COMPOSER: Franz Waxman
Academy Award nominee


Starring: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr, Judith Evelyn, Ross Bagdasarian, and Georgine Darcy

Director Alfred Hitchcock received one of his six Oscar® nominations in the category of “Best Director” (he never won) for the classic mystery/thriller, Rear Window. Although many recognize the film as a masterful technical exercise, it is the film’s technical aspects that make it so special. Without Hitchcock’s bravura display of framing, shooting, and movement within the film, Rear Window would be a nice mystery flick; Hitchcock’s expert choices and subtle use of strong visual language makes it a quietly intense thriller and mystery picture.

The plot is simple. L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries (James Stewart) is a globe trotting photographer laid up with a severely broken leg. Jeff’s stuck in his apartment during a blistering summer heat wave, so he takes to spying out of his rear window on his Greenwich Village neighbors, using his powerful camera and photographic equipment. That’s fine, but things turn hotter when he suspects that his neighbor directly across the way, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), has murdered his invalid wife. He convinces his girlfriend, Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelley), of his theory, and though she’s busy trying to convince Jeff to marry her, Lisa stops to involve herself in Jeff’s investigation. Jeff also convinces his nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), that Thorwald murdered his wife, but he can’t sell it to his World War II buddy, police detective Lt. Thomas J. Doyle (Wendell Corey). Still, Jeff, Lisa, and Stella advance their own private investigation, but it moves them towards danger once Thorwald realizes that someone is watching him.

Although the film is ostensibly about voyeurism, Rear Window shows a fascination that people have with other people’s life. Hitchcock had a huge self-contained world created in the form of a film sound stage so that he could fashion the other lives of which his main character Jeff would be curious. As much as I wanted to follow the plot of the murder mystery (which Hitchcock slowly reveals with delicious anticipation), I was equally curious about the lives of Jeff’s other neighbors.

Hitchcock shoots practically the entire film (except for a few shots) from Jeff’s apartment, using the camera to spy out of Jeff’s rear window on the neighbors. This is one of the greatest examples of how the camera cannot so much manipulate as it can mesmerize an audience. With hypnotic intensity, I followed the camera’s every move, vainly trying to absorb as much as I could.

Rear Window is a film that stands the test of time not so much because of its subject matter, but because it is a technical masterpiece, a virtuoso display of cinematic technique. What keeps this film from being perfect are the performances and story. James Stewart and Grace Kelly are working purely on star power and relying on the fact that Hitchcock’s direction will do much of their work for them; for much of the film’s first three-quarters, Ms. Kelly merely just moves around looking like the goddess she was.

The murder at the center of the story lacks drama, mainly because we never get to know the Thorwalds and their private drama. Thus, Mrs. Anna Thorwald (Irene Winston) doesn’t garner much sympathy; it’s as if she’s just another murder statistic. It’s Hitchcock’s specific execution of the plot and his unique vision of filming the script that take this to another level, so it’s not to be missed by people who really like watching movies, not just as a pastimes, but as the work of artists and craftsmen.

9 of 10

1955 Academy Awards: 4 nominations: “Best Director” (Alfred Hitchcock), “Best Cinematography, Color” (Robert Burks), “Best Sound, Recording” (Loren L. Ryder-Paramount), and “Best Writing, Screenplay” (John Michael Hayes)

1955 BAFTA Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Film from any Source” (USA)

1997 National Film Preservation Board, USA - National Film Registry

Rear Window (Collector's Edition)Mystery Movies & TV)