Cast & Crew
Serafina Delle Rose, a seamstress living in an Italian-American community on the Gulf of Mexico, idolizes her husband Rosario, unaware that the truck driver has been having a long-term affair with Estelle Hohengarten, a blonde blackjack dealer. Serafina, who is pregnant with her second child, is also ignorant of Rosario's smuggling activities and is completely possessed by grief when he is killed in a highway explosion while attempting to escape from the police in his truck. After suffering a miscarriage, Serafina devotes herself to mourning, even cremating Rosario's body against the dictates of the Church, so that she may keep his ashes in the house. Three years later, Serafina's pretty eighteen-year-old daughter Rosa meets a sailor named Jack Hunter at her graduation dance and falls deeply in love. Rosa introduces Jack to her mother, but Serafina, having heard that morning about Rosario's affair with Estelle, is so preoccupied with her anger and suspicion that she hardly notices them at first. While gazing at the happy young couple, Serafina's bitterness overcomes her, and she accuses the young man of wanting to violate her daughter's innocence. After Jack vows by the Blessed Virgin that he will respect Rosa, Serafina claims that she is satisfied and lets the young people go out together. Later that day, Serafina meets Alvaro Mangiacavallo, a simple-minded Sicilian-born truck driver, whose strong body reminds her of her husband and reawakens her passion. Eager to impress Serafina, Alvaro has a rose tattooed on his chest, just as Rosario had done. Alvaro's romantic overtures anger Serafina, but when she learns that he is acquainted with Estelle, she forces him to take her to the woman. When confronted by Serafina, Estelle defiantly admits that she loved Rosario and publicly displays the tattoo imprinted on her own chest. Horrified, Serafina rushes home and smashes the urn containing her husband's ashes. Later, after saying goodbye to Alvaro loud enough for the neighbors to hear, Serafina asks him to return secretly and spend the night. In the meantime, Alvaro gets drunk and passes out shortly after he arrives at the house. In the morning, a groggy Alvaro sees Rosa asleep on the couch and stares longingly at her face. Rosa awakes and runs screaming into Serafina's room. Thinking that Alvaro attacked Rosa, Serafina drives him out. Rosa, weary of her mother's vigilance and hypocrisy, angrily informs Serafina that she plans to elope with Jack, but when he arrives, Serafina surprises the couple by giving them her blessing. Alvaro then clumsily declares his love for Serafina, whereupon, at the urging of the neighboring women, she happily invites him into the house.
Jo Van Fleet
Rossana San Marco
John P. Fulton
Joseph H. Hazen
James Wong Howe
Mrs. Natalia Murray
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Supporting Actress
The Rose Tattoo
Eli Wallach and Maureen Stapleton had just played the two leads magnificently on stage - and would do so again on Broadway - but Wallis knew neither had any box office clout. "As far as I was concerned," said Wallis, "there was only one actress on earth who could play the tempestuous Italian heroine, the warm, passionate, angry and exciting, utterly feminine Serafina. That woman was Anna Magnani. I told Tennessee [this]. He became very excited, shyness and reserve dissolving into a broad smile." Wallis knew that Williams had written the play specifically for Magnani, Italy's most famous actress at the time, and that she had turned it down because she was terrified to perform in English night after night. With the movie, she could have time to improve her rudimentary English and perfect it take by take.
Williams's story The Rose Tattoo focuses on a Sicilian immigrant seamstress ("Serafina") living with her teenage daughter on the Gulf of Mexico. She is mourning the loss of her husband, whom she idolizes so dearly that she does not allow herself to act on the attraction she feels toward a man who enters her life ("Alvaro"), a truck driver like her late husband. Alvaro, wanting to impress her, gets a rose tattoo on his chest just as her husband had done. In the course of time, Serafina learns that her husband's purity was an illusion and eventually allows herself to accept Alvaro.
This was Magnani's first Hollywood movie and English-speaking role, and though Burt Lancaster came aboard to play Alvaro, it was her picture all the way. Her powerful work in Roberto Rossellini's neo-realist masterpiece Open City (1945) had impressed audiences worldwide, and Jean Renoir, who directed her in The Golden Coach (1953), called her "probably the greatest actress I have ever worked with." Magnani was not a glamorous beauty, but she radiated fierce sensuality and energy and displayed an enormous emotional range. As The New York Times wrote in its review of The Rose Tattoo, "She fits the role - or it fits her - like skin. Miss Magnani makes the change from dismal grief to booming joy a spectrum of emotional alterations and personality eccentricities."
Off camera, Magnani was just as much a force of nature. Wallis put it best, describing in his memoir how he first met with Magnani in her Rome apartment. "She was magnificent and very conscious of it. She snarled at me in Italian, smiled, frowned, seemed on the verge of tears, then broke into peals of laughter and scowled again. I understood at once her lusty, bawdy attraction and why she had charmed many men half her age."
Orchestrating the huge egos of Magnani and Lancaster proved a tough job even for Wallis. Magnani was afraid to fly, so Wallis arranged a two-week, publicized boat voyage to the U.S. for her, with Tennessee Williams joining her to work on the script and her English. Lancaster, meanwhile, was directing his first feature, The Kentuckian (1955). When he finished several days behind schedule, he asked Wallis for a month's postponement on reporting to the set of The Rose Tattoo in Key West, citing exhaustion. Wallis was furious, having already pushed back his picture to accommodate Lancaster and having gone to great lengths to get Magnani to Key West on time. In the end, Wallis agreed to a slight compromise.
During the shoot, Lancaster was the one man whom Magnani did not charm. Wallis wrote that she fell for him ("He was just her type of big, broad-shouldered he-man") but Lancaster wasn't interested. In fact, they clashed often, with Tennessee Williams often acting as peacekeeper. (Williams and Magnani had become close friends.) One day, according to Lancaster biographer Kate Buford, the star left the set and "refused to return until Magnani stopped trying to direct him."
Their acting styles were totally different, with Lancaster's flamboyance highlighting Magnani's ability to do more with less. Though reviews of his performance were mixed, Lancaster was proud of the film, telling reporters, "I don't come in til the third act, but when I do, it's like a gang buster."
During their location scout, Wallis and director Daniel Mann searched Key West for the perfect house, as described by Williams in his script. Eventually they found one which matched the description exactly, and were astonished to learn that Williams himself owned the house next door. They had by chance discovered the actual house that had inspired Williams when he was writing his play, only for some reason Williams had never suggested it to them beforehand.
Hal Kanter collaborated with Williams on the screenplay. They fought over the writing credit, but rather than take it to the Writers Guild for a protracted showdown, Kanter agreed to accept an "adapted by" credit. Later, he heard that when Williams saw a rough cut of the film, he said, "The best scene in the picture is with the Japanese tattoo artist - and it isn't mine!" (Kanter wrote it). Both writers made cameos in the film as drinkers at a crowded bar.
The Rose Tattoo was nominated for eight Oscars® and won three - for Best Actress (Magnani), Best Black and White Cinematography (James Wong Howe) and Best Art Direction. Also nominated were Alex North for his superb score, Marisa Pavan (who played Serafina's daughter), and the picture itself, which lost to Marty. After Magnani won her Oscar®, Wallis sent her the jeep and trailer he had promised if the film turned out to be a success. She wanted them in order to take her polio-stricken son with her when she went on future locations.
Producer: Hal B. Wallis
Director: Daniel Mann
Screenplay: Tennessee Williams, Hal Kanter
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Film Editing: Warren Low
Art Direction: Tambi Larsen, Hal Pereira
Music: Alex North, Harry Warren
Cast: Anna Magnani (Serafina Delle Rose), Burt Lancaster (Alvaro Mangiacavallo), Marisa Pavan (Rosa Delle Rose), Ben Cooper (Jack Hunter), Virginia Grey (Estelle Hohengarten), Jo Van Fleet (Bessie).
BW-117m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
The Rose Tattoo
This film marked Anna Magnani's first Hollywood picture and her first English-speaking role. According to the New York Times reviewer, Tennessee Williams wrote his play with Magnani in mind. When the play opened in New York City, however, she was not available to take the part. On August 10, 1952, New York Times reported that Vittorio De Sica might direct the film version of the play, and an April 11, 1954 New York Times article reported that Pier Angeli would play the part of "Rosa." (Marisa Pavan, who ultimately played "Rosa," was Angeli's twin sister.) According to a July 1954 New York Times item, January Merlin tested for the role of "Jack."
Information in the MPAA/PCA collection at the AMPAS Library reveals that PCA officials initially rejected Williams' play, stating that the story was absorbed with "lust and gross sex" and confused religion with superstition. According to the July 1954 New York Times article, producer Hal Wallis suggested that Williams temper the play's sexual aspects and make a clear distinction between Roman Catholic beliefs and "Serafina's" superstitions. The completed script was then accepted by the PCA.
Hollywood Reporter news items add Flo Vinson, June Smaney, Loulette Sablon and Trini Varela to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Some scenes were shot on location in Key West, FL, according to contemporary sources. Magnani won an Academy Award for Best Actress; James Wong Howe won the Oscar for Best Black and White Cinematography; Hal Pereira and Tambi Larsen won for Black and White Art Direction; and Sam Comer and Arthur Krams won for Best Black and White Set Decoration. The film received a nomination for Best Picture and Pavan was nominated for Best Supporting Actress. In addition, the film was nominated in the following categories: Best Costume Design, Editing and Music. Magnani won a Golden Globe award for Best Actress in a drama, and Pavan won a Golden Globe Best Supporting Actress award. Director Daniel Mann also directed the Broadway play, and Dorrit Kelton, Rossana San Marco and Augusta Merighi appeared in both the film and the stage play.
Voted Best Actress (Magnani) and One of the Year's Ten Best Films by the 1955 National Board of Review.
Voted Best Actress (Magnani) by the 1955 New York Film Critics Association.
Released in United States October 1996
Released in United States on Video May 30, 1991
Released in United States Winter December 1955
Released in United States on Video May 30, 1991
Released in United States October 1996 (Shown in New York City (American Museum of the Moving Image) as part of program "Hollywood Independents: Wallis-Hazin Productions" October 12-27, 1996.)
Released in United States Winter December 1955