The Rose Tattoo is a compelling story, by Tennessee Williams shot in such beautiful black and white that all the color of 1955 cannot compare. This was Anna Magnani first English speaking role and ended up winning the Oscar for Best Actress. If you want to see some real acting in the 1950’s, Magnani makes this a must see film.
Serefina Delle Rose (Magnani) runs a small neighborhood sewing business in her home and clings to the love of her husband. When he is killed in a police chase and his reputation soiled by smuggling, Serefina spirals into a deep depression and becomes recluse in her home. Throughout the Italian-roots neighborhood, the ladies gossip about Serefina, secrets of her husband and only see her when they need her to sew something.
Three years later Serefina has only gotten worse. She never leaves the house, never seems dressed enough for public and has fallen behind in her sewing with the ladies constantly complaining. Her daughter, Rosa (Marisa Pavan) is a blossoming young woman, but her mother tries to impose her stagnant lifestyle on Rosa by not even making her any formal wear for a dance, while all the girls in the neighborhood are wearing dresses made by Serefina. Nonetheless, she falls in love with Jack (Ben Cooper), a young sailor. Of course, Serefina does not approve, the relationship seems to be a threat to the way things were before her husband died.
One day, a couple of crass young ladies ask Serefina to sew a blouse and their filthy talk and hollering out the window to drunk men infuriate Serefina so much that she throws them out of her house. When she tells the ladies she wants her house to remain pure for the memory of her husband, one lady tells Serefina about the affair her husband had.
Now poor Serefina is worse than ever, but somehow has a revelation to warm up, just slightly, to Jack. But just as we think she’s taken a step forward, she’s tearing through the church bazaar looking like a crazy woman asking the priest if what the woman said about her husband is true. By the end of the scene, she’s so upset that a young truck driver, (Burt Lancaster) takes her home, an unlikely friendship starts up and they have a night they’ll never forget.
Anna Magnani is undoubtedly the best actress of 1955. From that first scene where Serefina is caressing her husband, we see her passion and ultimate need for him. When she is first told of his death, the scene feels so naturally tragic because of Magnani. Throughout the film, she doesn’t have to make grief look noble or pretty like I get so sick of seeing in the 1950’s. The broken hearted near madness she portrays is refreshing and amazing.
“He should’ve stuck to haulin’ bananas.”