Rose Tattoo, The (1955): Tennessee Williams Screen Version, Starring Anna Magnani in Oscar-Winning Performance

The 1950s conservative ideology and its emphasis on middle class domesticity was particularly evident in the changes made in transferring stage plays to the big screen. In the process, these plays suffered immensely as a result of the strict impositions of the Production Code.

The heroine of Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo,” Serafina Della Rose (played by Italian actress Anna Magnani, in an Oscar-winning performance), is an Italian born seamstress, transplanted from Sicily to Florida’s Gulf Coast. After the death of her small-time smuggler of a husband, she turns into a recluse, keeping his ashes in a vase in her shanty parlor.

Obsessed with his physical virility, Serafina describes him as a “young bull” (Ben in “The Long Hot Summer” is also depicted as a stud and bull). Serafina is contrasted with Rosa (Marisa Pavan), her naive teenage daughter, who’s experiencing her first love. At fifteen, Rosa claims she is “ready” for marriage and motherhood.

A domineering mother, Serafina forces her daughter to be as recluse and repressed as she is, particularly upon realizing that her husband was unfaithful to her. “I was a peasant,” she tells the priest, “I came to him with one dress, but I brought him glory; he was a baron.” Refusing to believe that “the man I kept in my heart gave me horns,” she is demented by wild grief, and her jealousy turns into fierce possessiveness of her daughter. However, when she meets another truck driver (Burt Lancaster), who has “the body of my husband,” she is unable to repress her sexuality anymore.

Daniel Mann’s film version of “The Rose Tattoo” scaled down the raw sexuality and passion, which defined the original play and made it contriversial. The Hollywood’ minder, softer touch diffused Williams’s criticism of conventional morality and the kind of sexuality allotted to him by mainstreal culture.

The scholar Maurice Yacowar pointed out that in the play, it was passion for passion’s sake, but in the film, sexual desire is approved of only if it leads to marriage. In the play, Serafina and Alvaro meet by fateful accident, but in the film, Alvaro’s sister plots a match between them. In the play, Rosa settles for a night of love; in the film, for domesticity. In the play, Alvaro says, “Sooner or later the innocence of your daughter cannot be respected,” which was changed in the film into “Sooner or later, the innocence of your daughter cannot be respected if the family’s going to continue.”


Serafina Delle Rose (Anna Magnani)

Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Burt Lancaster)

Rosa Delle Rose (Marisa Pavan)

Jack Hunter (Ben Cooper)

Estelle Hohengarten (Virginia Grey)

Bessie (Jo Van Fleet)

Father De Leo (Sandro Giglio)

Assunta (Mimi Aguglia)

Flora (Florence Sundstrom)

Schoolteacher (Dorrit Kelton)



Running time: 117 Minutes