Title: The Rose Tattoo
Language: English, Italian
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director: Daniel Mann
Music: Alex North
Cinematography: James Wong Howe
Jo Van Fleet
This is the screen adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ namesake play which opened on Broadway in 1951, originally is tailor-made for Magnani, but she rejected it then due to her inadequate English expertise; four years later, she shoulders on this film version helmed by theatrical old hand Daniel Mann, which substantially lives up to everyone’s expectation and is crowned as BEST LEADING ACTRESS in the Oscar competition, the film also earns two other wins for BEST ART DIRECTION and BEST BLACK & WHITE CINEMATOGRAPHY for the legendary Chinese-American cinematographer James Wong Howe out of a total 8 nominations.
Magnani plays Serafina, an immigrant from Sicily to America to marry with Rosario Delle Rose, an Italian man with a baron lineage, but now is merely a truck driver hauling bananas. They have a fifteen-year-old daughter Rosa (Paven), and Magnani is pregnant with a second child, but an accident soon kills Rosario and it turns out he is engaged in transporting some illegal commodities, what’s more devastating, rumour says he had an affair with another woman Estelle (Grey). Indulged in the mourning of her husband and refuses to accept the truth, Serafina has a miscarriage, strains arise between Serafina and the rest of the people in their close-knitted Italian neighbourhood, also with Rosa,who meets a sailor Jack (Cooper) in her high school graduation prom, and they hit it off immediately. Later another young truck driver Alvaro (Lancaster) barges into her life, so can Serafina finally be liberated from past memories and brave a new romance? A hint, THE ROSE TATTOO has a comedic vibrancy which rarely prevails in Tennessee Williams’ works.
The title refers to the rose tattoo on Rosario’s chest, a symbol of carnal temptation which lingers in Serafina’s memory after her husband is gone, and not until she meets Alvaro, a young body particularly resembles her dead husband, does she tentatively open up to him and their budding romance is quite a burlesque as they play off a typical forward-man-versus-reserved-woman stunt, until Alvaro bares his chest to show her a rose tattoo, an impending danger seems to be enveloping them even in the film’s most farcical set piece, one constantly fears the story would steer to the opposite direction in a jiffy.
Magnani commands such a towering impersonation as she brilliantly alternates between attention-grabbing melodrama and outlandish hysteria with effortless artistry, the story is so Italian, and Magnani represents the exemplary virtue of an Italian mother, hot-blooded, honest to her feelings, sensuously attractive but never demeans herself to be flirtatious, and extremely protective towards her child. Lancaster only emerges in the latter half of the film, but shines in his unusually comedic slapstick; Marisa Pavan who also receives an Oscar nomination, unfortunately pales into insignificance by Magnani as a disobedient daughter with an overfamiliar agency on her plate.
James Wong Howe’s low-key camera faithfully serves to introduce all the movements of the characters, hones up the fluency and consistency of the story without being obtrusive or self-aware. By and large, THE ROSE TATTOO is a potent drama galvanises with a more buoyant flare rather different from Tennessee Williams’ customarily neurotic fashioning.