Rose Tattoo, The (1955)

Rose Tattoo, The (1955)

“Is it my fault you’ve been a widow too long?”

A widowed Italian-American seamstress (Anna Magnani) is wooed by an insistent suitor (Burt Lancaster) while her beautiful young daughter (Marisa Pavan) begins dating an earnest sailor (Ben Cooper).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Anna Magnani Films
  • Burt Lancaster Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Tennessee Williams Films
  • Widows and Widowers

Tennessee Williams wrote The Rose Tattoo specifically with Anna Magnani in mind for the lead, but she wasn’t comfortable taking on the role until she had time to practice her English; when the Broadway play was turned into a film, she won an Oscar for her moving, “highly emotional” portrayal of Serafina Delle Rose.

Peary doesn’t review The Rose Tattoo in his GFTFF, but he does name Magnani Best Actress of the Year in his Alternate Oscars, where he concedes that while the film itself “doesn’t really hold up today”, “Magnani is still amazing to watch”. He adds: “There was no one else like her on the American screen. She holds nothing back; her performance is vibrant, lusty, [and] witty.” While Lancaster’s “extremely aggressive, not-too-bright trucker” is simply annoying (this falls squarely into the category of his “just too much” performances):

… it is indeed “a treat to see Magnani’s character finally let herself laugh and be happy with him” because “this actress had the uncanny ability to make us feel whatever emotions her women feel”. The Rose Tattoo‘s storyline isn’t particularly compelling — Serafina needs to face up to her former husband’s infidelity and move on, and of course her daughter should be free to make her own romantic choices — but Magnani’s performance alone does indeed make the film a must-see.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Anna Magnani as Serafina
  • James Wong Howe’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, for Magnani’s performance. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)
  • Oscar Winner or Nominee


2 thoughts on “Rose Tattoo, The (1955)

  1. Agreed: a once-must for Magnani’s performance. There really is no other strong reason to see the film, basically.

    That makes this film a particular anomaly. Here we have a magnificent performance that is somewhat in a vacuum: as stated, the storyline is not wildly compelling, and Magnani is playing opposite Lancaster – in a role woefully miscast and unintentionally comical in its display.

    Even though I have a copy of this film, I don’t find myself with the urge to revisit it – though I did watch it again recently, knowing I would have to say something here about it.

  2. I feel the same way — I have zero desire to revisit this one, but am certainly glad to have been reminded of Magnani’s magnificent performance. I hadn’t seen it since I was a teen.

    Lancaster is such an either/or for me; he can be really good, but also… really annoying.

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