The highly gifted Italian actress, Anna Magnani, is the emotional and unpredictable heroine of The Rose Tattoo, a tragicomedy based on Tennessee Williams‘ stage play and produced for the screen by Hal Wallis. Burt Lancaster is Miss Magnani‘s co-star and Marisa Pavan heads the large and capable supporting cast, both delivering top notch performances. But the major share of the acting honors goes to the dark-haired star whose performance covers an extraordinary range of human emotions from high comedy to deep tragedy as she characterizes a woman who was in love with love and refuses to have her images shattered. From a box-office standpoint, the film should be in the top gross class, especially in the larger situations. It’s an “unusual” and off-beat type of production that is sure to command attention, and word-of-mouth should be so effective that its appeal should not be limited to any type of run. Even if some patrons don’t like the story, the acting of Miss Magnani should be such a conversation topic that others will want to see it out of curiosity. Most critics will miss their guesses if she doesn’t win an “Oscar,” or, at least, a nomination.
The story concerns a small colony of Sicilians, hot-tempered by nature, who have settled in a seedy, semi-tropical Gulf Coast town where Miss Magnani lords it over her neighbors in the belief that her truck-driving husband’s pure love has endowed her with the dignity of a baroness. She boasts with equal pride of the rose tattooed on his chest and strives to bring up their daughter, Marisa Pavan, in the strict ways of the old world.
But three years after her husband is killed while on a smuggling venture, rude disillusionment begins to set in. She learns that her husband had not been as faithful as she had believed, and the romance of her daughter with Ben Cooper, a sailor on leave, does not add to her comfort. When she meets Lancaster, also a truck-driver of Sicilian parentage, their romance is a stormy one, actually riotous and well sprinkled with comedy that borders on slapstick. But she resists all his attention until she determines the fact that her husband had not been true to her. Eventually she gives her blessings to the marriage of her daughter to Cooper and then accepts Lancaster.
While the action at times is violent, the interjection of comedy is well placed. Especially good are Miss Magnani‘s neighbors, a collection of gossipy and witch-like characters who represent the result of expert casting. And Lancaster‘s characterization also is deserving of Academy attention.
Daniel Mann‘s direction is excellent. The screenplay by Williams and the adaptation by Hal Kanter have intensified the best ingredients of the stage play.
The Rose Tattoo is a most unusual motion picture starring a superb performer. Sex-conscious, earthy, and unusually hilariously funny, the film was adapted from a prize-winning New York stage play by Tennessee Williams. The story, decidedly off-beat for a U.S. film, takes place in a seedy, semi-tropical Gulf Coast town, where a highly passionate Sicilian seamstress played by Anna Magnani is so proud of her Italian-American husband that she lords it over her neighbors. When he is killed, she assumes an epic grief and goes into virtual seclusion for three years, restraining her passion in pathetic and comic ways. Finally, she learns that her beloved husband had been unfaithful to her, and allows her ardor to be rekindled by a benevolent village simpleton, played by Burt Lancaster.
The glowing and impetuous performance given by the Italian star will be long remembered and will certainly win an Oscar nomination, perhaps the acting plum itself. Whatever she does —chasing a wayward goat in her filthy back yard, hysterically arguing with her priest and neighbors, trying to squeeze herself into a corset, expressing her mute love to her sleeping husband, or forcing her daughter’s sailor boyfriend to kneel before the Virgin Mary and pronounce his good intentions — Miss Magnani rates superlatives, and her magnificent performance will create tremendous word-of-mouth. Also designed to send the customers away talking is the daring casting of box-office draw Lancaster as a harmless moron whose grandfather was the village idiot, and who only wants to marry a plump older woman who has a business on the side. Another surprise is Marisa Pavan, until now known mainly as Pier Angeli‘s sister. She registers in The Rose Tattoo as a potential star with a rich and moving performance as Miss Magnani‘s teen-age daughter, hot-blooded like her mother. Jo Van Fleet, as a lady of shady reputation, and a group of magpie-like, gossiping neighbors also add to the lustre of the production and will cause favorable comments.
Response to the film will probably vary according to locality, with the more sophisticated big-city audiences certain to bring in top grosses, and less worldly audiences a more doubtful proposition. Every exhibitor will be wise to help along the inevitable word-of-mouth with strong selling of his own, and he can recommend the film without hesitation to all those who want a rare treat in film fare.