Inside Production: The Rose Tattoo

There are no rules for making a picture. A director has to embrace all intelligent approaches.


Hal Wallis, Anna Magnani and Daniel Mann

January 1955

“It is a director’s job to translate life into screen terms,” explained Daniel Mann at Paramount, where he is currently directing The Rose Tattoo, for producer Hal Wallis.

Mann, along with other top Hollywood directors, has helped bring about the return of the “adult, realistic” motion picture. His direction of Come back, Little Sheba for Hal Wallis won him a great deal of praise and many citations.

In The Rose Tattoo, Mann has one of the top international motion picture actresses, Anna Magnani, making her American screen debut. “The part was originally written in the play with her in mind” Mann stated.

Mann is enthusiastic about Miss Magnani in the role. He explained that she speaks good English, with an Italian accent, which blends in with the role. For Burt Lancaster, he also stated, it is still another different role, which help even more establish Lancaster as one of the most versatile Hollywood actors.

Mann also directed the Broadway theatrical version of The Rose Tattoo. “In the play,” he said, “you direct the actors and on the screen, you direct the actors for audience attention.” He also pointed out that motion pictures differ from the stage in that the technicians work as a team with you. “In making a motion picture, you are constantly involved in mechanics.”

“The story material I have here is most unusual.” Mann stressed. “Tennessee Williams did the screen play from his own play.” Mann also directed About Mrs. Leslie for Hal Wallis and Paramount release.

Mann pointed out that “life, action, violence and movement that only the camera can bring in the screen” will be in the film version of the play.

Working with a camera is “more fluid,” and Mann likes this. He stated that when he comes to Hollywood, he returns to New York after he has completed a film a better director for the stage. And when he returns to Hollywood from the stage after directing a play, he is better director for motion pictures.

Mann cited the fact that there has never been a picture made on the theme of The Rose Tattoo. It is the story of an Italian woman who has the obsession after her husband’s death that he has been unfaithful to her. How she overcomes this and comes to her senses to lead a normal life again is the rest of the story.

The director pointed out he has only worked for Hal Wallis although he has had many other offers to direct feature films. “I’ve tried to do only things that interest me,” he said.

A former actor, Mann understands thesping more and more about the theatre and stagecraft and moviemaking. What is the most important job for a director? “You know what plays if you have directed the stage version and it is completely different to translate into screen terms. In this film, it is a very personal story and the camera helps make it intimate.”

Mann has lined himself up both a cast from Hollywood and also people who appeared in the play for him. Besides Lancaster and Miss Magnani, Mann cast Marisa Pavan, Virginia Grey and Ben Cooper here in Hollywood, while Jo Van Fleet, Dorritt Kelton and Florence Sundstrom were cast from New York where they appeared in the play.

Mann stated that in his opinion Hollywood will be more aware of Broadway properties that lend themselves to films; also the adult aspect of plays that lend themselves to films.

In regard to his directorial techniques, Mann pointed out that he tries to get much movement in a picture. His movement is not just arbitrarily put in, but is inserted from the point of dramatic action. He likes his camera “to float.” He is very happy to have James Wong Howe, one od Hollywood’s top cameraman, working with him. The camera follows a person or people for the reason that you make a point dramatically, he stressed.

There are no rules for making a picture. A director has to embrace all intelligent approaches, Mann said. Every picture has its own logic.

The Rose Tattoo film version of Tennessee Williams play

The glowing and impetuous performance given by the Italian star will be long remembered and will certainly win an Oscar nomination

Hal Wallis' production of Tennessee Williams' The Rose Tattoo

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.

November, 1955


La Rosa Tatuata porta al falso neorealismo

Nell’idea di partenza, Rosario non tradisce Serafina con Estella, la ragazza del Mardi Gras, ma con un uomo

Anna Magnani The Rose Tattoo

Giugno 1956

(…) Il falso folklore de La rosa tatuata porta al falso neorealismo; è evidente che l’aggettivo neorealistico, che certa critica ha adoperato per il film di Daniel Mann, è frutto dello stesso equivoco in cui è caduto il regista (né ci risulta d’altra parte che la stessa critica, così pronta in altre occasioni a parlare di lesa nazionalità, abbia avanzato riserve del genere). E ridotto questo folklore alla bizzarria, alla stranezza, al pittoresco, non rimaneva che articolare la vicenda da una parte sul piano dello umorismo e del grottesco (si veda, oltre a certi atteggiamenti di Serafina, tutto il personaggio di Alvaro) e dall’altra su quello dell’equivoco drammatico. Non riusciamo ad accettare la giustificazione di Williams, quando nell’introduzione a La rosa tatuata scrive: «La decrescente influenza del distruttore della vita, il tempo, deve venire in qualche modo inserita nel contesto della commedia. Forse è una certa distorsione verso il grottesco che può risolvere il problema». Le origini dell’equivoco drammatico non sono meno sicure.

Si è detto che nessun carattere tipico siciliano — del resto inesistente — può giustificare gli eccessi di Serafina Delle Rose, certe repulsioni, il trauma così profondo che la colpisce alla notizia e alla constatazione del tradimento di Rosario. Un simile comportamento e una simile reazione psichica sono da ricercare in un altro tema, comune e fondamentale nell’opera di Williams, e che ne La rosa tatuata viene improvvisamente a mancare; di qui incomprensioni ed equivoci. Si allude al tema della frustrazione femminile, strettamente legato a un fattore determinante, quello della omosessualità. Nell’idea di partenza, Rosario non tradisce Serafina con Estella, la ragazza del Mardi Gras, ma con un uomo: proprio come il marito di Blanche Dubois. Ecco perché la reazione di Serafina, che è della stessa natura e intensità della protagonista del Tram, risulta esagerata quanto giustificata in Blanche; ed esagerate, ingiustificate — se non si tiene conto delle intenzioni di Williams — le paure per la figlia Rosa, innamorata di un marinaio che tanto somiglia al giovane americano medio di cui parla Chayefsky nell’introduzione di Marty e che Daniel Mann ci presenta ancor più effeminato (come spiegare altrimenti queste parole di Serafina? “Non capisco perché vi debbano vestire con calzoni così attillati”); la ripulsa che prova quando si accorge che anche Alvaro, quest’uomo che dalla testa in giù tanto somiglia fisicamente al marito, ha una rosa tatuata sul petto. Si comprende allora anche il significato, il simbolismo di tali tatuaggi, e della camicia di seta e di tutto il rosa che predomina: nei nomi, nelle carni, nella camicia e nella tappezzeria. (Nel testo teatrale si parla di oggetti rossi o dorati, di pesci rossi, di tappezzerie di analogo colore; e di altri simbolismi, come i manichini: preme alle porte Camino real, dove domineranno l’allegoria e l’astrazione).

Il cambiamento con Estella si deve alla Magnani che si sarebbe rifiutata di interpretare altrimenti una parte che Williams andava scrivendo per lei. C’è un grande mestiere in questa Magnani; ma può il mestiere, pur grande che sia, diventare arte quando il personaggio che si interpreta è costituzionalmente falso, e falso l’ambiente in cui agisce? Le prove maggiori offerteci da questa grande attrice rimangono la popolana di Roma città aperta e la madre di Bellissima.

Guido Aristarco
(Cinema Nuovo) 

La siciliana di Roma

Anna Magnani non è un personaggio introverso, ma estroverso; non nasconde niente dentro di sé, ma protesta

La rosa tatuata
La rosa tatuata, Burt Lancaster, Anna Magnani

Anna Magnani ha meritato di vincere il Premio Oscar che le è stato assegnato dall’Accademia Cinematografica di Arti e Scienze?

La risposta non può essere che affermativa, poiché non sono molte le attrici che possono vantare la prodigiosa umanità e l’impeto popolaresco dell’interprete di La rosa tatuata. Il riconoscimento alla Magnani, fra l’altro, è stato un omaggio a tutto il cinema italiano del dopoguerra, alla carica di verità che il neorealismo ha saputo portare, come una nota del tutto inedita, sugli schermi del mondo. Quindi, premio meritatissimo.

Ma La rosa tatuata, ora che è arrivata nei nostri cinema, ha deluso un po’ tutti. Della commedia di Tennessee Williams si potranno apprezzare certe qualità di scrittura, la preziosa filigrana di un dialogo spesso e gustoso; ma si tratta di un testo in fondo esile, non troppo felice né significativo: uno studio d’ambiente più suggestivo che profondo, testimonianza di un gusto letterario raffinato e tuttavia confinatosi volontariamente nell’ambito di una esercitazione di gran classe. Il film, come usa a Hollywood nel riprodurre un successo teatrale di Broadway, si limita a un’attenta esecuzione della commedia; si direbbe che il regista, Daniel Mann, non abbia un’idea propria sul testo che gli è stato proposto, soltanto lo scrupolo di attenersi alla lettera del copione, depennando appena le parole troppo forti. Manca così, nella realizzazione cinematografica, una dimensione ambientale che non sia allusiva e indiretta: e La rosa tatuata di Williams, pur non essendo un capolavoro, ci scapita un poco.

Quanto alla Magnani, la sua recitazione risente alquanto i difetti del film: nelle vesti di Serafina Delle Rose, la nostra attrice è fuori ruolo. Noi conosciamo bene Anna Magnani, dagli stornelli romaneschi della rivista alla popolana di Roma città aperta, dalla madre di Bellissima alla pittoresca attrice di Siamo donne. Una Magnani siculo-americana, taciturna e scontrosa, dominata da un represso sottofondo sessuale, non è certo l’immagine più fedele che si può avere del suo personaggio. Anna Magnani non è un personaggio introverso, ma estroverso; non nasconde niente dentro di sé, ma protesta; infine non è siciliana, ma romana: e pur senza voler attribuire ai caratteri etnici una fissità assoluta (e senza voler legare l’attrice all recitazione dialettale) ci sono certe regole di verosimiglianza psicologica che nel cinema nessuno può violare. Avete notato che Anna Magnani, doppiando se stessa per La rosa tatuata, ha dovuto rinunciare, forse per la prima volta, alle inflessioni romanesche? Intendiamoci, ha recitato benissimo e il suo sforzo merita lode: ma le sue battute in lingua appaiono alquanto ingrigite, non hanno la vivacità consueta.

Ciò non toglie che nel film, la Magnani sia molto brava: perfino troppo, in qualche scena dove fa evidentemente ricorso ai piccoli e grandi trucchi del suo mestiere consumato, dove la ricerca dell’effetto appare leggermente scoperta. In molte sequenze l’attrice ha tuttavia momenti di autentica grandezza, soprattutto nei dialoghi con Burt Lancaster: che, da parte sua, si rivela ancora una volta un interprete eclettico e spiritoso, un attore completo.

Tullio Kezich

Mamma Magnani

There is nothing, nothing in the world that would take me away from my son Luca on Christmas

Anna Magnani and Luca 1956
Anna Magnani and Luca, Rome 1956

Two weeks before The Rose Tattoo was scheduled to be premiered, its brilliant leading lady, Anna Magnani, received a phone call in Rome.

“Annarella,” began Pilado Levi, Paramount’s representative in Italy, “the studio is opening Rose Tattoo in New York. They want to fly you there.”

“It’s impossible,” Anna Magnani said.

“But it’s very important,” Pilado Levi said. “You are the star. You must be at the premiere. They will pay everything.”

There was a pause, and then Annarella shouted, “You must be crazy. Christmas is coming. Christmas I spend with Luca. There is nothing, nothing in the world that would take me away from my son on Christmas.”

Anna Magnani has a thirteen-year-old boy named Luca, living with the family of Nina Gravatti in Lausanne, Switzerland. Luca is badly crippled, the result of a polio attack when he was two.

The boy cannot walk without heavy steel braces, and the doctors, for the most part, have given up hope that he ever will. But Anna Magnani fiercely insists that sometime her Luca will walk again.

Last December after she turned down the appearance at the New York premiere of Tattoo, she and a girl friend left for Switzerland.

They arrived the day before Christmas and were met at the Lausanne station by Professor Nicod and Luca. A few weeks previously, the professor had operated on the boy. As Magnani stepped down from the train Luca held out his arms. Magnani ran to him, covered his face with kisses. Excitedly Luca told about his latest operation. His feet, formerly pointing outward, were now straight. With leg braces he would soon be able to stand for longer periods of time.

Anna suggested an immediate celebration, but Professor Nicod told her the boy was too tired. Why not postpone the party until after Christmas?

Reluctantly, Magnani agreed. But on Christmas Eve, dining with her friend in one of Lausanne’s best restaurants, Anna was seized by a sudden, uncontrollable desire to see her boy, to be with him, to have Luca next to her. Jumping to her feet, she announced sharply, “It is impossible to be here without my son.” And with that she bustled out of the restaurant.

Less than an hour later, Anna Magnani and her smiling Luca were sitting in the Grappe D’Or. Luca ordered a chocolate sundae and downed it rapidly.

Next day at Gravatti’s, Luca opened the Christmas presents from his mother: books, clothes, and best of all a pellet-shooting air pistol. Watching her boy, Anna shamelessly shed tears of happiness. Bringing joy to her son meant so much more than any possible trip to New York, any joy to herself.

Christmas over, Anna Magnani returned to Rome, where much to her surprise she learned that a news magazine had awarded her “the golden violet” for being Italy’s most exemplary mother.

And then when she heard she’d won the coveted Oscar, Anna in her excitement said, “Everything I have done is for my Luca.” Whereupon she immediately put in a long-distance call to him, saying, “He’ll be crazy about this. It will be his greatest Easter present.”