The Rose Tattoo

You get the feeling that Tennessee Williams saw Italians as possessing all the warmth and passion and human decency that he found lacking in his own life, and in American society of his time.  There’s Serafina, a simple, giving woman.  She loves her man, wants nothing more than to give him babies, and is very frank about the enjoyment she gets from sex.

Sadly, Serafina’s husband, a long-haul truck driver, has been cheating on her, and he’s also a smuggler.  When he dies, she lets herself go, and draws her daughter close, practically suffocates the girl.  But love wins out.  The daughter is courted by a sweet sailor who respects her purity, and Serafina finds herself another truck driver and gives herself over to pleasure.

Anna Magnani plays Serafina in the film—Williams wrote the part for her—and she is magnificently earthy.  Burt Lancaster is her new suitor, a bit of a buffoon, but endearing.  In fact, I’ve never seen Lancaster do broad comedy and he seems to be enjoying every minute.  I have no idea whether Sicilian immigrants in New Orleans were as tightly-knit a community as Williams makes them out to be, but you sense Williams’s yearning for the honest and affectionate characters whose lives and loves he so tenderly portrayed in “The Rose Tattoo.”

(9 October 2011)