Everybody Is Nothing Until You Love Them: Our Critics Watch The Rose Tattoo (for Parterre Box)

Cameron Kelsall: Last winter, in the waning days of The Great Before, we reviewed an ill-conceived Broadway revival of The Rose Tattoo in this space. Although I’d liked an earlier iteration of that same production when I’d see it at the Williamstown Theatre Festival a few seasons prior, the version that ended up on stage at the American Airlines Theatre, starring Marisa Tomei, was mired in experimentalist excess and smudgy dramaturgy. Poor directorial choices and inconsistent acting marred a work that, while perhaps not in the first tier of the Tennessee Williams canon, is otherwise durable and compelling. But luckily, we have a superior record of this story at our disposal: the 1955 film version, which introduced America to the sultry Mediterranean talent of Anna Magnani—whom Williams had wanted to originate the role of fiery Italian seamstress Serafina Delle Rose, and who won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Actress. The strong supporting cast also includes Burt Lancaster, Marisa Pavan and Jo Van Fleet, plus a great Alex North score. David, how did the movie hold up for you on this viewing?

David Fox: Actually, I may be more extreme on both sides of this than you are, Cameron. I’d rank that Broadway Rose Tattoo as absolutely dire—indeed, probably the worst theater direction (by Trip Cullman)  I’ve even seen at that level. On the other hand, the 1955 movie strikes me as an absolute triumph in virtually every sense, including as you’ve pointed out, the cast. Watching this film version directed by Daniel Mann—who, not coincidentally, also directed in the Broadway premiere—the movie now goes into two important categories for me. One is that it’s an ideal example of how much a director can do by working in stylistic counterpoint with the script, rather than emphasizing its more obvious qualities. (More on that later.) But also, a question I’m often asked is if I can think of a major play where the film adaptation is actually the best version I can imagine. My answer and example has always been: “Yes—Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” I’m going to add Rose Tattoo to that list…

Click here to read the full post at Parterre Box.

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