Based on a play by Tennessee Williams, a widow tries to protect her daughter who falls in love with a sailor. Then the widow meets an eager truck driver who gets a tattoo like her former husband.
Serafina Della Rose (Anna Magnani) carries her groceries home and talks to her daughter Rosa Della Rose (Marisa Pavan). She goes to her husband sleeping in the bed and asks him not to go. Estelle Hohengarten (Virginia Grey), who got a rose tattoo, asks Serafina to make a shirt from silk for a man. Serafina agrees to do it, and Estelle leaves. A truck drives off, and Rosa asks why Papa ran away. Serafina says she does not know.
Police get a call that Baron Della Rose left the Mardi Gras Club. They see the truck drive through a barricade. They pursue the truck and shoot. The truck goes off the road and burns. Father De Leo (Sandro Giglio) and four women walk to the Della Rose house. They go in, and Serafina sees them and starts to cry.
A doctor says Serafina lost the baby. Estelle in mourning asks about the body, but people make her leave. Serafina collapses. Rosa says her father is dead and cries.
Rosa is going to a dance with her friend Violetta. In an empty auditorium Rosa plays piano and sings. The seaman Jack Hunter (Ben Cooper) comes in and speaks to Rose. They dance together with others, and later sitting on stairs they kiss. They see the lights go out, and he says they are locked in there. They go out a side door and agree to see each other tomorrow. At home her mother Serafina says it is 1:15 and asks her if she studied civics.
Four women go to Serafina to see if she has finished their dresses. Inside Rosa wants to put on a dress, but Serafina stops her. Rosa threatens to cut her wrist, but a lady tells Serafina she did not. Rosa says her mother won’t let her go out. The lady insists that Rosa get a dress and tells Serafina that Rosa missed her examination, but she can graduate and take her exam later. Rosa has put her dress on, and she tries to leave; but outside Serafina gets her to stop. Rosa is ashamed and says her mother looks disgusting. Serafina tells the women to go away, and they go in the house and take their dresses. Rosa hears a band and tries to put on a girdle but cannot. Bessie (Jo Van Fleet) and a friend come in, and Bessie asks for the blouse. She insists she finish it or she will get her license revoked. Serafina says she has no license. Serafina does the sewing. The two women are going to a convention. Serafina says her house is respectable. The women see men outside. Serafina gives them the blouse and tells them to get out because they were talking dirty. Bessie is insulted, and they argue. Serafina makes them leave, and Bessie threatens to have her arrested. Serafina prays.
Rosa and Jack hold hands. She unlocks the door, and they go in. She says she wants to kiss him. She talks about how they danced close and how he made her feel beautiful. They discover that Serafina is there in the dark. Rosa asks her mother what happened and helps her put on a robe. Rosa introduces Jack to her, and he gives her roses. Rosa shows her diploma. Jack says Rosa is the prettiest girl in the world. Serafina is proud of the memory of her father. She talks to Jack alone, and he apologizes. Serafina asks what he has done with her daughter. She wants to know if her daughter is still innocent. Jack says he does not have a girl in every port. He says he is innocent too, and he is in love. Serafina asks if he is Catholic, and he says he is. Rosa tells her mother not to ask so many questions, but Serafina closes the door. Serafina tells him to kneel down and repeat what she says. She has him promise to respect the innocence of her daughter. Rosa climbs back in through the window and is happy. They hear a car horn, and the couple runs out and gets in the car, which drives off. Serafina runs out, but they are gone. Serafina goes back in and prays.
Serafina goes to the crowded church bazaar to see Father De Leo. She is introduced to Alvaro Mangiacavallo (Burt Lancaster), who says he has a truck full of bananas. Serafina goes in the church with Father De Leo. She remembers her marriage, which he says was arranged by letter. He tells her he is shocked at the change in her appearance and behavior. He warns her about self-indulgence. She says she gave her husband back to glory. She sees women watching and makes them back up. She argues with the priest and asks him if her husband spoke of a woman to him. He says the confessional secrets are sacred. She grabs his clothes and refuses to let go. Alvaro sees this and helps release the priest, who goes in. Alvaro tries to comfort her. He drives her home in his truck. He follows her into the house. She sits at her sewing machine and cries. He starts crying too because he is sympathetic. He asks her to stop so he can stop too. She notices his shirt is torn, and he says she tore it. She offers to mend it, and he takes off his shirt. He says he is from Sicily. He asks if he can wash up in her bathroom. She gets a bottle, and he helps her down. He tells her that someone told him to get acquainted with this widow. She says her husband is with her. He says God has forgiven. She shows him their wedding picture. She says he had a rose tattoo on his chest. One night she saw one on her chest. He asks to see it, but she says it is gone. She says some people want to make everything dirty. He protects the wine, and she offers it. He pops the cork, and they laugh. He yells at kids to stay off the truck and the bananas. She says her husband hauled bananas too. He says he has to call his boss, but the line is busy. He pours himself a glass of wine. He calls Biloxi again. He says he offers love and affection. He says he has no love life. Alvaro talks to his boss who complains and fires him. Alvaro says he has dependents. She offers him a shirt to wear, and he puts it on. He says a gift is beautiful. He sees kids, takes off his shirt, and runs after them. He takes a shirt from the line and grabs the horn of the goat, returning it to an old woman. Serafina tries to clean up his arm, and he says he has to go. He says every time is the time of the roses. He wants to take her heart out of the urn. He asks if he can come back tonight. She says he can stop if the light is on in the window; but not if her Rosa is home. He waves goodbye and drives off.
Rosa and Jack are on a small boat. She says she is old enough to get married. She kisses him, and he says people can see them. Alvaro goes home, says hello to a man and two women, and dresses with a tie. He goes and asks a Japanese woman to tattoo a rose on his chest. She asks for $6, but they agree on $2.50 with no leaves.
Alvaro parks his truck and drinks from a bottle. Inside Serafina is dressed up. Alvaro looks in the window and comes in. He says she looks pretty, and he is wearing a suit. They sit down, and he returns her purse she lost. He asks her to count the money. He says he is honest but poor. He gives her chocolates. He notices her piano and starts a roll so they can dance. She turns the lights back on and stops the piano. She says she is nervous. He asks if the sailor has a tattoo. Alvaro says he got a tattoo and shows her the rose. She is upset and walks out on the porch. He turns off the lights, and she turns them back on. He says people can see them, and she says there is nothing to be ashamed of. He says she does not like his poetry and kisses her roughly. She is upset. He kneels down, and she tells him to get up and go home. She asks for the shirt she loaned him. He shows her it is wrapped. She tells him he can keep it. She says both are making a mistake. She asks him to take her to the Mardi Gras Club.
They go in a taxi to the Mardi Gras and see women dancing on a bar. They go in a back room to see Estelle about her husband. Serafina hits her with her purse, but they are held apart. Estelle shows her the rose tattooed on her chest. They take a taxi back to her house. The driver says it is $2.50. Alvaro says they don’t have the money and that her husband just died. He comforts Serafina. She tells him to go and come back so that people will not see them. They say goodbye loudly, and he drives off. He parks, takes his bottle, and climbs over a fence. He takes a drink and knocks over a chicken coup. Someone shouts and shoots. He runs. He throws away the bottle and comes into her dark house. She sees that he is drunk. He falls down, and she tries to get him up but can’t. She takes off his shirt and puts him to bed.
Jack and Rosa get out of a taxi. She asks him what he is going to do. He says he will go to a hotel and get loaded. They talk about getting married and embrace. He says he has to leave now and runs off. Rosa goes in the house and cries.
In the morning Rosa is sleeping on the couch, and Alvaro sees her. He crawls up to her. She awakes and screams. Serafina comes in and hits him. Rosa stops her from calling the police. She tells him to get out, and he is forced to leave. Serafina says she did not know how he got in. Serafina says he was chased by a policeman, and she gave him first aid. Rosa asks if he respected her innocence. She says he was drunk and fell down. Rosa breaks the urn. Jack comes in and finds Rosa on the floor crying. They embrace. Serafina asks him if he loves her Rosa, and he nods. She tells Rosa to go with him. He kisses Serafina’s hand, and they run off together. Alvaro shouts to Serafina from the top of a boat mast. She gives the women a silk shirt for him. He puts it on and comes down. Women watch him go to the door. He calls to her and hears the piano. He walks in, and she says they can go on with their conversation. He laughs and embraces her. The women outside walk away.
This romantic drama portrays Italian immigrants in the South. A widow protects her daughter and makes sure that her suitor has good intentions. After a period of mourning she meets a man who manages to win her over with his charm and his persistence.