Based on the 1879 French opera Don César de Bazan, Rosita takes place in 19th century Spain. A king (Holbrook Blinn) becomes enamored by a pretty young street singer named "Rosita" (Mary Pickford). Despite Rosita's satirical songs against him the king isn't offended. If anything, he finds it provocative. He has Rosita arrested for attacking the king, so that the king can get to know her better in private. When a nobleman named "Don Diego" (George Walsh) tries to help her, he ends up arrested as well. The two end up falling in love while jailed. Jealous, the king condemns Diego to death in order to keep him from Rosita. At this same time, the king sends Rosita off to a villa in hopes of seducing her. Rosita is unimpressed by the king but is pressured into giving into his advances in order to help her family out of poverty.
Rosita's family still feels disrespected even at the villa. Her mother demands she have a noble husband, to which the king suggests Diego. The king's recommendation is more than meets the eye, as he plans on killing Diego after the wedding. Diego is forced into participating by the offer of being shot instead of hanged. Neither Rosita or Diego know who they're marrying. At the wedding, they are married with their eyes covered. The king's plan fails when Rosita decides to take a peek at her husband.
Diego ends up arrested. Rosita is unable to convince the king to let her husband free. When Rosita hears that Diego has been executed, she flies into a rage and attempts to kill the king herself. Fortunately, Diego survived and he is reunited with Rosita. The king's wife (Irene Rich) knows about his affair with Rosita. Furious, the queen had ordered Diego spared.
Rosita came to be because Mary Pickford was sick of being type-casted as cute children in films. She wanted an adult role that wasn't The Ingenue for once. Pickford originally wanted to do an adaptation of the 1902 novel Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall but Ernst Lubitsch backed out at the last minute. They then decided to do Faust but Mary Pickford's mother nixed the idea when she heard about the infamous baby killing scene. As a result, Pickford and Lubitsch ended up adapting Don César de Bazan.
Rosita was a huge success and earned over a million dollars. Despite this, Mary Pickford hated the film. She ordered all the prints destroyed and refused to hand Rosita over for film preservation. Thankfully, a (presumably bootleg) print was saved and thus the film still exists for future audiences pleasure.
You can view a short video on the restoration of the film here.
Rosita contains examples of:
- Adaptation Name Change: Cesar is renamed "Diego" and Maritana is renamed "Rosita".
- Barefoot Poverty: Rosita's family. A camera closeup shows all their bare feet as they step into the royal coach that is taking them to the king's villa.
- Chekhov's Gunman: The Queen, who seems to be there only to glare jealously when the king takes Rosita in his arms. She winds up countermanding the king's order and sparing Don Diego's life.
- Grapes of Luxury: The king of Spain serves Rosita a bowl of a fruit before he attempts to seduce her. Rosita, having grown up poor and often hungry, is at first reluctant to try the fruit. After pacing around she gives in.
- In Love with the Gangster's Girl: Don Diego is in love with the king of Spain's mistress. Luckily the king is gentlemanly about it in the end, rather than just having Don Diego killed.
- King Incognito: How the King first meets Rosita; he goes to Seville in disguise to check out what a Wretched Hive it's become.
- Lady in Red: Rosita wears a red and blue dress. She's an alluring singer with a strong personality.
- The Mistress: Rosita is persuaded into being the mistress of the king.
- No Name Given: The king is nameless. In the original play he was identified as Charles II of Spain.
- Rags to Riches: Rosita and her family were very poor until Rosita caught the eye of the king.
- Rescue Romance: Diego and Rosita fall in love after Diego attempts to save Rosita from being jailed. He fails and they both get arrested, but the attempt was still noble.
- Spicy Latina: Mary Pickford very much Playing Against Type with the lead character. Rosita is an outspoken and tough Spanish street singer.
- Splash of Color: A fireworks show in Seville has all the fireworks hand-tinted in this otherwise black-and-white movie.
- Street Performer: Rosita's occupation at the start of the film, playing her guitar and singing in the public square in Seville. She's the only breadwinner for a family of six.
- The Tragic Rose: Rosita is born into poverty, arrested, persuaded to become the king's mistress, and almost forced into an Arranged Marriage. In the end, all goes well for her, however.
- Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Rosita keeps a fancy lace napkin from the king's household, that she pulls out of the Compartment of the fancy silk dress the king put her in, to give to her humble peasant family.