Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Rambling Rose (1991)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Rambling Rose (1991)

In director Martha Coolidge's absorbing, nostalgic coming-of-age drama set in the Georgian South during the mid-30s Depression era, a tale adapted from Calder Willingham's 1972 novel:

  • the opening line in the film's prologue and epilogue framing device - a flashback memory (voice-over) delivered in the year 1971 by 50-ish Southerner Willcox Hillyer (John Heard) (known as 'Buddy' when younger), a writer who had returned to his childhood home in Glennville, Georgia, where 'Rose' had made such an impact on his early life - after arriving, he stood on the porch to finish his reminiscencing: "In deep Dixieland, the month of October is almost summery. I had come South to visit my father. Mother had died a few years before, and Daddy was livin' all alone. He wouldn't have it otherwise. Lookin' at that old house, a painful nostalgia gripped me for the South itself, the old South I had known, and the people in it. When I was thirteen years old, a girl came to this house. I overheard my father decide in a conference with my mother to hire this girl, a good natured and highly unfortunate girl who was workin' for a farm family down near Gadsden, Alabama. Thus she was hired, sight unseen, by a long distance call. She was the first person I ever loved outside members of my own family. But, as my father said, she caused one hell of a damnable commotion."
Willcox 'Buddy' Hillyer (John Heard)
13 year-old 'Buddy' Hillyer (Lukas Haas)
Rose (Laura Dern)
  • the arrival of the scandalous, free-spirited, tall, curly-haired, sexually-precocious and uninhibited, uneducated, troubled, love-seeking young woman named Rose (Laura Dern) - she was a gangly, dirt-poor, 19 year old Alabama orphan when she was hired as a maid-domestic servant in the household of a Georgian Southern family in 1935
  • after the unsophisticated 'Rose' walked up to the porch of the Hillyer household, sweating profusely, smiling and carrying a cardboard suitcase wrapped with string, she told 13 year-old son 'Buddy' Hillyer (Lukas Haas) who had watched her arrival: "Hello, I'm Rose. I've come to live with you and your family"; he described her to his mother as "big...very girlish and womanish"
  • the proper head of household was Mr. 'Daddy' Hillyer (Robert Duvall), married to his intelligent, sensitive, free-thinking and feminist wife 'Mother' (Diane Ladd, Dern's real-life mother)
  • 'Rose' was graciously greeted effusively by 'Daddy' - and immediately given the nickname Miss Rosebud: "Rosebud, I swear to God. You are graceful as a capital letter S. You will adorn our house. You will give a glow and a shine to these old walls. Yes indeed"; he added that their intention was to save 'Rose' from a life of prostitution and "scoundrels" in Alabama ("It is my dear wife's belief, which I accept, though I do not entirely grasp it, that to hire a person to do household work is a criminal practice. You are therefore here as a friend, as a guest, and indeed as a member of this family. In love and harmony, dear Rosebud. In love and harmony...I know you've had some troubles in your life. Those scoundrels in Birmingham trying to lead you astray, and so on and so forth. Life can be very cruel to a young girl. I know you've had a hard time, but I hope and believe that you've found a safe haven in this house, honey")
  • Buddy's attempts to bedevil 'Rose' with inquisitive questions ("Did those bad men try to induce you into becoming a prostitute?"), and other horror stories - a man who killed and ate his niece ("chopped her into pork chops"), and another man who killed his wife with a black widow spider
  • 'Daddy's' continual praises of 'Rose' caused her to develop an overwhelming crush on him, after he told her: "Rosebud, baby, you are the light of my life, darling. You're the light of my life. You're as pretty as a moonbeam, and warm as sunshine. Now, how did we ever get by without ya?"
  • in a scene of inevitable sexual temptation (when 'Mother' was away for the evening at a garden club meeting), 'Rose' tempted or bewitched 'Daddy' by throwing herself at him and sitting on his lap - she declared her love and begged for a kiss ("Oh, God, Mr. Hillyer! I love you! I tried! But I can't help it. Please kiss me. Will you kiss me!"); although he protested ("I can't kiss you. I only kiss Mrs. Hillyer"), he kissed her once, and then as she laid down, he continued the kisses while fondling her right breast with one hand (while 'Buddy' and his younger sister Doll (Lisa Jakub) spied on them through a door crack, and 'Buddy' provided commentary: "Rose's tittie's out! He's got his hand on it!"); but then, 'Daddy' became unnerved, composed himself and self-righteously resisted and ordered her to calm her ardent love as he backed away: "Enough of this damn nonsense. And I mean enough. Get up, Rose. Put your damn tit back in your dress....Replace that tit. Damn you, girl! You made me make a fool out of myself...Now, a man is supposed to be a fool like this. But a woman should have some control and sense. Are you a nitwit? What's the matter with you?"; he claimed: "Now let me warn you. I am standing here at Thermopylae...And the Persians shall not pass"
  • that night, Rose came to 'Buddy' to seek consolation ("Buddy, I have been wandering in the wilderness, lost. I just feel awful. Do you mind if I get in bed with you for a little while?"); she complained of a broken heart and her mad "lost love" for 'Daddy': ("Men, I don't understand 'em. I can't see through 'em. I can't figure 'em out. And they break my heart, that's all. But this is the worst ever. 'Cause it wasn't his fault, it was my fault. I was bad"); but 'Buddy' had only become more sexually-inquisitive about the facts of life and female anatomy; she allowed him to sexually touch her breast over her thin nightgown: ("It's awful soft. I thought it would feel like a cantaloupe"); at first, she told him: "You're just a child. You're not supposed to be interested in such things...A child like you asking such things!"); but he was persistently curious and kept asking: "Come on, Rose, just for a second...Can't I just see what the nipple looks like?" and he was allowed to place his hand directly on her breast ("It's got a nipple on's like a little was softer than I thought"); she tried to explain again: "You're just a child, and wouldn't understand, but that type of thing can stir a girl up"
  • and then he went further and asked with a whisper for a more "nasty thing" ("Can't I touch it just a little bit?") - he boldly moved his hand down to her privates under her gown; when he touched her and asked with curiosity: "Am I hurtin' you?", she breathed deeply and responded: "No. No, you're not hurtin' me. You'd just better quit it, Buddy, that's all..."; before she was brought to a shuddering orgasm, Buddy admitted: "Without a doubt, this is the most fascinating experience of my life"; afterwards, he asked: "What's the matter, Rose? Are you sick or somethin'?"; she replied guilt-ridden with regret: "I've robbed the cradle and fell into Hell. I must be crazy! I got to get out of here! Buddy, you wouldn't tell nobody, now would you?" - later, she returned to his room and piteously begged for Buddy not to squeal: "I'd never hurt you, ever, but they'd think I did....They'd blame me, not you. They'd think I was awful. A disgusting girl, which I am"
  • the next morning, a sleepy 'Buddy' was reprimanded by his 'Mother' after he gave the excuse that he stayed up late to read one of his dirty comic books; she scolded him and threatened castor oil: "They degrade the human image...Sex isn't ugly. Sex is one of the most beautiful things in life. Why, the creative power of the universe designed it....We must respect it. We must be in awe of it"
  • the sequence of Rose's determination the next day to go out and find a husband: ("Mr. Right is out there somewheres, and I'm gonna find him") - disembarking from 'Daddy's' car, she pronounced: "I'm going out amongst 'em, boys"; she sashayed into town in a tight, slinky, handmade cotton dress and raised-heels, posturing for attention that only brought catcalls and male gawking; as 'Buddy' and 'Daddy' watched, she swiftly was able to attract gazes: "Incredible, the swiftness of it. The girl strikes like a cobra"
Rose Out on the Town
  • in bed together, 'Daddy' and 'Mother' discussed Rose's influence on others; when he dismissed 'Mother's' comments by saying: "Darling, don't go off into the 4th dimension, all right?", she was offended, but they quickly made up; 'Mother' defended 'Rose' when he thought she was too loose (a "hotcha" character), by asserting that she only wanted love, not sex: "She just wants to look pretty, that's all....You just don't understand her. It isn't sex that she wants. It's love. And those silly clothes that she wears - it's the only way she knows how to get it"; 'Daddy' was uncertain since 'Rose' seemed to love everybody: "You may be right, darling, but I'm afraid we'll rue the day Rosebud came to our house"
  • the sequence of 'Daddy' fending off Rose's many eager male suitors (including a "scruffy-looking man" in the yard); one night, he wielded his shotgun at two others brawling over her: ("And don't come back, you sons-of-bitches. I'll blow your heads off!"); 'Mother' again defended 'Rose' when he threatened to fire her for attracting interested strangers/boyfriends to the house: ("You are not going to fire this girl, not for an innocent thing of having boyfriends"); later, she was again forced to defend 'Rose's' behavior a second time after she was briefly jailed for biting a policeman's thumb during a bar brawl: "She has a loving nature....Why do you think all those men and boys like her?...Anybody with any common sense can be sexy. Rose likes those boys and men. She's got love in her heart and that's why they follow her"
  • early one morning, 'Daddy' found a pair of shoes on the back porch, and burst into Rose's room - he found that a male suitor, a poor and unemployed would-be fireman named Billy (Matt Sutherland) had spent the night with Rose; she pleaded: ("Mr. Hillyer, I know I was bad. And I hadn't ought to have done it. But I am only a human girl person. And I ain't always perfect. Don't fire me. I love you all so much"), but he responded: "Rosebud, you break my heart. But I am only a human man person myself of the father variety. Pack your bag, baby. As of this moment you're hired, mired, and fired"
  • the film's most pivotal scene when 'Rose' was suspected to be 3 months pregnant (possibly by someone who had left town with "no forwarding address"); she was seen by Dr. Martinson (Kevin Conway), who had earlier treated Rose for double-pneumonia; he diagnosed that she wasn't pregnant, but had an ovarian cyst; and due to rampant "promiscuity" in her past, she had also suffered from gonorrhea (untreated when she was 15) and had been rendered infertile
Dr. Martinson's Diagnosis and Drastic Remedy - a Hysterectomy
'Mother's' Objection to Radical Surgery
  • the doctor prescribed a radical but therapeutical surgical operation (a hysterectomy, the removal of the womb), along with removal of both ovaries, to cure Rose's over-sexed, "near-nymphomania" sexual appetite - "She is an extreme psychoneurotic with uncontrolled sexual impulses" - and 'Daddy' agreed ("Spay her!"); 'Mother' stood up to the surgeon and her own husband for their savage cruelty: "Over my dead body! Are you human beings or are you some kind of male monsters? Is there no limit to which you will not go to keep your illusions about yourselves?...You'd go so far as to mutilate a helpless girl, who has no means of defending herself?...Could you really take Rose's womanhood away from her, when it's all she's got?"; after 'Daddy' came around to her pleas and admitted he was wrong by agreeing with the doctor, 'Mother' threatened the doctor's practice: "And if you hurt that girl, I'll hire lawyers, and I'll sue you from here to kingdom come. I'll ruin you"; subsequently, only one cystic ovary was removed from Rose
  • the last, inevitable farewell scene between 'Buddy' and 'Rose' when she admitted: "I'm gonna have to leave here. I gotta go...I got to, Buddy"; she shared details of her unhappy and abusive childhood, and then revealed: "Sex don't mean nothin' to me, Buddy. It ain't nothin' but a mosquito bite....Buddy, I'm gonna tell you a secret. Girls don't want sex. Girls want love"
  • as the film concluded, 'Rose' was married to "Mr. Right" - Dave Wilkie (Robert Burke) - the policeman whose thumb she bit earlier when she was arrested and jailed; 'Daddy' joked as they drove away from the wedding's BBQ: "Thank God we're rid of her at last. And she's happy, that's the main thing, she's happy"; 'Buddy' cried as she receded in the distance
  • the film's final lines - a return to the opening scene - were between widower 'Daddy' and 'Buddy' who recalled details about 'Rose's' life: "Of course, Dave wasn't Mr. Right. He was Mr. Wrong. It took Rose four husbands to find Mr. Right. And she's been married to him for 25 years. And I do believe she has been a faithful wife"; they both grieved over news of Rose's recent death a week earlier and their mutual love for her; 'Daddy' described 'Rose's' lasting influence: "Rose was so alive. It's hard to believe. Nobody lives forever, and who'd want to?...Now boy, get a grip on yourself. She had a good life. She met Mr. Right. Then what are you blubbering about?...Rose isn't dead, son, not really. Some of us die, some of us don't. Rose lives! (a long pause before they walked back to the house) Don't worry about it, boy. She's at rest with Mother in the creative universe. She's at rest with Mother."

The Return Trip to Georgia


'Daddy' (Robert Duvall)

Public Praises for 'Rose'

Rose Tempting 'Daddy'

Rose's Sexual Experience with 'Buddy'

Begging 'Buddy' Not to Tell

Mother: "It isn't sex that she wants, it's love"

Confronting Rose About Early-Morning Suitor Billy in her Room

"I ain't always perfect. Don't fire me"

Last Scene Between 'Buddy' and 'Rose'

Rose's Marriage

Epilogue: Sharing Sad News of Rose's Death


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z