The film takes place in Seville, in a period where the city has sunk into the depths of depravity and sin. Shocked by the depths his people have sunk to, the king of Spain (Holbrook Blinn) decides to give the town a visit when a carnaval is organized in order to redeem it. One of its inhabitants is Rosita (Mary Pickford), a beloved street singer praised by the townspeople for her entertainment.
Rosita is the only source of income to her poor family, who are always fighting each other. She is fed up with living in extreme poverty, while the king is living in wealth. After being forced to pay taxes, Rosita is enraged and comes up with a song in which she insults the king. Soon, the king is informed with the offensive ballad and visits her anonymously. Instead of being angry, he is charmed by the woman. However, the soldiers have come to arrest her for publicly insulting the king.
While being taken to prison, Don Diego (George Walsh) tries to defend her. Instead of convincing the soldiers to set her free, however, he is arrested as well. They fall in love at the police station, but she is unaware Diego is a powerful captain. By the king's request, Rosita is set free and escorted to his castle. Diego, however, is told he will be hung. When she meets him, Rosita doesn't believe he is the king. He tries to seduce her, but she isn't impressed until he offers her fashionable clothes. She doesn't want to have anything to do with him, but is pressured into giving in on his advances by her family, who see an opportunity on becoming wealthy.
Living a luxurious life in the castle, the family still feels disrespected. Rosita's mother (Mathilde Comont) demands for her daughter to have a noble husband, and the king offers her to be married to Diego. Rosita's mother is pleased, not knowing he will be sentenced to death shortly after the wedding. Diego is manipulated into participating by the offer of being shot like a respectable soldier, rather than hanged. At the wedding, they are married with their eyes covered, thus not knowing who they will be married to. The king's plan fails when Rosita breaks the rules and looks at her future husband.
Rosita is shocked to learn her new husband is Diego, who is sent back to jail immediately. Rosita convinces the king to set Diego free. However, when she leaves, the king again orders the guards to kill Diego. Meanwhile, the queen (Irene Rich) has found out about his new fling and is furious.
Soon afterward, Rosita is informed that Diego has been executed. Devastated, she attempts to kill the king until she and the king find out Diego is still alive, and the lovers are reunited. The king leaves his castle to be confronted by his wife about his affair. She reveals she ordered the guards to spare Diego.Mary Pickford as Rosita
Holbrook Blinn as The King
Irene Rich as The Queen
George Walsh as Don Diego
Charles Belcher as The Prime Minister
Frank Leigh as Prison Commandant
Mathilde Comont as Rosita's mother
George Periolat as Rosita's father
Bert Sprotte as Big Jailer
Snitz Edwards as Little Jailer
Madame De Bodamere as Maid
Philippe De Lacy as Rosita's Brother
Donald McAlpin as Rosita's Brother
Doreen Turner as Rosita's Sister
Mario Carillo as Majordomo
Charles Farrell in uncredited bit role
Prior to this movie, Mary Pickford mostly appeared in features portraying children. Pickford appealed to a fan magazine for new film ideas, and the magazine's contributors wrote back that they wanted to see her play more child roles, such as Cinderella. Pickford thanked them and promptly set out to make a film with an adult role.
In 1922, her studio United Artists was not making any profits, despite releasing successful films such as Broken Blossoms, Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921) and Robin Hood (1922). Pickford was desperate to release a film which could perform well and free her of her image as an ingenue.
Realizing Hollywood was making profits and costume movies, such as When Knighthood Was in Flower she decided to make a film based on the 1902 novel Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall. She chose Ernst Lubitsch as her director and brought him over from Germany in October 1922 to meet with her.
Lubitsch decided he could not make Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall. Pickford was annoyed, since she had already paid $250,000 on its preparations (and would eventually film the story later on). They looked for another story to make a movie out of, ultimately choosing Faust. However, the project was dropped when Pickford's mother, Charlotte Hennessy, overheard Lubitsch discussing the baby killing scene and immediately nixed the idea. Lubitsch and Pickford eventually decided to film the opera Don César de Bazan, retitling it as Rosita. Lubitsch hesitated about making it, but Pickford eventually convinced him to work on the project.
Pickford wanted Ramón Novarro to co-star opposite her as Don Diego. Rex Ingram, Navarro's mentor, protested to this offer, reminding Novarro that Pickford once stated that Novarro's "face and body do not match". Novarro followed Ingram's advice and rejected the role.
Lubitsch later said working with Pickford was a delight. Pickford also enjoyed working with Lubitsch, and at first contracted him to make three more movies with her.
After its release, the film became a huge success, earning over $1,000,000. The movie was praised by both the critics and the audience. It eventually made profits for the studio.
However, for reasons unknown Pickford decided the film was a failure. She wanted the prints destroyed, and when she handed her films over for preservation she refused to hand over Rosita. However, another print was found.