The Bicycle Thief – A Minor Italian Classic

In an age of $400 iPods, $300 iPhones and $200 Nikes, nobody gives a flying f*@# for a bicycle anymore.

Not even a desperate Italian thief.

But there was a time and day in Italy – in the not too distant past – when a bicycle was a big draw for a thief in Italy.

Those were the years following the end of World War II. Italy had ended up on the loser’s side in the second big war.

Both the country and its people were in dire straits. Food and jobs were scarce. And the mood was desolate for most Italians.

This grim setting provides the backdrop for The Bicycle Thief made by acclaimed director Vittorio de Sica in 1948.

The story is simple. Yet so arrestingly moving.

It’s the story of a poor family man Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) in Rome whose wife Maria (Lianell Carell) sells the sheets on the beds in their home to buy a bicycle. You see, one of the key conditions of Antonio’s new job – pasting flyers on the walls – is that he must have a bicycle.

No sooner does Antonio get a used bicycle than he quickly loses it. On the very first day of his job as he’s pasting a flyer standing up on the ladder, the bicycle is stolen by another poor soul who pedals away furiously into the streets of Rome, pursued futilely by Antonio.

A worried Antonio searches the streets and markets of Rome with his young son Bruno (played with great elan by Enza Staiola) in tow.

At one point, Antonio becomes so desperate that he even visits a woman with magical powers to ask her about the stolen bicycle. Just two days earlier, Antonio had made fun of his wife for visiting the same lady.

In search of the elusive bicycle, Antonio and his son trudge the streets, visit the markets and even attend a church service in pursuit of an old man in hopes of getting some information about the stolen bicycle.

Antonio’s desperation is understandable because the bicycle is all that stands between his family and destitution.

With the bicycle, the family has some prospects. Without the bicycle, the family has nothing.

At last, Antonio finds the thief but where’s the bicycle?

We won’t tell you the details and spoil the show but the last five or seven minutes of The Bicycle Thief are absolutely heartrending.

There are moments of humor too in the movie. Like when Antonio’s colleague initially shows him how to paste posters and tells him: To do this job, you’ve got to be very intelligent. You must have a good eye.

Filmed in black and white, The Bicycle Thief is a work of outstanding execution by director Vittorio de Sica based on the screnplay by Cesare Zavattini and adapted from the book of the same name by Luigi Bartolini.

The Bicycle Thief was perhaps the ne plus ultra of Vittorio de Sica’s long career. It was Vittorio’s eighth movie and came after his successful Shoeshine.

Both father Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani) and son Bruno (Enza Staiola) are an absolute delight to watch and have played their parts to perfection.

The little boy Enza Staiola is so unbelievably good that we were reminded of the famous phrase Child is the Father of Man while watching The Bicycle Thief.

The screenplay is smooth with no jarring edges and the camera work is a pleasure to behold.

In 1950, The Bicycle Thief received an Honorary Oscar for the most outstanding foreign language film released in the U.S. in 1949. The movie also won the Golden Globe award for best Foreign Film in 1950 and several other awards.

Great movie directors like Vittorio de Sica make classics like The Bicycle Thief. While petty Indian thieves like Rummi Jaffrey and Venkat Prabhu masquerade as movie directors, shamelessly steal proven plots and make crappy movies like God Tussi Great Ho and Saroja.

It’s believed that The Bicycle Thief played a seminal role in Indian director Satyajit Ray’s decision to pursue film making as a career (Source: Wikipedia).

We wouldn’t rate The Bicycle Thief on par with our old favorites like On the Waterfront, Citizen Kane or Casablanca but it’s still a minor classic that’s a must-watch if you love movies as much as we do.

If you live in the U.S., you can easily get The Bicycle Thief from Netflix.

3 Responses to "The Bicycle Thief – A Minor Italian Classic"

  1. shuaib68   September 18, 2008 at 1:32 am

    There’s a news item flashing from TNadu.
    A remake of “The Bicycle Thrief” is being made as “The Movie Thieves”.

    You have said :”But there was a time and day in Italy – in the not too distant past – when a bicycle was a big draw for a thief in Italy.”

    The movie concept robbery is a big draw at present in the Bolly,Kolly,Molly,Tolly….areas and it’s big jolly good business for them. (I’m trying to rhyme the words like Vivek)

  2. gandhiji   September 18, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Shuaib, thanks for the dinner invite.. I forgot where you posted it..

    “The Bicycle Thief” was already remade as “Pollathavan” complete with Dhanush’s bare (upper) body, fights and songs. I did like Pollathavan. Responds:

    We haven’t seen Pollathavan but given Dhanush’ past record as well as that of many, many Tamil film directors, we seriously doubt Pollathavan was anywhere near The Bicycle Thief.

    Off-topic: FYI …There’s a comment on the Kadhalan post that the TV show Superhit Muqabala preceded the movie…

  3. shuaib68   September 20, 2008 at 2:55 am

    Gandhiji, Invitation was in the Nazia Hassan news item.

    WHAT!!!!! “Pollathavan” is “The Bicycle Thief”??? Oh..ho.. this is very very bad.

    …and Kadhalan is preceeded by a TV show??? worst!

    You know I saw a movie of Dhanush where he is shown as someone similar to BRUCE LEE!! Are these people mad?

    I think these people are treating the entire movie goers like some of their FANS (The brainless twits).

    Thank you for info re- Kadhalan.

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