Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 ‘The Bicycle Thief’: the greatest of all bicycle movies and one of the best movies of any kind.

by Eric Shalit on January 4, 2012

I watched The Bicycle Thief for the first time last night on DVD, and can’t believe that I’ve managed to not see it until now. It ranks as one the great movies of all time alongside films like Citizen Kane, The Grapes of Wrath, and The Third Man. Its story, acting, and filming are of the highest level. After seeing it, I believe it served as inspiration (in a twisted way) for Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. For instance, both go to fortune-tellers to illuminate the whereabouts of their stolen bicycles. It takes inspiration from Chaplin’s ‘The Kid’ as depicted in its powerful father-son bond theme.

'The Bicycle Thief' takes inspiration from Chaplin's 'The Kid' and serves as inspiration for Pee Wee's Big Adventure.

The Bicycle Thief, is a 1948 Italian neorealist film directed by Vittorio De Sica. Antonio Ricci is an unemployed man in the depressed post-World War II economy of Italy. With a wife and two children to support, he is desperate for work. He is delighted to at last get a good job pasting up posters, but he must have a bicycle. He is told unequivocally, “No bicycle, no job.” His wife Maria pawns their bedsheets in order to get money to redeem his bicycle from the pawnbroker.

On his first day of work, Antonio’s bicycle is stolen by a young thief, who snatches it when he is putting up a poster. Antonio gives chase, but to no avail. He goes to the police, but there is little they can do. The only option is for Antonio, his young son Bruno, and his friends to walk the streets of Rome themselves, looking for the bicycle. They search Rome’s largest square Piazza Vittorio, where they encounter countless bicycles and parts resembling his own.

It was given an Academy Honorary Award in 1950, and, just four years after its release, was deemed the greatest film of all time by the magazine Sight & Sound’s poll of filmmakers and critics in 1952. The film placed sixth as the greatest ever made in Sight & Sound’s latest directors’ poll, conducted in 2002, and was ranked in the top 10 of the BFI list of the 50 films you should see by the age of 14.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Elias January 4, 2012 at 5:14 pm

There is a somewhat similar Chinese movie called “Beijing Bicycle” which you may want to see.

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Randy January 5, 2012 at 9:57 pm

Yes a great movie. The importance of that one bicycle to the family is played out so well.

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