Bicycle Thieves (1948) – Film Review
Director: Vittorio De Sica
Cast: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell
by Sarah Morgan
If there’s only one thing you take away from this review, it should be don’t watch this superlative example of Italian neo-realism without a box – and make sure it is an entire box – of tissues.
Set in post-Second World War Rome, a time of abject poverty for many Italians, it follows the story of Antonio, a devoted working-class husband and father. At the start of the story he’s been unemployed for some time and is thrilled when he’s picked from a crowd of men desperate for work.
Antonio has landed a job sticking up advertising posters across the city, but there’s a snag – he needs a bicycle, otherwise the offer will be withdrawn. He’d pawned his to raise some much-needed cash, so his wife sells their linen sheets – which were part of her dowry – to get the money to pay for the bike’s return.
All goes well until, on his first day, the bike is stolen by a well-drilled gang. The rest of the film follows Antonio and his young son Bruno as they trail through the city searching for it, knowing that the family’s security relies on its return.
At the time he was cast as Antonio, Lamberto Maggiorani was a factory worker and non-professional actor and, ironically, lost his regular job when the business began to struggle; his bosses wrongly believed he’d made a fortune from the film and so didn’t need the money as much as his co-workers. He never found the same level of screen success again.
Enzo Staiola deserves a special mention too for his wide-eyed, heartbreaking role as Bruno.
Maggiorani is completely believable in the lead role; his performance, coupled with Vittorio De Sica’s direction, give the film a documentary feel – something crucial to the neo-realist movement.
It’s incredible to think that on its original release in Italy, Bicycle Thieves was lambasted; perhaps its depiction of the struggles faced by many members of the working class was too close for comfort. In the years since, the film has become hugely influential; you can certainly see echoes in the work of Ken Loach, for example.
The film is impressive enough on its own, but the disc contains several fascinating special features, including video essays about De Sica and his later relationship with Hollywood producer David O Selznick.
• Brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negative
• Original mono Audio
• Feature length audio commentary by Italian Cinema expert Robert Gordon, author of BFI Modern Classics Bicycle Thieves
• Money Has Been My Ruin – a brand new video essay by critic and filmmaker David Cairns on Vittorio De Sica’s career and filmmaking
• Indiscretion of an American Film Producer – a brand new video essay by film historian Kat Ellinger on De Sica's relationship with Hollywood producers David O. Selznick and Joseph H. Levine and the version that never was
• Original trailer advertising De Sica’s films, featuring Bicycle Thieves star Lamberto Maggiorani and Francesco Golisano presenting Miracle in Milan
• Optional English subtitles
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Vince McIndoe
Bicycle Thieves is released on Blu-ray by Arrow, £15.99