1001 Films: The Bicycle Thief (1948)

Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani) has finally gotten a job putting up posters all over town. This means food on the table for his two children and wife that have already been struggling to keep the roof over their heads. On his first day on the job Antonio has his bicycle – that his wife just sold her linens for – stolen and is now left with the task of finding the thief and the bicycle.

The film opens with a man stepping out of a building to a crowd of men all begging for a job and suddenly he shouts the name of Antonio who’s off to the side taking a break from it all. This shot is so telling of the world that we’re already in. With work so hard to come by and people struggling earn a dollar we have this situation where the few jobs that are available that anyone is willing to do anything to earn an honest dollar. We see masons in the line begging for this measly job as a poster boy (or whatever the actual title of this job is).

When Antonio has his bicycle stolen from him it’s obvious to us, not just because of the massive sacrifice that we saw his wife make, that this is basically the end of the world to him because of the look he gives. It’s so dreadful and so telling that we start to feel for him.

One thing I love about these movies – for some reason I’m picking on Italian cinema but I think it can be generalized for any film set in the 40-50s – is the sense of community that’s always expressed. The moment that Antonio’s bicycle is stolen he’s able to hop onto, what seemed to me to be, a random car and asked him to gun it trying to catch the thief and the driver doesn’t ask any questions he just goes for it and helps his fellow man. It’s always something I enjoy seeing in life, even though that same sense of community is what brings the eventual ending of this film about.

The film, after the actual theft, then follows Antonio, his son, Bruno (Enzo Staiola), and a couple more friends as they go on their quest to find the bicycle. We see them head into all the markets where the thieves would tear apart the bicycle and sell it piece by piece. Antonio, Bruno and company start to see the futility of their efforts as the day wears on and even though the movie never rises up from a stone cold detective film it still finds ways to make you think that they’re getting somewhere.

When I particularly loved the film is when you could see desperation finally set into Antonio. He needs the job and he needs the bicycle or his family may starve. He finds the thief and is willing to go up against an entire community of Italians who’re protecting the thief even though he knows he can’t win. It even goes further to give you a theory into how the thief came to be the man he is today and doesn’t ask you to condone his actions but definitely makes you think about judging him. It’s what I consider the kind of film that sits on the alter preaching to you but makes you feel the need to learn the lesson from how seeing what’s done makes you feel as opposed to pointing the finger and waving it at you calling you a naughty boy.

Enzo Staiola, who plays the role of Bruno, is definitely the stand out character and actor of the film. He’s able to be the guiding compass for us all as the innocent hard working individual he is. He looks like he’s eight-years-old but he has a job and looks like he’s more understanding of the world than I could ever be. He still looks up to his father though and the look in his eyes as the utter disappointment washes over him towards the end of the movie just breaks my heart. It’s everybody’s worst nightmare, seeing their father be the bad guy, and it’s done so elegantly that the movie deserves its classic title just for that alone.

IMDB says 8.5/10

Rotten Tomatoes says 96%

I say 8.0/10