Bicycle Thieves

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(1948, directed by Vittorio De Sica)

- inducted 2018 –

“Vittorio De Sica's neorealist masterpiece was one of the first films I ever wrote about for a college paper, and while Bicycle Thieves (or The Bicycle Thief, as the 16mm print that I watched was titled) was obviously affecting on a basic, emotional level, it wasn't immediately clear to me why this was considered one of the greatest films of all time. It took a few more years of concentrated film-viewing for me to understand that the innovations of the Italian neorealist movement — non-professional actors, shooting on location, narratives revolving around economic plight — -didn't seem revolutionary to me because they had, in varying degrees, been fully adopted by mainstream and art-house cinema since the 1950s. Neorealism's own success wasn't marked by the stirrings of Socialist revolution, but rather by simple capitalistic absorption.

“Marxism was a key component of the movement and this film in particular, thanks to screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, but De Sica's film combines a ruthless critique of post-war Italian society with the warm sentimentality of Chaplin or Capra. In this lies the key to the film's greatness, that De Sica and his collaborators found a way to walk the line between alienation and saccharine simplicity. Darker themes, such as Antonio's post-Mussolini emasculation, or the near-apocalyptic ruin of much of Italy, are present but glossed over by scenes of a father and son sharing a meal and the sheer raucous intensity of life in everyday Rome, full of job-seekers and prostitutes and people going to a soccer game.

“The simplicity of the film's fable-like story may seem like a concession to mainstream sentimentality (which is true), but it's also the key to the film's power and universality. A man, in a recognizable, grounded world, tries to succeed for his family, fails, but survives. Out of this emerges social critique on one level, childhood nightmare on another, and ultimately lasting art.”

~ Jeff McMahon

Original title: Ladri di Biciclette
Principal cast: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell, Elena Altieri, Gino Saltamerenda, Giulio Chiari, Vittorio Antonucci, Michele Sakara, Fausto Guerzoni, Emma Druetti, Carlo Jachino, with uncredited appearances by Sergio Leone and the voices of Aldo Fabrizi and Alberto Sordi
Screenplay by: Cesare Zavattini, Oreste Biancoli, Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Vittorio De Sica, Adolfo Franci, Gherardo Gherardi, Gerardo Guerreri
Story by: Cesare Zavattini
Based on a novel by Luigi Bartolini
Cinematography by: Carlo Montuori
Production design by: Antonio Traverso
Film editing by: Eraldo Da Roma
Original music by: Alessandro Cicognini
Sound by: Biagio Fiorelli (sound technician), Bruno Brunacci (sound engineer – uncredited)
Produced by: Giuseppe Amato, Vittorio De Sica (uncredited)
Assistant director: Sergio Leone (uncredited)
Focus puller: Carlo Di Palma (uncredited)

Duration: 89 minutes
Languages: Italian
Filmed in black and white
Sound mix: Mono
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1

Produced by Produzioni De Sica
Released in USA by Arthur Mayer & Joseph Burstyn
Premiered in Italy on November 24, 1948
USA release date: December 12, 1949

Awards and honors:
- Selected as one of Roger Ebert’s “Great Movies,” 19 March 1999
- Academy Awards (USA), 1949: Honorary Award (won)
- BAFTA Film Awards, 1949 – Best Foreign Film (won)
- Golden Globes, 1949: Best Foreign Film (won)
- NYFCC Awards, 1949: Best Foreign Film (won)
- National Board of Review, 1949: Best Film (won)
- National Board of Review, 1949: Best Director – Vittorio De Sica (won)
- National Board of Review, 1949: Top Ten Films of the Year
- Academy Awards (USA), 1949: Best Writing, Screenplay – Cesare Zavattini (nominated)