Stream On: More ‘Bicycle Thieves.’ The end of innocence?

By on August 17, 2023

 Last time we looked at Paul Reuben’s innocent, Pee-wee Herman, and his stolen bicycle. Innocence was one of the biggest casualties of World War II, and its loss was felt particularly in Rome, the home of Roman Catholicism. Locally, Duce Benito Mussolini’s government ended badly and Mussolini was summarily executed in the street by communists. Italy, and the world, was back to square one.


/Amazon /Streaming /🍅99% 🍿94% /Trailer /1949 /NR

“You live and you suffer.” (Antonio Ricci)

In postwar Rome, unemployed Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani—like everyone in the cast, he wasn’t an actor) is offered work pasting advertising bills. The job requires Antonio to own a bicycle, which he promises he does, although it’s in a pawn shop. So his wife, Maria, steps up, pawning her dowry bedsheets to redeem his bicycle.

On Antonio’s first day of the job, while he is on a ladder posting a film poster (of Rita Hayworth, in a nod to Hollywood, maybe a little poke), the bicycle is grabbed. After Antonio loses the thief, he reports it to the police, who are uninterested.

Throughout the movie Antonio is accompanied by his son Bruno, a solemn little boy who looks and acts like a small adult. Director Vittorio De Sica cast eight-year-old Enzo Staiola when he noticed the boy watching the film’s production on a street while helping his father sell flowers. De Sica wrote, “The man in the street, particularly if he is directed by someone who is himself an actor, is raw material that can be molded at will … It is difficult—perhaps impossible—for a fully trained actor to forget his profession. It is far easier to teach it, to hand on just the little that is needed, just what will suffice for the purpose at hand.” It’s this that gives Bicycle Thieves its power: Maggiorani, as Antonio, was anxious in front of the cameras, at the center of everything, he felt; and his natural anxiety perfectly fits his role. In life, what we know is what we see. The objective “vox dei” viewpoint of a lot of fiction, where the reader or viewer is omniscient, seeing into the hearts of the actors, is recognized reflexively as a tale told by a story-teller; but what we see in Bicycle Thieves is life playing out: It’s not a movie; these are people, people who watch movies, who watch Rita Hayworth. After the apocalypse of war, they clutch at the innocence of Hollywood movies after their own government has broken their hearts.

Antonio and Bruno chase after their own innocence all day long, Sunday, in the Holy city. Antonio had upheld his end of the basic social contract, protecting his mate and their family from hunger and want, and up jumped the devil—or at least, a fallen man, who steals Antonio future.

Bruno seems like Antonio’s conscience, or perhaps a guardian angel. It’s he who suggests they go to the police when the bike is stolen, and subsequently sees his father indulge in his worst qualities—selfishness, obliviousness, carelessness—as the prospect of finding the bicycle becomes increasingly unlikely, and Bruno’s solemnity appears judgmental—to us.

The original title of Bicycle Thieves is Ladri di biciclette (“thieves of bicycles”), but after Bosley Crowther’s initial, shallow, review in the New York Times, it became known as “The Bicycle Thief,” one of several of Crowther’s vital misunderstandings. The hereditary nature of the loss of innocence that is revealed in the story’s conclusion was teased in the proper title of the film. There is more than one thief, and more than one bicycle.

In 1952 Bicycle Thieves was worthy to be deemed the greatest film of all time by the British film magazine Sight & Sound’s poll of filmmakers and critics; fifty years later another poll organized by the same magazine ranked it sixth among the greatest-ever films. In the 2012 version of the list Bicycle Thieves still ranked 33rd among critics and 10th among directors.

(Pete Hummers is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to earn fees by linking Amazon.com and affiliate sites. This adds nothing to Amazon’s prices.)

Click here for more Stream On: What to watch on TV columns by Pete Hummers. Columns are archived and updated when necessary on Substack.



Barnhill Contracting Company will receive sealed proposals for Manns Harbor – EMS/Fire Facility (EMS-8), Kitty Hawk – EMS/Fire Facility (EMS-9), Manteo – Youth Center on January 09, 2024. Times to be given on via addendum #01. See the following SCOPE OF WORK: BP 100 – General Trades, BP 105 – Final Cleaning, BP 205 – Demolition, BP 390 – Turnkey Concrete, BP 400 – Turnkey Masonry, BP 500 – Turnkey Structural Steel & Misc. Steel, BP 505 – Light Gauge Metal Trusses, BP 740 – Roofing, BP750 – Siding, BP 790 – Caulking/Sealants, BP 800 – Turnkey Doors/Frames/Hardware/Toilet Specialties/Accessories/Division 10, BP 840 – Curtainwall/Storefront/Glass/Glazing, BP 925 – Drywall/Framing, BP 960 – Resilient Flooring/Carpet/Base/Epoxy, BP 980 – Acoustical Ceilings, BP 990 – Painting and Wall Coverings, BP 1230 – Finish Carpentry and Casework, BP 1250 – Window Treatments, BP 2100 – Fire Protection, BP 2200 – Plumbing, BP 2300 – HVAC, BP 2600 – Electrical, BP 3100 – Earthwork/Turnkey Site, BP 3213- Site Concrete, BP 3290 – Landscaping. Scopes of work may be added and/or deleted at the discretion of the Construction Manager.

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