Bicycle Thieves, from 1948, directed by Vittorio De Sica, is considered one of the great classics and is consistently ranked among the highest regarded movies of all time.
It’s sometimes titled The Bicycle Thief due to different translations into English.
When the film was released in Italy, it was viewed with hostility for portraying Italians in a negative way.
The director, Vittorio De Sica, was also an actor and made his acting debut while still in his teens, joining a stage company in 1923.
By the late 1920s, he was a successful matinee idol of the Italian theatre, then successfully transitioned to movies, before turning to directing in 1940.
He is probably best know by the general public for tonight’s film and for his 1964 Oscar-nominated movie starring Sophia Loren, Marriage Italian Style. But four of his films also won Academy Awards: Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves were awarded honorary Oscars, while Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis won Best Foreign Language Film Oscars.
Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves both won honorary Foreign Language Oscars before there was such a category at the Academy Awards. In fact, the critical success of those two films helped establish the Foreign Film Oscar as a permanent award.
Just four years after its release, in 1952, Bicycle Thieves was voted the greatest film of all time by Sight & Sound magazine's poll of filmmakers and critics. It was ranked #4 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010. And Turner Classic Movies named it one of the 15 most influential films in cinema history.
As an actor, De Sica appeared in more than 150 films and he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar award for his role in 1957’s A Farewell to Arms. The movie was panned by critics and was a box office flop but De Sica's acting was considered the highlight of the film.
His personal life was just as dramatic as his movies.
In 1937, he married Giuditta Rissone and they had a daughter named Emi. Five years later, he met Spanish actress Maria Mercader, and she and De Sica moved in together. De Sica soon divorced Rissone and married Mercader.
But even though they were divorced, De Sica never really separated from his first family and his Rissone agreed to keep up the facade of a marriage so their daughter would have a father. So, until he died 30 years later, De Sica maintained both households and led a double family life, with double celebrations on holidays.
A side note: The second wife, Mercader, was the sister of the man who assassinated Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky.
For tonight’s film, De Sica decided not to use professionals and all the actors are amateurs. For his male lead, De Sica chose a factory worker who brought his son with him to the audition. He had a short acting career, appearing in another 15 movies.
And for the lead actress, he picked a journalist who had asked him for an interview. She also had a short career and went on to appear in 17 more films.
The role of the young boy was filled by a child De Sica spotted in the crowd watching the production crew. The boy later became a math teacher.
And De Sica claimed that part of the reason he picked the actors for the roles of Bruno and Antonio was because of the way they walked.
Future spaghetti western director Sergio Leone worked as an assistant director on this movie. Leone also has a short appearance in the film - he is one of the priests standing next to Bruno and Antonio during the rainstorm.
Watch for a scene later in the movie where Bruno is nearly run over while crossing the street. That was totally unrehearsed - it was filmed on location and the two cars just happened to pass by at that exact moment.
And take note of the film's final shot of Antonio and Bruno walking away off into the distance. That the director’s tribute to Charlie Chaplin, who was his favorite filmmaker.