Bicycle Thieves

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 87.

When I went to see this 1948 film at the Arts Picturehouse on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in October, I expected there to be me and about 5 others in the room. It was absolutely packed out and I had to find one of the few remaining seats on the front row.

I’d rented the film on VHS very many years ago and I’d been a bit disappointed. It is supposed to be one of the top ten films of all time, heck, Godber even refers to it on TV in an episode of ‘Porridge’, so I thought I’d give it another chance on the big screen.

We start off looking for work with hundreds of other men at a bleak housing block development on the edge of Rome.

Our hero is offered a job because he has a bicycle. But his wife has to sell their bedsheets to release the bike which has been pawned. The job brings prospects to our hero, and his loyal son proudly cleans the bike ready for its first day of work. But when the bike is stolen, hope starts to drain away.

Reporting the theft to the police, our hero finally gets the message that they’re not interested: ‘So it’s up to me?’. Minus bike, we see him queue for an overcrowded bus and go to collect his son, and they walk for miles, getting home late. The film continues to explore their desperate search for the 1935 Fides bicycle.

The main story and ending of the film were quite different from my recollection of what happened when I saw it on video on a small TV screen. It does live up to Godber’s awry brummie chant that ‘it was a wonderful example of neo-Italian realism’. The sense of loss is so palpable it feels like the end of the world. The glimpses into life in those tough times are discoveries. Definitely worth seeing on the big screen when you get another chance.

Simon Nuttall

Ladri di biciclette (1948)
Director: Vittorio De Sica