Bicycle Thieves (1949): Vittorio De Sica’s Oscar Winning Masterpiece

Oscar History: Best Foreign Language Film Award, 1947-Present.
Historically and artistically, Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves ranks as one of the most important films to have come out of post-World War II Italy.
It was the third feature to win the Oscar Award for Best Foreign Language Film, before a competitive category was established in 1956.  (The category is now called, Best International Feature Oscar).
The first two winners were Shoeshine (also by Vittorio De Sica) and Monsieur Vincent, from France.
A seminal statement of the new-realistic movement, Bicycle Thieves, alongside the films of Roberto Rossellini (Roma, Open City) revolutionized the world of cinema in the late 1940s and early 1950s.



















This simple, humanistic melodrama centers on an unemployed laborer, Antonio, and his young son, Bruno, in war devastated Rome. The father finds a job pasting up posters, a job that requires a bicycle. When the bicycle is stolen, it leads to tragic and ironic ending. Panic-stricken at being unable to recover his bicycle, and losing his means of employment, the father is compelled to steal another bicycle, only to be caught and humiliated in front of his son.











Considered to be one of the most influential works in film history, The Bicycle Thieves is effective as both a topical work, reflecting the living conditions in Italy at the time, and an allegory about the human condition and the universal need for dignity and self-worth.


It’s worth noting that in the U.S. the Production Code Administration (PCA) objected to two of the film’s crucial scenes, one set in a brothel, and the other depicting a boy urinating on the street.














Contrasting Italy’s two great cinema masters, the late French critic Andre Bazin said, “Rossellini’s style is a way of seeing, while De Sica’s is primarily a way of feeling.”  For Bazin, De Sica was one of those directors “whose entire talent derives from the love they have for their subject, from their ultimate understanding of it.”


The playwright Arthur Miller once described this masterpiece, “It is as though the soul of man had been filmed.”   And, indeed, De Sica’s characters often seem to be lit from within by the tenderness the director feels for each one of them.









Oscar Alert

Scribe Zavattini was nominated for the Best Screenplay Oscar, but the winner was Joseph L. Mankiewicz for “A Letter to Three Women.”  The movie received the 1949 Honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Film; a legit category in that field was established in 1956.

De Sica collaborated with writer Cesare Zavattini on two other great neo-realistic films, “Shoeshine (1946) and “Miracle in Milan” (1950).

De Sica’s The Garden of the Finzi Continis would win the 1971 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Intertextuality: Reference to Hollywood:

Antonio glues a poster of Gilda, starring Rita Hayworth, on the city wall when his bicycle is snatched away.



Bruno Ricci (ENZO STAIOLA)







Directed by Vittorio De Sica

Screenplay by Cesare Zavattini

Photography by Carlo Montuori

Music by Alessandro Ciognini


Running time: 89 Minutes