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Bicycle Thieves

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Bicycle Thieves
(Ladri di biciclette)

Italian theatrical release poster
Directed by Vittorio De Sica
Produced by PDS Produzioni De Sica (with finance from Ercole Graziadei, Sergio Bernardi, Count Cicogna)
Screenplay by Vittorio De Sica
Cesare Zavattini
Suso Cecchi d'Amico
Gerardo Guerrieri
Oreste Biancoli
Adolfo Franci
Story by Luigi Bartolini
Starring Lamberto Maggiorani
Enzo Staiola
Lianella Carell
Vittorio Antonucci
Music by Alessandro Cicognini
Cinematography Carlo Montuori
Editing by Eraldo Da Roma
Distributed by Ente Nazionale Industrie
Release date(s)
  • 24 November 1948 (1948-11-24)
Running time 93 minutes
Country Italy
Language Italian
Budget $133,000

Bicycle Thieves (Italian: Ladri di biciclette), also known as The Bicycle Thief, is director Vittorio De Sica's 1948 story of a poor father searching post-World War II Rome for his stolen bicycle, without which he will lose the job which was to be the salvation of his young family.

Adapted for the screen by Cesare Zavattini from a novel by Luigi Bartolini, and starring Lamberto Maggiorani as the desperate father and Enzo Staiola as his plucky young son, Bicycle Thieves is one of the masterpieces of Italian neorealism. It received an Academy Honorary Award in 1950 and, just four years after its release, was deemed the greatest film of all time by Sight & Sound magazine's poll of filmmakers and critics; fifty years later the same poll ranked it sixth among greatest-ever films. It is also one of the top ten among the British Film Institute's list of films you should see by the age of 14.


In post-World War II Rome, Antonio Ricci ( Lamberto Maggiorani) is desperate for work to support his wife Maria ( Lianella Carell), his son Bruno ( Enzo Staiola), and his baby. He is offered a position posting advertising bills but tells Maria that he cannot accept because the job requires his bicycle, which he has pawned. Maria resolutely strips the bed of her dowry bedsheets—prized possessions for a poor family—and takes them to the pawn office, where they are exchanged for Antonio's hocked bicycle. (A memorable shot shows the sheets being added to a mountain of bedding pawned by other families.) They cycle home—Maria on the handlebars—rejoicing in their good fortune. Along the way Maria insists to Antonio's derision on leaving money for a seer who had prophesied Antonio would find work.

On his first day of work Antonio is atop a ladder when a young man (Vittorio Antonucci) snatches the bicycle. He gives chase but is thrown off the trail by the thief's confederates. The police take a report but warn that there is little they can do.

Advised that stolen goods often find their way to the Piazza Vittorio market, Antonio goes there with several friends and his small son Bruno. They locate a bike that might be Antonio's and summon an officer, but the serial number does not match.

At the Porta Portese market Antonio and Bruno spot the thief with an old man. They pursue the thief but he eludes them. They demand the thief's identity from the old man, but he feigns ignorance. They follow him into a church, but he slips away from them.

Antonio has Bruno wait by a bridge while Antonio searches for the old man. Suddenly there are cries that a boy is drowning. Antonio rushes toward the commotion and is relieved to see that the drowning boy is not Bruno. Antonio treats Bruno to lunch in a restaurant, where they momentarily forget their troubles, but on seeing a rich family enjoying a fine meal, Antonio is again seized by his calamity and tortures himself by reckoning his lost earnings.

Desperate, Antonio consults the seer who tells him, "You'll find the bike soon, or not at all." Leaving the seer's house Antonio encounters the thief and pursues him into a what turns out to be a brothel, from which they are ejected. In the street, hostile neighbors gather as Antonio accuses the thief, who conveniently falls into a fit for which the crowd blames Antonio.

In the commotion, Bruno fetches a policeman, who searches the thief's apartment without result. The policeman tells Antonio the case is weak since Antonio has no witnesses, and the neighbors are certain to provide the thief an alibi. Antonio and Bruno walk off in despair to jeers and threats from the crowd.

They near a football stadium. Inside a game is underway, while outside, rows of bicycles await their owners. Antonio sees an unattended bicycle near a doorway. He paces distractedly then sits with Bruno on the curb, his head in his hands. As he looks up a stream of bicycles rushes past—the world seems full of other people's bicycles. He resumes pacing, anguished and agitated, and finally gives Bruno some money, telling him to take the streetcar and wait at Monte Sacro.

Antonio circles the unattended bicycle, summons his courage, and jumps on it. The hue and cry is instantly raised, and Bruno, who has missed the streetcar, is stunned to see his father surrounded and pulled from the bike. The bicycle's owner slaps the hat from Antonio's head. As Antonio is being muscled toward the police station, the owner notices Bruno, who is carrying Antonio's hat. In a moment of compassion, the owner decides to let him go.

Antonio and Bruno walk slowly off amid a buffeting crowd. Bruno hands his father the hat, crying bravely as Antonio stares dazedly ahead, unreacting even as a truck brushes his shoulder. They look briefly at each other. Antonio fights back tears. Bruno takes his father's hand. The camera watches from behind as they disappear into the crowd.


  • Lamberto Maggiorani as Antonio Ricci
  • Enzo Staiola as Bruno Ricci, Antonio's son
  • Lianella Carell as Maria Ricci, Antonio's wife
  • Gino Saltamerenda as Baiocco, Antonio's friend who helps search
  • Vittorio Antonucci as Bicycle thief
  • Giulio Chiari as a Beggar
  • Elena Altieri as the Charitable Lady
  • Carlo Jachino as a Beggar
  • Michele Sakara as the Secretary of the Charity Organization
  • Emma Druetti
  • Fausto Guerzoni as an Amateur Actor
  • Giulio Battiferri as a Citizen Who Protects the Real Thief (uncredited)
  • Ida Bracci Dorati as La Santona (uncredited)
  • Nando Bruno (uncredited)
  • Eolo Capritti (uncredited)
  • Memmo Carotenuto (uncredited)
  • Giovanni Corporale (uncredited)
  • Sergio Leone as a Seminary Student (uncredited)
  • Mario Meniconi as Meniconi, the Street Sweeper (uncredited)
  • Massimo Randisi as a Rich Kid in the Restaurant (uncredited)
  • Checco Rissone as a Guard in Piazza Vittorio (uncredited)
  • Peppino Spadaro as a Police Officer (uncredited)
  • Umberto Spadaro (uncredited)


Bicycle Thieves is the best-known work of Italian neorealism, the movement (begun by Roberto Rossellini's 1945 Rome, Open City) which attempted to give cinema a new degree of realism. De Sica had just made the controversial film Shoeshine and was unable to get financial backing from any major studio for the film, so he raised the money himself from friends. Wanting to portray the poverty and unemployment of post-war Italy, he chose a novel by Luigi Bartolini to loosely base his script on, which he co-wrote with Cesare Zavattini and others. Following the precepts of neorealism, De Sica shot only on location (that is, no shooting was done on studio sets) and cast only untrained nonactors. (Lamberto Maggiorani, for example, was a factory worker.) This method added realism to the film, since some actors' off-screen lives paralleled their onscreen roles. De Sica cast Maggiorani when he had brought his young son to an audition for the film. He later cast the 8-year-old Enzo Staiola when he noticed the young boy watching the films production on a street while helping his father sell flowers. The film's final shot of Antonio and Bruno walking away from the camera into the distance is an homage to many Charlie Chaplin films, who was De Sica's favorite filmmaker.

Translated title

The original Italian title literally translates into English as Bicycle Thieves, biciclette and ladri being plural, but the film has usually been released in the United States as The Bicycle Thief. According to critic Philip French of The Observer (UK), this alternative title is misleading, "because the desperate hero eventually becomes himself a bicycle thief". The film is released in the UK as the more accurate Bicycle Thieves, and the recent Criterion Collection release in North America uses the plural title.

When the film was re-released in the late 1990s Bob Graham, staff film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, was quoted as saying that he preferred the title The Bicycle Thief, stating, "Purists have criticized the English title of the film as a poor translation of the Italian ladri, which is plural. What blindness! The Bicycle Thief is one of those wonderful titles whose power does not sink in until the film is over".

Critical reception

When Bicycle Thieves was released in Italy, it was viewed with hostility and as portraying Italians in a negative way. Italian critic Guido Aristarco praised it, but also complained that "sentimentality might at times take the place of artistic emotion." Fellow Italian neorealist film director Luchino Visconti criticized the film, saying that it was a mistake to use a professional actor to dub over Lamberto Maggiorani's dialogue.

Bicycle Thieves has received acclaim from critics ever since its release, earning a 98% 'Fresh' rating on Rotten Tomatoes out of 49 reviews, getting an average 9 out of 10 rating. The picture is also in the Vatican's Best Films List for portraying humanistic values.

Bosley Crowther, film critic for The New York Times, lauded the film and its message in his review. He wrote, "Again the Italians have sent us a brilliant and devastating film in Vittorio De Sica's rueful drama of modern city life, The Bicycle Thief. Widely and fervently heralded by those who had seen it abroad (where it already has won several prizes at various film festivals), this heart-tearing picture of frustration, which came to [the World Theatre] yesterday, bids fair to fulfill all the forecasts of its absolute triumph over here. For once more the talented De Sica, who gave us the shattering Shoeshine, that desperately tragic demonstration of juvenile corruption in post-war Rome, has laid hold upon and sharply imaged in simple and realistic terms a major—indeed, a fundamental and universal—dramatic theme. It is the isolation and loneliness of the little man in this complex social world that is ironically blessed with institutions to comfort and protect mankind". Pierre Leprohon wrote in Cinéma D'Aujourd that "what must not be ignored on the social level is that the character is shown not at the beginning of a crisis but at its outcome. One need only to look at his face, his uncertain gait, his hesitant or fearful attitudes to understand that Ricci is already a victim, a diminished man who has lost his confidence." Lotte Eisner called it the best Italian film since World War II and Robert Winnington called it "the most successful record of any foreign film in British cinema."

When the film was re-released in the late 1990s Bob Graham, staff film critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, gave the drama a positive review: "The roles are played by non-actors, Lamberto Maggiorani as the father and Enzo Staiola as the solemn boy, who sometimes appears to be a miniature man. They bring a grave dignity to De Sica's unblinking view of post-war Italy. The wheel of life turns and grinds people down; the man who was riding high in the morning is brought low by nightfall. It is impossible to imagine this story in any other form than De Sica's. The new black-and-white print has an extraordinary range of grey tones that get darker as life closes in".


  • Locarno International Film Festival, Switzerland: Special Prize of the Jury, Vittorio De Sica; 1949.
  • National Board of Review: NBR Award, Best Director, Vittorio De Sica; Best Film (Any Language), Italy; 1949.
  • New York Film Critics Circle Awards: NYFCC Award, Best Foreign Language Film, Italy; 1949.
  • Academy Awards: Honorary Award, Italy. Voted by the Academy Board of Governors as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1949; 1950.
  • Academy Awards: Nominated, Oscar, Best Writing, Screenplay, Cesare Zavattini; 1950.
  • British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Film from any Source; 1950.
  • Bodil Awards, Copenhagen, Denmark: Bodil, Best European Film (Bedste europæiske film), Vittorio De Sica; 1950.
  • Golden Globes: Golden Globe, Best Foreign Film, Italy; 1950.
  • Cinema Writers Circle Awards, Spain: CEC Award, Best Foreign Film (Mejor Película Extranjera), Italy; 1951.
  • Kinema Junpo Awards, Tokyo, Japan: Kinema Junpo Award, Best Foreign Language Film, Vittorio De Sica; 1951.
  • Best Cinematography (Migliore Fotografia), Carlo Montuori.
  • Best Director (Migliore Regia), Vittorio De Sica.
  • Best Film (Miglior Film a Soggetto).
  • Best Score (Miglior Commento Musicale), Alessandro Cicognini.
  • Best Screenplay (Migliore Sceneggiatura), Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, Oreste Biancoli, Adolfo Franci, and Gerardo Guerrieri.
  • Best Story (Miglior Soggetto), Cesare Zavattini.


Wang Xiaoshuai's 2001 film Beijing Bicycle explores similar themes of poverty and alienation, set in late 20th-century Beijing. Such similarities, and the bicycle theft driving the plot, have led critics to see parallels in the films. The relationship between Bruno and Antonio displays the strong bond between a father and his son.

Bicycle Thieves also influenced several Indian films. It was cited as an influence on several early Indian art films, including Bimal Roy's Do Bigha Zamin (Two Acres of Land, 1953) and Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali (1955). Indian director Anurag Kashyap cites this film as his inspiration for becoming a director. At least one critic cited it as an influence on Zeze Gamboa's Angolan film O Heroi (The Hero, 2004), in which a war veteran's prosthetic leg is stolen.

Filmmakers from the Iranian New Wave such as Dariush Mehrjui and Jafar Panahi have cited the film as an important influence on their work.

The film was also parodied in the 1989 film The Icicle Thief.

The film was also on TCM's top 15 most influential films list.

It was ranked #4 in Empire magazines "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.

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