Vittoria De Sica’s exploration of what an ordinary person must do to survive modern society is one of the landmark examples of neorealist cinema.
Vittorio Do Sica’s The Bicycle Thief is a likable bit of pathos, not very originally conceived or executed, about a poor bill-poster whose bicycle is stolen. Accompanied by his son, he wanders through nearly every street in Rome trying unsuccessfully to get it back. The pace and the lighting turn The Bicycle Thief into a gently melancholic series of strolls in gray weather rather than a frantic search. Even when the hero runs after someone or pursues the thief in an automobile, the picture still seems to be strolling with the unhopeful, limitless leisure of the unemployed it depicts.
De Sica trios for realism by using nearly all non-professional actors and doing his shooting in the streets. Since he doesn’t concentrate on significant detail or get his players sufficiently loosened up to be natural, the film, except for its feel of poverty, comes out as somewhat less realistic than the average studio movie. However, The Bicycle Thief does have a certain ramshackle simplicity, quietness, and even naivete that are not unwelcome as a change from the stunning noise, ingenuity, and sophistication of Hollywood.
Among Hollywood’s most impressive recent efforts are three which deal, in timely fashion, with one of the major themes of the first half of the twentieth century—the failure of the charismatic personality. Young Man with a Horn, All the King’s Men, and Give Us This Day are remarkably similar in the seriousness and even the morbidity with which they treat, respectively, the haunted artist, politician, and worker. All three are based on novels of merit and manage to give them cinematic immediacy without debasing them excessively.