Jim Dooley’s review published on Letterboxd:
How is it possible that I’m so engrossed in the search for a stolen bicycle?
Well, of course, the answer is that the theft is the plot device that drives the story, but BICYCLE THIEVES is about so much more than that. In some ways, it reminded me of the long-running television series, “The Fugitive.” Sure, the underlying plot of that series was a wrongly-convicted escapee’s search for “the one-armed man,” but every week a new story took Dr. Richard Kimball to another part of the country where he became involved in the lives of others.
In the search for the stolen bicycle, Antonio (Lamberto Maggiorani who gives a heartfelt portrayal) becomes enmeshed in different cultural situations. So, far from seeing the world only from his perspective, his single-mindedness is the Viewer’s anchor that often made me feel as if I actually lived there. From his wife (Lianella Carell) pawning their bedsheets (which includes a warehouse shot that is a vivid testament to the troubled financial and living conditions in the city) to his son (Enzo Staiola in a portrayal that burned itself into my mind) being brought to assist in the search … and also being taken on an unsettling journey of discovery … BICYCLE THIEVES is filled with challenging revelations.
The various relationship encounters throughout the movie are a major strong point. From the simple act of Antonio not helping his wife carry pails of water even though he is walking with her, to a slap that literally caused me to gasp out loud, BICYCLE THIEVES reveals relationships that made me feel as if I was intruding into the lives of others. I was also impressed how Director Vittorio De Sica moved back and forth between establishing a sense of community to a feeling of being completely isolated within it.
And then there’s the ending. I can’t imagine watching that in a theater, and then casually leaving the auditorium to head for my car. Wow.
I saw this once before. It was on television many years ago when I was in junior high school (now called Middle School). The local PBS affiliate would run a season of films from the Janus collection, often during “prime time” on a Friday night during the summer. I could swear that I saw it under the title of THE BICYCLE THIEF, but perhaps I’m mistaken. Regardless, I didn’t have enough years under my belt to fully appreciate the depth of the father’s story. Instead, his son was my connection. I remember thinking that things would have been much better if the father would just understand how devoted his son was to him.
For years after that, I remember BICYCLE THIEVES popping up on quite a few Great Films lists. Today, despite its power, I only rarely hear it mentioned in that capacity anymore. That is definitely a shame, because there is much that filmmakers and general audiences can glean from it.