The Bicycle Thief

Movie review by
Charles Cassady Jr., Common Sense Media
The Bicycle Thief Movie Poster Image
Bleak black-and-white classic isn't likely to interest kids.
  • NR
  • 1948
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The simple structure of the tale has led to numerous interpretations -- everything from the basic "life is unfair," to a highfalutin' metaphor for the world's voiceless urban lower classes. Antonio painfully looking for the bicycle on which his family's future depends reflects the working poor on a desperate quest for meaning and dignity.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Unglamorously-depicted lead characters are a hardworking poor family, uneducated but honest, though Antonio ultimately lets desperation drive him to break the law. Police and, to a certain extent, the Catholic Church, are present to "help" but don't solve the dilemma.

Violence

A few near-scuffles. A character suffers (or pretends to suffer) a kind of seizure under pressure. A father hits his son.

Sex
Language

"Damn it" is about as bad is it gets.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Antonio talks about getting drunk. Wine served in a restaurant setting.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know a sympathetic lead character in this notoriously downbeat drama is driven to commit a crime at the climax, and the picture ends on a melancholy note, with no sense of justice being done. There is talk about getting drunk, though nothing comes of it. The film is in black and white, and seeing it the way the filmmakers intended requires subtitle reading (though dubbed versions are available). In Roman Catholic circles and Web sites this film is highly regarded (one subplot concerns a charity church service), though the emphasis is on suffering more than salvation.

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What's the story?

Poor family man Antonio, unemployed for a year, finally obtains work (ironically, putting up glamorous movie posters around strife-torn Rome). To keep the job he needs a bicycle, and -- thanks to his wife's selling their wedding-gift linen -- he rescues his old bicycle from a pawnbroker. However, a stranger wearing a German cap jumps on the precious bike and rides away. Antonio goes searching for thief and the bike, initially accompanied by some friends. But finally it's just the stricken man and his little son Bruno, chasing down frustrating clues and dead-ends over an agonized weekend.

Is it any good?

For modern young viewers, whose idea of a classic stolen-bike tale is Pee Wee's Big Adventure, this black-and-white classic may be a hard sell. The movie isn't really meant for kids. Rather, it's a landmark depiction of poor people getting a raw deal, through no fault of their own, and running out of options, lost in a society indifferent to their plight. No big speeches, no fireworks, no CGI superheroes web-slinging to the rescue. Yes, decades have passed since 1948 audiences were moved by the film's simple power and plain style, and this cinematic landmark isn't as fresh as it once was. Still, it topped critics' 10-best-of-all-time lists and should still be seen by serious-minded audiences.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way the main characters behave. Ask kids what they think of Antonio's actions. What about what Bruno goes through?

  • Speculate on what happened to the characters after the movie ends. Ask kids if there was ever a low time in their life when they felt as helpless as the people here. How did things turn out?

  • Discuss conditions in Europe right after WWII, when rationing, poverty, refugees, and unemployment hit even the victorious countries (like Britain). Compare and contrast that with the war's aftermath in the USA.

Movie details

For kids who love drama

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