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Bicycle Thieves (1948) - Plot Summary Poster

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  • Ricci, an unemployed man in the depressed post-WWII economy of Italy, gets at last a good job - for which he needs a bike - hanging up posters. But soon his bicycle is stolen. He and his son walk the streets of Rome, looking for the bicycle. Ricci finally manages to locate the thief but with no proof, he has to abandon his cause. But he and his son know perfectly well that without a bike, Ricci won't be able to keep his job.

  • The unemployment rate is high in postwar Italy. Antonio Ricci has been workless for two years, when he at last is offered a job as a poster. There is only one condition: he must have a bike of his own. At the moment his bicycle is at the pawn-shop, but Antonio's wife Maria says they can pawn their six sheets instead. The first day at work Antonio's bicycle is stolen. A friend offers to help him search for it the next morning at Piazza Vittorio, where the street vendors sell stolen bikes. The search is unsuccessful, but Antonio and his little son Bruno don't give up. They continue to the market at Porta Portese, where Antonio happens to see the thief talking to an elderly man. As he cannot catch the thief, he instead pursues the old man, who goes into a church, where he disappears during the mass. The third time Antonio happens to see the thief, he succeeds to pursue him to his dwelling-place. A local policeman believes Antonio's story about the theft, but as he cannot find the stolen bike in the apartment, the case is dismissed. Driven into utterly despair Antonio and Bruno walk back home - back to unemployment.

  • During the hard years of poverty in post-World-War-II Rome, Antonio, a poor working-class man of a wife and a little son, is finally offered a modest job as a bill-poster with his own bicycle; a bicycle like the one Antonio was already forced to pawn. As a result, his wife, Maria, pawns the family's bed linen to redeem their bicycle, unfortunately, however, on Antonio's first day of work, the prized possession is stolen. Desperate, the ill-fated father and his boy, Bruno, will scour Rome's bustling streets on a gloomy Sunday to find the vital bicycle, but undoubtedly, this is an impossible task. Will Antonio ever get his job back?

  • Antonio Ricci is only one of several men who regularly stand outside his local municipal employment office in Rome every morning hoping that there is work available, it doled out on a qualification basis. This morning, he is told there is a job for him starting tomorrow hanging posters around the city. In getting the job, he tells a white lie in that he has a bicycle, a bicycle which is a requirement for the work. In actuality, he pawned his bicycle to put food on the table for himself, his wife Maria, and their two young children. At some sacrifice, he and Maria sell some of their possessions so that Antonio can get his bicycle out of hawk. They believe it is worth it as the return in employment salary and overtime far exceeds the initial capital outlay in getting the bicycle back. On Antonio's first working day, his bicycle is stolen as he is on his ladder hanging a poster. With little help from the police who tell him all they can do is keep the bicycle's serial number on file in case it does show up, Antonio, with his friends and his older son, adolescent Bruno, by his side, go on what seems like a futile mission to locate the bicycle, which could now be anywhere in Rome. But as Antonio views the bicycle as his and his family's means of survival, he will grasp at any straw to locate the bicycle and/or the thief, who he did see, and perhaps take desperate measures in these desperate times.

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  • In post-war Italy, a working-class man's bicycle is stolen. He and his son set out to find it.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • The film tells the story of Antonio Ricci, an unemployed man in the depressed post-World War II economy of Italy. With no money and a wife and two children to support, he is desperate for work. He is delighted to at last get a good job hanging up posters, but on the sole condition that he has a bicycle which must be used for work. He is told unequivocally: "No bicycle, no job." His wife Maria pawns their bedsheets in order to get money to redeem his bicycle from the pawnbroker.

    Early on in the film, Ricci's coveted bicycle is stolen by a bold young thief who snatches it when he is hanging up a poster.

    Antonio thinks that the police will take the theft very seriously, but they are not really interested in the petty theft of a bike. The only option is for Antonio and his friends to walk the streets of Rome themselves, looking for the bicycle. After trying for hours with no luck, they finally give up and leave.

    Desperate for leads and with his better judgement clouded, Antonio even visits the dubious backstreet fortune teller that he had earlier mocked, in the hope that she may be able to shed light upon the bike's whereabouts. However, she merely doles out to him one of the truisms that form her stock in trade: "you'll find the bike quickly, or not at all." Feeling cheated, a crestfallen Antonio hands over to her some of the last money that they have. After a rare treat of a meal in a restaurant, Antonio admits to his son that if he isn't able to work, they will simply starve.

    Antonio finally manages to locate the thief (who, it seems, had already sold the bicycle) and Bruno slips off to summon the police to the apartment. Antonio meanwhile, angrily accuses the thief of stealing his bike but the boy denies all knowledge of the crime. When the policeman arrives, he sees the accused boy lying on the floor feigning a seizure and surrounded by irate neighbours who blame Antonio's accusations for causing the "innocent" boy's fit.

    The policeman tells Antonio that although he may have seen the boy stealing the bike, he did not catch the thief red-handed, nor has he any witnesses and that Antonio making an accusation is not good enough. With no proof and with the thief's neighbours willing to give him a false alibi, he abandons his cause. Antonio walks away from the house in despair, as the thief's neighbours follow, jeering at him about his lost bicycle.

    At the end of the film in one of the most resonant scenes, Antonio is sitting on the curb outside the packed football stadium. He looks at the hundreds and hundreds of bicycles that are parked outside the stadium and as he cradles his head in despair, a fleet of bicycles mockingly speeds past him.

    After vacillating for some time about whether to steal one for himself, he decides he has no other option but to snatch one that he spots outside an apartment. Unluckily, he is seen taking the bike and caught by a crowd of angry men who slap and humiliate him in front of his son. Ironically, this time with an army of witnesses who catch him, he is frogmarched off to the police station but after seeing how upset Bruno is, the owner of the bicycle declines to press charges.

    The film ends with the man and his son, sad and let down from what has just happened, they walk along in a crowd, leaving us with a dim outlook for the two. Holding hands, they are both reduced to tears.

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