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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Italian PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Working with De Sica, a collection of interviews with screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, actor Enzo Staiola, and film scholar Callisto Cosulich
  • Life as It Is, a program on the history of Italian neorealism, featuring scholar Mark Shiel
  • Documentary from 2003 on screenwriter and longtime Vittorio De Sica collaborator Cesare Zavattini, directed by Carlo Lizzani
  • Optional English-dubbed soundtrack

Bicycle Thieves

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Vittorio De Sica
1948 | 89 Minutes | Licensor: Corinth Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #374
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: March 29, 2016
Review Date: May 9, 2016

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SYNOPSIS

Hailed around the world as one of the greatest movies ever made, the Academy Award–winning Bicycle Thieves, directed by Vittorio De Sica, defined an era in cinema. In poverty-stricken postwar Rome, a man is on his first day of a new job that offers hope of salvation for his desperate family when his bicycle, which he needs for his work, is stolen. With his young son in tow, he sets off to track down the thief. Simple in construction and profoundly rich in human insight, Bicycle Thieves embodies the greatest strengths of the Italian neorealist movement: emotional clarity, social rectitude, and brutal honesty.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Criterion upgrades their previous DVD edition of Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves to Blu-ray, presenting the film in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation comes from an all new 4K restoration of the film.

The upgrade over Criterion’s DVD edition (and even Arrow’s region B Blu-ray) is substantial and solely worth the upgrade. The DVD presentation wasn’t particularly bad itself: other than the fact the title was window-boxed—a process that was a nuisance for people who owned televisions that didn’t overscan—the digital presentation was still rather strong, delivering a fairly sharp image with decent compression for the format. Even now, upscaled, the DVD doesn’t look too bad. The issues with that presentation had more to do with the source materials, which, despite what was obviously a lengthy restoration, still looked to have been through the ringer. It was loaded with tram lines, frame jumps, pulsing, shifting, scratches, and dirt. It wasn’t pretty at times, but it wasn’t overly surprising. Arrow’s Blu-ray did offer some improvements, at least in terms of restoration, but the transfer was still kind of iffy: detail wasn’t all that great, there were some noticeable artifacts, and there are times where the image does look a bit waxy. Though I gave it an okay, if unenthused, review of it back in 2011, I’ve admittedly become less fond of it over the years.

This Blu-ray, on the other hand, offers improvements in the areas these previous releases lacked in. Though there are still some obvious issues with the source the image is much cleaner, a majority of the damage present in the old DVD now gone. Glaring tram lines are mostly gone while scratches, shifts, and pulsing are less frequent. There are still frames missing in a few places, but the same jumps are present in all of the other previous releases of the film I’ve seen.

The transfer itself is also much sharper, offering a better level of detail in both close-ups and long shots, with nicely balanced blacks and gray levels, improving over the DVD’s. Film grain is rendered well and it retains a natural look. I also didn’t notice any digital anomalies in the image and it ultimately looks very much like a film.

This edition proves to be the best looking one I’ve yet seen for the film. The restoration work has been far more thorough and the transfer itself is clean and sharp.

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The audio for this film has always been rough, at least in the previous editions I’ve seen. The old Criterion DVD was especially bad, background noise like static and crackle being a constant problem, complete with pops, clicks, and drops. The Arrow also suffered from some of the same issues though ultimately did sound a bit better.

This edition may present the best sounding audio track for the film yet, though that’s still faint praise. Despite the background hiss and crackle being pretty much gone (remnants of it remain), and pops and drops also being less of an issue, the track is still limited, I assume still by age and the equipment used. Dialogue yet again sounds a bit harsh and edgy, and the distortion is still more evident in the film’s score.

Criterion also includes an optional English dub track, presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono. For a dub it’s actually not that bad, managing to match the lip movements most of the time and even sounding organic to the film. Audio quality is also pretty good, if just a bit flat, but I didn’t notice any real problems with it. As to how it compares to the DVD I can’t say I noticed an improvement over that edition’s presentation.

In the end preference will certainly lead to the track the viewer listens to, but the Italian track does sound far better her in comparison to the old DVD.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion carries over most everything from their previous DVD edition, a handsome edition released in a sharp looking digipak with a thick 75-page book. Unfortunately Criterion has cut the book down for their Blu-ray edition, which is in one of their standard Scanavo Blu-ray cases. Admittedly my heart sunk a little bit when I saw this.

At any rate, all of the disc supplements do make it over from the 2-disc DVD, starting with Working with De Sica, a 23-minute collection of interviews with screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, actor Enzo Staiola (who plays the boy, Bruno, in the film), and film scholar Callisto Cosulich. Cosulich and d’Amico have most of the screen time, going over De Sica’s acting career and then his directorial work. We get some back story to the development of the film, which was adapted very loosely from a novel of the same name. Stailoa then shares how he was eventually cast in the part and his career after the film, while also expressing his disappointment in how his co-star, Lamberto Maggiorani, never got the acting career he desired. In the end it’s a fairly general talking heads making-of, but a decent one none-the-less.

Criterion then provides a bit of a crash course on the Italian Neorealist movement with Life as It Is, a 40-minute segment hosted by scholar Mark Shiel. Shiel gives a brief overview of the Italian film industry during the war (where filmmakers basically churned out films to serve Mussolini’s fascist needs) and how Neorealist films grew out of that after the war. He talks about a few of the key films in the movement but, unsurprisingly, focuses on most of his time on Bicycle Thieves. He also tries to put aside this idea that Neorealist films were sort of shot off-the-cuff, low budget, and only used real settings, to the point where if they needed rain they would wait for rain. He would explain this wasn’t necessarily the case, or even a rule, and was more an idea born out of how Rome Open City was shot, more out of necessity. Bicycle Thieves was actually a big budget production with a full crew, probably one of the more expensive films at the time, and De Sica manufactured rain if he needed it, he didn’t wait for it to actually rain.

Shiel also covers the controversies that surround the films (most were upset about how they seemed to concentrate on the more miserable aspects of Italian life) and how this would lead to a change in the film industry. It’s a decent primer for those unfamiliar with the movement and the films and has been nicely put together by Spiel.

The disc then closes with a documentary on screenwriter Cesare Zavattini. The 55-minute piece is a well done documentary, though fairly standard in the end. It goes over his life and career with special focus on the films Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D.. It also features footage shot of him and gets interviews with those that worked with him or knew him. This documentary not only appeared on Criterion’s DVD but has also appeared on the Arrow Academy edition.

Now, where the Blu-ray differs, is in the included booklets. The old DVD presented a thick 75-page book, the Blu-ray’s is a much thinner 33. We still get an essay on the film by Godfrey Cheshire, followed by a collection of “rememberances” on the film by De Sica, Lianella Carrell (recalling how she was cast as Maria), assistant director Luisa Alessandri, Sergio Leone (who, as he states, had a small part and worked as a “gofer”), Manuel De Sica, and then Maria Mercader. Missing, unfortunately, are a lengthy essay by Cesare Zavattini called “Some Ideas on the Cinema,” and then another lengthy essay on the film Andre Bazin. Both were great additions and I assume they were cut just to make the packaging smaller. Disappointing.

In the end, those two cuts do make a bit of an impact, especially the Zavattini essay that worked as a companion to Shiel’s feature and the documentary on him Still, what we’re left with, is all fairly good.

6/10

CLOSING

It’s disappointingly a less impressive looking package in comparison to the DVD edition, but the substantial image boost we get certainly makes this upgrade worth it.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

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