The Bicycle Thief

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Date: 1948

Region: North America

Subject: Explicit Sexuality, Religion

Medium: Film Video


Bike Thief.jpg

Artist: Vittorio De Sica, Italian director

Confronting Bodies: Production Code Administration

Dates of Action: 1948

Location: Hollywood, Hays Office

Description of Artwork: "Set in the poverty and bleakness of post-war Rome The Bicycle Thief tells a simple but elegant story about a man's desperate search for his stolen bicycle. The picture traces the frantic efforts of Antonio and his 10-year-old son, Bruno, to locate the thief and recover the precious bicycle."

The Incident: In spite of the praise and awards The Bicycle Thief was receiving from around the globe, Hollywood's Production Code Administration (PCA) was able to find two scenes that it demanded be removed before it would issue its Seal of approval. "The first was a brief, slightly poignant episode in the midst of the frantic daylong search for the stolen bicycle. Antonio's son pauses beside a Roman wall, apparently to relieve himself. His back is to the camera and before he can begin, his father compels him to abandon the call of nature and continue the chase. The second problem, more important to the plot, involved Antonio's pursuit of the thief into a 'house of tolerance.' The run went through the bordello. Showed nothing even remotely sensual. The women were clothed, unattractive and occupied only with their Sunday morning meal." Although neither scene technically violated the official Production Code, Joseph Breen, the PCA's Director, personally opposed the scenes and demanded they be removed before he would issue the film the PCA Seal. Because most cinemas were still owned by the major studios, this Seal was imperative for a films distribution. "The company presidents made the Production Code Seal the passport that the movies needed to enter the largest and most profitable theaters in America. They fined those who distributed or exhibited a picture without the Seal."

Results of Incident: Banking on the films reputation and critics support Burstyn, the film's distributor, began a press campaign to have the Motion Picture Association overrule Breen's decision. The Association supported Breen's decision and demanded that the scenes be removed. Burstyn refused the to make the cuts, and he was forced to release the film without the Seal. "The decision sparked intense criticism of the Production Code Administration. In a two-column New York Times story, "The Unkindest Cut," Bosley Crowther termed the outcome of the appeal 'the sort of resistance to liberalization or change that widely and perilously oppresses the whole industry today... ' In a series of press releases, he accused Breen of applying petty standards that the vast majority of Americans had long sense rejected... " As the support of the PCA began to be challenged by Bursytn and the like The Bicycle Thief decision marked the beginning of the end of the PCA's rigid hold on film distribution.

Source: American Film, L. Leff and J. Simmons, December 1989