(NOTE: “Bicycle Thieves” is the title most often used in Canada and elsewhere these days because it’s a more accurate translation of the Italian title “Ladri di biciclette” but American arthouse theatre owners still largely prefer “The Bicycle Thief” — and if you’ve seen the film it is a much more effective title).
This week I’m wrapping up an update to the press book. The owner, John Poole, uncovered a treasure trove of articles and reviews from its original 1949 release (though made and released in Italy in 1948, it didn’t reached the U.S. until December 1949) and I’ve been scanning, proofing and formatting these. The archivist in me is having a ball.
One curious discovery was Arthur Miller’s original New York Times article about the film.
If you do a Google search you’ll find this oft-quoted line from Miller: “The Bicycle Thief is Everyman’s search for dignity – it is as though the soul of a man had been filmed.“
Pretty good, eh?
But Miller doesn’t use that line anywhere in his original piece. He never wrote it.
So where did it come from? My guess is, a very clever publicist who put together this 25th anniversary promotional sheet when Richard Feiner & Company owned the U.S. rights to the film, and which later got reprinted in the Image Entertainment dvd release some years ago. Except for that quote, which opens the page, it’s word-for-word from the final section of the Times article.
Miller’s source article opens with a fairly lengthy overview of the state of Italian cinema at the time before he eventually slides into his discussion of The Bicycle Thief. Not a very catchy opening if you’re trying to promote that film alone. So that had to go.
But that would have left them with this as an opening: “The Bicycle Thief is about a man, a worker, who must have a bike in order to work at his job.”
Not exactly a grabber.
So, I suspect, whoever was doing the editing borrowed the article’s subtitle (something a Times editor would have written) which read “Arthur Miller Cites The Bicycle Thief As Everyman’s Search for Dignity,” and then dreamt up the second half of the line.
You have to admit, it’s a great line — “it is as though the soul of a man had been filmed” — which is little wonder so many love quoting it.
But it’s a bit disconcerting to see how so many on the internet have promulgated it now that its true source is in question.
Here is the full transcript of Miller’s original words, published January 8, 1950.