When producer David O. Selznick worked up an itch to remake Vittorio De Sica’s Italian Neo-Realist classic BICYCLE THIEVES/’48, he naturally thought of Cary Grant to play the increasingly desperate, bike-searching dad. Cary Grant? Sounds like a stretch. Heck, it is a stretch. But in this often lovely, if less than successful, downbeat drama, you can see what DOS was driving at. (As did our anonymous Italian poster artist to your right.) Socially engaged playwright Clifford Odets added director’s hat to his C.V. with this one, to labored results; he can’t invigorate the airless, poetic, artificial sets, and gets unintentional laughs on his own overly dramatic lines. (‘They pinched Ma!’) But the basic story, which must have resonated deeply with Grant, pulls you in anyway as this scapegrace prodigal son, a drifter by nature, tries to stay in place long enough to take care of his dying mum. And since ‘Mum’ is Ethel Barrymore, back on screen after hitting retirement age & triumphing on B’way (and across the country) in THE CORN IS GREEN (see bonus shot: Ethel w/ bike),
in legendary form as a careworn shopkeeper with guilty secrets of her own, the film develops an unusually rich texture in spite of its many missteps. The wavering accents of the rest of the cast being the least of its problems. (p.s. Selznick never did remake De Sica. Though Chris Weitz did, to sorry effect, as A BETTER LIFE/'11.)
DOUBLE-BILL: Watch John Ford’s THE INFORMER/’35 to see how to bring this sort of poetic realism to life, possibly on some of the very sets since both films were shot on the RKO studio lot.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The original story is by Richard Llewellyn of HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY/’41 fame. And surely the opening narration in this film is read by Irving Pichel who did the same task on GREEN. Though he gets no credit for it, not even in IMDb.