The bicycle thief is an Italian film, characterized by shooting in real locations, nonprofessional actors and naturalistic light. Often, passersby are serving the roles of unwitting extras. This grew out of necessity because of lack of infrastructure in filmmaking after World War I, and later became an ethos that impacted many of the movies that came after. Antonio Ricci is an Italian man married to Maria with whom they have a son called Bruno. The family composes the main characters of the movie.
Ricky and his son prepare together to leave the house. They both dress the same dresses and pack the same food for their lunch. They then pocket their sandwiches on the same pockets of their trousers just before they step out. Since Ricci was out of employment, they hock their bicycle to be able to pay for food. His wife Maria removes the sheets from their beds and Ricci can pledge them to redeem his bicycle. As he starts at the pawnshop, we are able to see a man taking the pile of the linen sheets, then climbs a ladder to a giant wall with shelves full of other people’s bed sheets.
Meanwhile, Maria goes to appreciate a wise woman who predicted that her husband would find a job. Waiting for his wife impatiently, Ricci gets tired, leaves the bicycle outside near the entrance, and climbs upstairs to see what hinders her. Ricci then joins a long queue of people who are out to look for work. On this day, there is a job offer for a person who owns a bicycle. Ricci cries out loudly, "I have a bicycle!”, Ricci’s bicycle will allow him to go on with his duties as a poster hanger and sticking advertisement on the walls after slapping paste to enable them stick.
Ricci is extremely thrilled about starting the new job and putting on new uniforms-overall and a cap, but on his first day at work, someone steals his bicycle while Ricci was busy putting up a poster with the picture of Rita Hayworth. Another man in need of a job must have stolen the bicycle. Seeing him at a distance, a teenager putting on German style hat, Ricci chases him, but is not able to catch up. He takes up a bus to go pick up his son from school. The look on his face when he arrives is one of pure shame.
Ricci cannot even face his wife, so he decides to look for help. He seeks help from Baiocco, his friend; who is a sanitation worker and an actor. The following day, Baiocco and his men set out to look for the bicycle. They stop at a large outdoor venue dedicated for bicycles alone, but after a long search, and a nasty confrontation, they do not get the bicycle. After searching day and night, they spot the thief talking to an old beggar, but they are not able to catch him. They, therefore, follow the beggar to a church, where lose the man and they are not able to trace him. Ricci’s frustrations go up, and he slaps Bruno hard across the face, and betrayal in the son’s eyes is just wrenching.
To make it up to his son, Ricci takes him to a restaurant, which is a new experience for the young boy who starts mimicking the rich child across the table by making signs using his mouth. Lastly, they get the thief, but narrowly escape death after the rough-and-tumble neighbor embarks on him. Bruno summons the police, but they cannot prove the case since there is no evidence of the bike or any witness. At this point, Ricci has no option but to decline pressing charges.