I was disappointed to know that Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine was not included in the Neo-Realist Collection Boxset, because to buy individually the DVDs are expensive. Then I saw that Shoeshine was from The Masters of Cinema (the Neo-realist boxset was from Arrow Films). That was comforting to know that at least the quality of Shoeshine DVD would be excellent. I was not wrong. The restoration is very well done and the movie is one of the best I have seen. A very moving story.
The setting is Rome after WW2. Pasquale and Giuseppe are best friends. Pasquale is an orphan, while Giuseppe still has his family. They earn money by shining American soldiers's shoes. "Shoeshine, Joe?" asks Pasquale to a passing GI. In their spare time, they goes to Villa Borghese to ride a horse. They dream to be able to buy the horse. One day, Giuseppe's older brother asks them to deliver stolen blankets to a fortuneteller's house, where a robbery soon happens, and the two boys are sent to jail, accused to be an accessory to the robbery.
Most of the movie takes place in the juvenile prison. The food is horrible, but once they get used to it, it's eatable. My eyes were wet when Pasquale betrayed Giuseppe (the beating sack scene is perhaps very funny, but the circumstance is so tragic), the misunderstanding afterwards, and how Giuseppe was corrupted by his cell-mate. I am also sorry to see what happens to the horse. The boys love him, but as they are in jail, the stable owner uses him to draws a cart. Three of them have lost their freedom. It's sad to see a friendship broken by the social system, especially when the two boys are innocent.
The two young actors are wonderful. Franco Interlenghi becomes a successful actor and has done many films since. Many boys went to see Vittorio De Sica for the role of Pasquale, and Interlenghi said how he queued twice (like Dopey when he wants to be kissed again by Snow White) so that he could answer De Sica's question properly about whether he could box. Finally the producer saw him and asked if he had been seen by De Sica. It was then he was asked to do some screen tests. Rinaldo Smordoni, who played Giuseppe, was cast at once, and everybody thought he would be a great actor, but no. He only did a couple of movies after Shoeshine, and that was all.
If I have to choose between Shoeshine and The Bicycle Thief, I will choose Shoeshine. Both movies are strong, tragic, and powerful; but we can learn more things from Shoeshine and I like movies about friendship, even if it ends badly.