Classic Capsule: Shoeshine (1946)

It takes a lapse in judgment to make someone a convict, but it takes a crooked system to make someone a criminal. It’s a literary concept that dates all the way back to Dickens and Poe, if not Shakespeare and The Bible. It also formed the basis of Vittorio De Sica’s debut motion picture, Shoeshine – known in various circles as the first foreign language film to win an Academy Award. Shoeshine was the precursor to De Sica’s cinematic masterpiece, The Bicycle Thief. While a number of parallels exist between the two (e.g., the inclusion of underworld figures, fortune tellers, and the impoverished state of post-World-War-Rome) – Shoeshine is not nearly as engaging as its towering successor.

Whether it’s the era, the grainy black and white, the labored pacing, the subtitles, the shrill sound editing, the acting or the execution, Shoeshine feels a lot more dated than it does intriguing. And yet, its enduring plot points have provided the impetus for several American films, including Murder In The First, The Shawshank Redemption, and even And Justice For All. Great shows like The Wire and The Sopranos have even tipped their cap to De Sica’s feature film along the way. In certain respects, it feels altogether fitting that they should. Shoeshine was – and always will be – the first. That alone secures it a place in cinematic history.

(Shoeshine is currently streaming via Netflix.)