Director: Vittorio De Sica.
Starring: Franco Interlenghi (Pasquale Maggi), Rinaldo Smordoni (Giuseppe Filippucci), Annielo Mele (Raffaele), Bruno Ortenzi (Arcangeli), Emilio Cigoli (Staffera).
miserable lives of street children surviving by shining the boots of American GIs
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
"The characters and events in this movie are fictitious."
A boy named Pasquale on horseback races with other riders. The name of the horse is Bersagliere and another kid, Pasquale's friend Giuseppe, says that Bersagliere is the best! The two boys are shoeshine boys. They like to rent Bersagliere from time to time. They are trying to save up enough money to buy the horse. The guys are part of a larger group of boys who shine shoes for the American GIs. The boys shout out: "Shoeshine, Joe?"
Giuseppe says to another boy: "Our problem is that we're not organized. That's why the guards steal our boxes." A young girl named Nannarella comes over and says hello to Giuseppe. She says that his mom needs 300 lira. Giuseppe is a bit upset: "I've given her 500 this morning!"
Nannarella and Giuseppe walks together. A man, Giuseppe's big brother Attilio, comes up on a motorcycle and asks Giuseppe where's Pasquale? Giuseppe tells him that Pasquale is at Fori Imperiali. Attilio drives over there to speak with Pasquale. They agree on a place to meet later. Giuseppe returns to shine shoes. He asks what his brother wanted? Pasquale replies: "He said that Panza will meet me today at 1:00."
The boys arrive at the meeting place 30 minutes late. Panza says that he will give the boys two American blankets and they will try to sell them to a lady who lives in a house at 48 Via del Babuino. The boys negotiate fora payment of 500 lira.
The boys go to see Margherita Donati Anselmi, qualified fortune-teller. The boys negotiate a price for the blankets and she pays them Now they ask her to tell them their future. She starts to tell them, but is interrupted by three tough looking guys who say they are the police. They have heard that the woman deals with stolen goods. The fortune tell denies that allegation. One of the guys is actually Attilio. The leader is a big, fat guy named Panza. Attilio tells the boys to keep the 2,800 lira for the blankets and gives the boys 3,0000 lira more. He tells them that they did not see or hear anything. He rushes them out the door.
With the extra money the boys are able to buy the horse Bersagliere. The boys ride the horse down the street in front of the other shoeshine boys, who are really impressed by this.
The next morning in the stable, the boys get up from their hay beds to say good morning to Bersagliere. They ride their horse to a place where they can give him a bath.
The boys are off to work, but they are grabbed by two policemen after being pointed out by the fortune teller. The guys are brought down to the station. The woman claims that the boys robbed her of 700,000 lira. The police ask the boys and the truth comes out that the madam bought two American blankets from them. The police take note of this. They want to know the name of the fat man that was at the apartment. When they don't get an answer they like, the police throw the boys in a cell.
They tell the fortune-teller that they have to charge her with a crime. She's not happy about that. The police chief just tells her to go home and pushes her out of his office. Another policeman asks what are they going to do about those boys? The chief says send them to juvenile prison.
A tall blonde woman says she is looking for the Filippucci family. She is told to go to the second floor, 3C. She goes over to Amalia the mother of Giuseppe and tells her that she wants to speak to her husband about business. People are cooking in the halls. Several families share each room. Only some curtains provide any privacy for anyone. Amalia tells Vittorio to get up. The blonde tells Vittorio that Attilio is here to see him. A son of Vittorio tells his father that they have arrested Giuseppe. Dad says: "Don't get involved, otherwise I'll be in trouble."
Giuseppe is placed in a paddy wagon. The adults are to be dropped off at Regina Coeli. Then the kids are to be dropped off at the juvenile prison. Nannarella sees them take Giuseppe away.
With Giuseppe is Pasquale. They are let out at the prison and a fellow takes them into the prison itself. There are some awfully big juveniles in the prison. The boys are signed in onto the books.
The director inspects the prison. He meets some of the new boys. Among others, he meets Giuseppe and Pasquale. The boys are being held pending investigation.
The director is told that there has been a delegation of parents putting pressure on the system to go forward faster with the investigations. "These boys have been in jail for months." The director says that compared to 1936 crime has increased by 60% percent and the judges are overloaded with work. The fellow named Bartoli has a heart and says these inmates are just boys, but the director is indifferent to these feelings. He tells Bartoli that they are running a jail, not a daycare center.
The large fat guy Panza is in a restaurant with three women. He stops a fellow named Tamburini and asks him where is Attilio? Tamburini says the fellow is afraid to come. And what about the two boys? Tamburini says they didn't talk. This pleases the big boss. He says they have to send them a sort of care package. The boss doesn't want the boys to become bitter over their stint in prison and, thereby, be useless to Panza.
The boys are cold and are being bitten by what they think are lice. Pasquale tells the younger Giuseppe that they have to keep their mouths shut. And if they succeed in that, then can negotiate on good terms with Panza when they get out. The boys talk about Nannarella and their horse.
At the stables the owner calls in Mr. Annibale to check out the boys' horse. The coach driver uses the horse to pull his coach.
Bartoli is with the doctor asking about a Neapolitan boy who Bartoli tried to get transferred to the hospital. The doctor says the Forlanini hospital is overflowing with patients now. It would be best to let the fellow go. He's only in for vagrancy anyway. Bartoli states the obvious that he has no power at all to make that kind of decision.
Our two boys are brought in and given maybe a one minute health exam. Then they are taken to Section 1. There the boys are put in different crowded cells, despite the fact that they really resist this assignment. Giuseppe is put in a cell with big boys. The boys in the cells start yelling curses at the guards. So the personnel start closing the shutters on the barred windows of the cells. The boys continue making such a racket that a higher official demands to know what is going on? Another official says: "A guard knocked around one of the newcomers, so they're protesting." So the higher official yells to the boys that exercise in the courtyard is suspended until further notice.
One the boys says he wants to smash Staffera's head. They ask Giuseppe what he is in here for, but he only says that he doesn't know anything. The guys ask him when he did the fingerprinting how many digits did he use? Giuseppe says four and the guys start laughing at him and calling him stupid and an idiot. Four fingerprints means four years in jail, they say. Giuseppe starts crying.
The bugle sounds and the boys on the bottom floor fall into formation. Pasquale is worried about his friend because he doesn't see him. One of the younger guys Raffaele, says that his friend is on a different eating shift where they eat later. At the table some new guys say that the food is disgusting. A young fellow who has been in jail for awhile says they'll learn that they have to eat the food regardless of its taste, if they want to stay alive.
The mail arrives and Giuseppe's name is called out. Giuseppe shouts out his name and his location. Those who got packages are let out to go get them. Giuseppe tries to share some of his goodies with Pasquale but one of the inmate guards tells him that this is not allowed. Giuseppe has to go up to his cell or the guard will confiscate the entire package. When he gets to his cell, he shares what he has with the other guys. The biggest guy in the cell, Arcangeli, now arrives and demands to know who this new fellow is. The boys says Giuseppe is a newcomer. The guy moves Giuseppe off his spot and takes some bread from the young boy. The fellow finds a note baked into the bread. The note says for Giuseppe to keep his mouth shut. Giuseppe says he didn't need that note because he's decided not to talk already. The big fellow says that he likes Giuseppe and says they can be friends.
A bugle sounds and the boys file out onto the ground floor. Now Giuseppe can talk with Pasquale. He tells him about the note he received. Arcangeli comes over and Giuseppe introduces him to Pasquale. Arcangeli is pleasant enough and he tells Giuseppe that he will lend him a towel and some soap. After Arcangeli leaves, Giuseppe says that the guy is in for armed robbery with a machine gun.
The two friends are told to go see the chief constable. The police chief tells Giuseppe that he spoke to his father and the man is very distraught. Poor Pasquale's parents have both died. One of the officials says he will get the truth out of the boys by giving them the belt. The boys say they still won't talk. So the belt is used. The officials, however, do not use the belt, but pretend that they are wiping Giuseppe as Pasquale has to wait his turn. A boy in the room makes the crying noises for the prison officials. After awhile, Pasquale agrees to tell them everything. He gives them the only two names he knows: Panza and Attilio.
When they take Pasquale to his cell, he breaks away from them and runs up to the second floor to find Giuseppe's cell. He asks if Giuseppe is alright? Giuseppe says yes, they were only kidding him. Now Giuseppe asks Pasquale if he said anything to the officials? Pasquale says no.
Pasquale escorts Raffaele, who is going free today, to the appropriate official. The young fellow finds out fast that the woman who came for him is not his mother. The woman is a friend of his mother. She says that his mother had to go to Florence and told her to bring him a care package. The boy, of course, is extremely disappointed and tears fill his eyes. He returns to Pasquale, who escorts him back to their cell. Giuseppe passes by Pasquale quickly only saying that his mother has come.
Giuseppe sees his mother and starts crying. She also cries. She asks him: "How could you do it?" But she's not talking about Giuseppe's supposed crimes, but asking why he betrayed his brother to the prison officials? Giuseppe asks what betrayal? Mom tells him that the police chief told her that it was Giuseppe who talked. This makes Giuseppe furious at Pasquale.
When Giuseppe sees Pasquale again he starts hitting his one-time friend. Pasquale tries to explain that he did it to save him from what he thought was a terrible beating. Giuseppe shouts that he's a traitor. Bartoli breaks them up and tells the boys to behave themselves. As soon as they get a little freedom, they abuse the privilege.
The guys in Giuseppe's cell tell him to go on and talk to Mr. Staffera as he said he was going to. Giuseppe goes up to Staffera and reports that in cell 9 they have a file. Staffera checks out the cell and finds the file. He calls the boys of cell 9 back into their cell and starts questioning them about to whom the file belongs. All the boys say they know nothing about the file and they all get slapped, except for Napoli kid who is sick. Staffera now tells Pasquale that the file was found in his bed. Pasquale keeps saying that it's not his file, but Staffera doesn't believe him. The adult takes off his belt and starts beating the boy with it. Hearing this, Giuseppe starts feeling guilty and shouts for Staffera to stop the beating. All the boys join in and soon it's general chaos. Staffera gives the order to lock all the boys in.
Giuseppe keeps crying and Arcangeli warns him that if he doesn't stop crying everybody is going to know that it was he who ratted to Staffera. Staffera himself comes to the cell to ask the lad his name and Giuseppe tells him. "Well done", says Staffera.
Raffaele tells Pasquale that he needs to see the doctor. Raffaele adds that everybody thinks that Pasquale is a traitor. One of the guys, named Righetto, asks Raffaele what's the true story of what actually happened? Learning what actually happened, Righetto tells the boys in Giuseppe's cell. So now the boys are willing to make up. But Arcangeli is there to call Giuseppe a wimp for wanting to make up with Pasquale because it was Pasquale who sent Gieseppe's brother to prison. Giuseppe is going to walk over to the waiting Pasquale, but Arcangeli stops him. So Pasquale comes after Arcangeli, who is quite a bit taller than Pasquale. Arcangeli is winning the fight handily, but Pasquale is so determined and so angry that he keeps coming at Arcangeli until he actually knocks out the bigger guy. Arcangeli strikes his head on the concrete edge of a shower stall floor and receives a head injury.
Now Staffera writes in his file on Pasquale: "Violent by nature. Dangerous to himself and others. We recommend isolation." And so Pasquale has to stay in isolation.
After being bandaged up, Arcangeli returns to his cell. But now he has lost his status as the top dog. His other cell mates are not afraid of him anymore. Arcangeli tells them that he has everything ready to make an escape. The other boys are interested and come over to Arcangeli, who bears a grudge now against Giuseppe. Arcangeli tells them that when he went to the infirmary, he noticed that the fence is fastened to the wall with an iron bar. All that is needed is to shake the iron bar hard and the fence will break open. From there they can get onto the roof.
Giuseppe gets a visit from his lawyer, Bonavino. The lawyer tells Giuseppe that his defense will be that the bigger boy Pasquale forced him against his will to commit crimes. If Giuseppe tells the court that it was actually his brother who planned the whole thing, his brother will get at least five years in prison. The lawyer tells the boy that in court he will say what he (Bonavino) tells him to say.
The trial of the two boys starts. A group of shoeshine boys decide to come to court. Nannarella has come with the shoeshine boys.
Pasquale's lawyer is the public defendant and the man has not had time to delve into the details of the court. He just asks for clemency for Pasquale and requests a complete acquittal on his behalf.
Pasquale gets two years and six months in prison and a fine of 2,000 lira. Giuseppe gets one year in prison and a 1,000-lira fine. Nannarella is very upset and calls the court officials "villains". Giuseppe's mother and Nannarella watch and cry as the boys are taken away to prison. So Giuseppe finds himself right back in prison. The guys in his cell are still talking about the escape attempt. Arcangeli is brought back from a visit with his mother. The older boy said he was going to get 10,000 lira from his mom. Now he has to tell his cellmates that his mother told his father about the request and it was his father who came to visit him, not his mother. Dad said that Arcangeli will have to pay back the 10,000 lira. Arcangeli says: "Damn him!" And without money, they would soon be caught again. At this dark moment, Giuseppe tells the boys that he has 50,000 lira.
Priests come to the prison and set up a movie projector to show films to the boys still locked in their cells. The boys come into the center court to watch the film. There is a newsreel about Gen. MacArthur's successful campaign against the Japanese. There is fighting at Bougainville. During the newsreel, one of the cellmates of cell 9 uses a prison-made instrument to loosen the lock on one of the doors. The newsreel finishes and a light is turned on. While Arcangeli and the other lad continue working on opening a barred window, the priesta change the reel and start a comedy.
Two more cellmates of cell 9 sneak away. They, however, are seen. The boys run into the room where Arcangeli is and lock the door behind them. The prison workers try to get the door open. By the projector a fire starts and all the boys start running around. The small sick boy Raffaele is knocked down and then trampled to death by the stampeding boys.
The fellows of cell 9 use a table to ram the barred window. The set of bars is loosened enough where some of the boys can get out. Two of the guys are using a table to prevent the prison officials from knocking down the door. All the boys are able to escape through the window.
All the other boys are forced back to their cells. The news goes around fast that Arcangeli, Giuseppe and three othera from cell 9 broke out. The officials chase the boys, but they can't catch them.
Bartoli sits with the body of Raffaele. He tells the priest that this is not the right place for him. He adds that he's not strong enough to stand what goes on in prison.
Staffera comes in to say that only Arcangeli and Giuseppe are running free. They caught the other three escapees. Now Pasquale yells to Staffera that he knows where they went. He says he will lead the officials and police to them. Pasquale looks determined to get revenge. He leads the police to the old stable where Pasquale's horse was stored. A worker there says the big fellow beat him up and took the horse. While the police are talking to the worker, Pasquale grabs an iron bar and slips out of the stables.
He finds the two boys on the horse on a bridge. He grabs the reins and tells the boys to get down off the horse. Arcangeli takes off running, but Giuseppe stays by the horse. Pasquale drops the iron bar, takes off his belt and starts beating Giuseppe with it. As Giuseppe backs up to get away from the blows, he falls over the side and hits his head on some rocks below. Now Pasquale feels very guilty about what he has done. He goes down to Giuseppe's dead body and cries asking himself what has he done? The police find the boys, while the horse turns around and just walks off.
This film reminds me of Los Olvidados (1950) meaning the "forgotten ones". I was profoundly impressed by the film when I saw it. This type of film has become somewhat of a genre itself with films still being made like it. If I hadn't seen this film Shoeshine after seeing so many films like it, I would have been very impressed too. The ending was a bit different than I expected, but I knew it was not going to be a happy ending, and that was for sure. The film examines the social and economic reasons for what happened to two boys involved only in some petty crime of black market selling. Not only were the boys condemned by their circumstances, but also by the failure of the justice and prison system of Italy. A lot of times prisons just make things worse for non-hardened criminals. It may be the easiest way to deal with the juvenile criminals, but it certainly isn't necessarily the best way. Today the juveniles get a bit better treatment, though it is far from being ideal.
It's a tragedy to watch two basically good boys in bad circumstances be caught up in crime and then being dealt with too harshly by the justice/prison system. The two boy actors, Franco Interlenghi (Pasquale Maggi) and Rinaldo Smordoni (Giuseppe Filippucci), were sure cute and did a good job of acting. The film lets the audience get to know the boys and to feel sympathy for them. Most viewers, hopefully, see that the boys fall into the trap set by their circumstances. Under different circumstances, they probably would never have gone into crime. And there was some hope that the boys could be redeemed, but not in the Italian justice system of the 1940s. Italy and its people were also in very hard circumstances near and after the end of World War II. There were too many tragedies to count in Italy in these days.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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