Umberto D. (1955) 




Director:   Vittorio De Sica

Starring:  Carlo Battisti (Umberto Domenico Ferrari), Maria-Pia Casilio (Maria, la servetta), Lina Gennari (Antonia, la padrona di cas), Ileana Simova (La donna nella camera di Umberto), Elena Rea (La suora all' ospedale),  Memmo Carotenuto (Il degente all' ospedale).

poor treatment of elderly in post-war depression


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. 


A group of protestors carry signs saying "raise our pensions". "we worked our whole lives"; and "justice for pensioners".  They run into some police and they tell them that they are starving and tired of waiting.  An official tells them that they don't have a permit, so they must disperse.  More police arrive in jeeps to help disperse the crowd.  One elderly man tells the police:  "The way you treat us is a disgrace!"  The police run them off. 

A group of older men complain about the police.  One man says the protest group leaders should have gotten a permit, but another says that the government would not give them a permit.  Umberto Domenico Ferrari tells the man walking with him, named Orazio Valenti, that he is all alone with no one to help him.  He walks with his faithful dog Flike.  Umberto comments that he can't live on l8,000 lire.  He tries to sell his watch for 5,000 lire.  Another old man tells him he will give him 3,000 lire for it.  This man begs for a living.  He gives his collection purse to Umberto in exchange for the watch, until they can sort out the matter.  (All his money is in small bills.) 

The landlady lets two "friends" of hers rest in his bed for awhile.  Umberto says it's his room, but the landlady says on, it's actually her room.  She asks him why he is protesting when he is leaving at the end of the month anyway?  She also tells him to pay his back rent.  Umberto says he has the money to pay.  This shuts the woman up and she walks out. 

The young woman named Maria who is the maid for the place tells Umberto says the landlady charges 1,000 lire for one hour to people who want to have sex in Umberto's room.  Umberto thinks he's sick and asks Maria if he can use the thermometer.  She says yes.  The young woman tells him that she is pregnant and is afraid what the landlady will say. 

The landlady comes back to say he can return to his room now.  He and the dog go into his room.  Maria comes in so she can look out the window and wave at a couple of soldiers she knows.  Umberto asks her which of the soldiers is hers and she says both.  Umberto is a bit shocked.  He asks which one is the father and Maria says she isn't sure.  She adds: "They both deny it."  The landlady returns to say she is throwing Umberto's stuff out on the 30th of the month. 

He gives 3,000 lire to the young woman to give to the landlady.  Umberto also tells her to get a receipt for the money.  Maria comes back to tell him that the landlady says he has to pay it all at one time and the amount is 15,000 lire.  She returns his 3,000 lire.

To get some more money, he sells two of his books for 2,000 lire.  He goes back to the young woman and gives her 11,000 lire.  Umberto says to tell the landlady she will have the rest when he gets his pension on the 27th. He has a fever and doesn't feel well.  The woman goes to speak to the landlady.  Again the landlady says it's all or nothing. 

Umberto calls for a doctor in the early morning using the phone in the hall.  The young woman sleeps in the hallway and the call awakens her.  She gets up and starts preparing coffee.  The ambulance men arrive.   The young lady asks him if he is seriously ill and he says yes, it's serious.  The lady will watch his dog for him.  The ambulance men lay him on the stretcher and take him out.  The landlady sees him leaving on a stretcher. 

At the hospital the next day the doctor says his fever is gone.  He had a bout of tonsillitis.  He  can go home tomorrow.  But Umberto doesn't want to go home.  He wants to stay a week.   The man next to him asks a nun if she could fix it up so Umberto could stay a week.  The nun smiles and says:  "We'll see."

Maria comes to see Umberto in the hospital.  She had to leave the dog in the courtyard with one of her soldiers.  Umberto rushes to a large window and yells out to the dog.  The dog doesn't hear him.  Maria tells him that the landlady is marrying the manager of the local cinema so she can get in for free.  The woman says she needs the extra space and wants Umberto out.  Umberto says no.  He refuses to go to the shelter. 

Umberto and the man in the bed next to him get out of the hospital at the same time.  The man gets Umberto's address and says he may come visit him some time.  Umberto is feeling good.  He comes in to see everything being redecorated.  His room is also being redone.  Umberto looks around for the dog but doesn't see him.  He goes out searching for the dog.  He sees Maria speaking with one of her soldiers and she has been crying a bit.  The soldier leaves.  Umberto asks about his dog and Maria says the landlady let him out and she hasn't see him since. 

Umberto goes down to the dog pound looking for Flike.  He sees the place where they kill the unwanted dogs.  A man there doesn't have enough money to take his dog home and his dog will be destroyed.  Umberto sees some dogs going in to be gassed.  He finds his dog in the pound and takes him home. 

When he sees the landlady with her fiancÚ coming toward him he tosses the dog in front of her to make her stop.  He tells her that his dog isn't dead!  He also says he will be going to her funeral rather than the other way around.  They argue back and forth.  Umberto says he worked for the Ministry of Public Works for 30 years. 

Umberto wants to get an injunction against his landlady.  He need 7,500 lire for this.  He asks a friend for 2,000 lire.  The man makes no promise to help him.  Umberto is thinking about begging for money as some other elderly people do.    He places his hat in the mouth of his dog to beg for him.  A friend comes along so he takes the hat back.

The landlady says goodbye to her many guests, as Umberto returns to his room.  His room is a real mess and there is a hug hole in the wall connecting his place to another one.  Maria comes in with a piece of cake from the party, but Umberto is to depressed to eat it.  She says the landlady wants to make the two rooms one big living room.  Maria says that wherever he goes, he's bound to be happier there than here.  He doesn't talk, so she leaves the room.  Umberto thinks about killing himself, but then thinks of his dog.

He grabs his suitcase and dog and leaves.  Maria runs after him and asks him where he is going.  He lies and says he found another place nearby.  She says then they will see each other again.  Umberto says nothing to this.  He just says goodbye.  

He gets on a streetcar.  Maria watches from her window as he leaves.  He goes to a place that boards dogs.  The rate is 100 lire a day.  He gives the couple there almost 6,000 lire.  But the more he looks at the place, the more he doesn't like it.  He decides not to board him at the place.  Umberto walks to a park.  He shouts for Daniela! but no one comes.  A little later Daniela arrives with her parents at the park.  Umberto asks her if she really loves Flike?  She says yes, so he gives the dog to her, but her nanny won't let her take it.  Daniela cries. 

The dog goes to play with some children and Umberto just walks away from him.  Flike comes looking for him  He hides in the bushes, but he can't fool the dog.  So he picks up the dog.  He wants to commit suicide while holding his dog.  But the dog pulls away from him. The train passes by him.  The dog goes back to the park.  He calls for Flike, but the dog stays away from him.  Umberto finally picks up a pine cone and encourages the dog to play.  The dog comes back to him and they play together. 


Spoiler warning.  Good movie.  But a very sad one.  Poor Umberto is not able to make ends meet anymore.  The money he receives from his pension is just too little now to pay for his very modest life style.  He has no family to turn to and his only friends are his faithful dog Flike and a young pregnant woman who also is just managing to live and survive.  He is in crisis mode now, because his landlady is going to throw him out for non-payment of rent.  He tries to think of ways to get money. He considers begging, but decides against it.  Umberto finally decides to end his life.  But the problem is that he can't get a good place for the dog.  He tries different solutions, but they all fail.  Umberto even tries to leave the dog behind playing with some kids in the park.  He hides in some bushes, but Flike just finds him.  So he decides to kill himself and the dog by letting a train run over him while he holds Flike.  But as the train approaches, Flike gets scared and squirms out of his arms.  And so Umberto is just going to have to live on for a longer time or at least until he can find a satisfactory place for his dog. 

It probably would have been more effective to have the train run over the man and his dog and be done with it.  But maybe that ending would have been too hard for movie viewers to take.  But either way, we get the point.  Obviously, at this point in Italy's history there was no safety net for people who were down and out.  It did not even occur to him to seek governmental assistance.  Thank goodness there is a welfare state in Italy now (even if welfare states still have many social problems facing them). 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


See Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thief) (1949).


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