Toto has no reason to be cheerful. Having being found and adopted by an elderly spinster, he is soon the sole mourner following her hearse and is packed off to an orphanage shortly afterwards. Years pass and we rejoin Toto (Francesco Golisano) as he leaves. Within minutes, he's had his suitcase stolen and is shacked up with a tramp in a shantytown on a vacant lot outside Milan.

But our hero is never without a smile, always eager to please and ready to help his fellow man in an hour of need. Soon he's creating a corrugated iron hobo metropolis with his homeless brethren and laughing through every minute of it. Unfortunately, their dustcart paradise can't last and after the community strike oil, the rich landowner tries to remove them by any means necessary.

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The plot sounds overly mawkish and the film is laden with child-pleasing fantasy touches, from Toto's discovery in a cabbage patch to the final scene where an army of tramps ascend into the heavens on stolen broomsticks, animated by a wishing dove, given to Toto by his mother's ghost.

Miracle In Milan rises above this assumed sentimentality and confirms its place alongside the previous collaborations between Vittorio De Sica and Cesare Zavattini - The Children Are Watching Us, Shoe Shine and, most famously, Bicycle Thieves. Beneath the fairytale exterior there is a dark critique of the class system in post war Italy, the evils of riches and the insatiable greed of human nature.

De Sica uses seasoned actors for the main roles, but the majority of the tramps are played by genuine street people, underlining the film's neorealist credentials. However, it shows in some of the performances and Golisano's incessant cheeriness grates by the end.

Special effects are obviously dated, but their quaintness only adds to the film's charm, as does the often supremely misjudged music, which jars badly, and yet manages to feel appropriate. Some of the best moments fall to the minor comic asides that are strung throughout the film: a fleeing criminal joins a funeral procession to avoid detection, two haggling fat cats descend into canine exclamations and a battle is averted by bewitching the soldiers into operatic singers so they are unable to give the order to attack in a sufficiently manly fashion. It really is great fun.

Fans of De Sica's other films will find it entertaining and interesting, and while not the masterpiece that is Bicycle Thieves, it is thoroughly enjoyable, whether as surreal comedy, or classic neorealism.

Reviewed on: 01 Mar 2006
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An allegorical neorealist fantasy examining social dynamics in post war Italy.
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Director: Vittorio De Sica

Writer: Cesare Zavattini, Vittorio De Sica, Suso Cecchi D'Amico, Mario Chiari, Adolfo Franci

Starring: Emma Gramatica, Francesco Golisano, Paolo Stoppa, Guglielmo Barnabo, Brunella Bovo, Anna Carena, Alba Arnova

Year: 1950

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: U - Universal

Country: Italy

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If you like this, try:

Bicycle Thieves