This is de Sica's first film and a favorite of Pauline Kael. It tells of two boys working as shoeshines in harsh post WW2 Rome. They fulfill their dream of buying a horse by entering into dubious transactions but are eventually framed and arrested for a burglary of which they are innocent. The movie is about the heartbreak and dehumanization of these youngsters as they are thrown into an overcrowded prison for young offenders.
This first of the director's film is marked by the humanism which runs through his entire work. The film is restrained and realistic and nowhere tries to project the law enforcing establishment as excessively wicked or perverted. The cops too have a human touch. It is a portrait of the period it depicts and human beings, specially children, trapped in an environment and circumstances which they have learnt to regard as the norm of life. This is humanity waking up from the dream of war.