Movie props come in all shapes and sizes. Tables, bottles, guns, swords, hamburgers, shots of whiskey, planes, trains and automobiles have all graced the silver screen at one time or another.
One of Scene From The Saddle’s favorite movie props, though, is the bicycle. While there aren’t a ton of movies with plot points that turn and twist on a bicycle, there are a few, as well as many interesting scenes in which bicycles do figure.
A bicycle, just by virtue of its implicit and simple beauty, photographs well.
In Ridley Scott’s masterpiece, “Blade Runner”, for example, there is an extraordinarily elegant moment when a group of Asian cyclists, wearing wide brimmed hats, appear on screen, quietly moving past the camera, as two replicants finish their conversation and head off into the night. The only sound we hear are the soft whir of cycle wheels spinning.
No bicycle or rider was ever photographed more lovingly than Paul Newman in the motion picture, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. With the song, “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” as the sound track, Newman, with Katherine Ross watching, performs a series of hilarious and daring stunts on a stolen bicycle.
And later in the film, when Butch and Sundance decide to quit the U.S., Newman tosses the bike aside. It lands in a ditch, and as a period piano soundtrack comes up, the camera pushes in on one slowly spinning wheel which transitions into a montage of shots depicting the outlaw’s flight to Bolivia.
Thank the late and great DP Conrad Hall and director George Roy Hill for those remarkable scenes.
In 1948, Italy’s Vittorio DeSica made “The Bicycle Thief” the story of an unemployed man, Antonio, who finds a desperately needed job that requires him to have a bicycle. The bike gets stolen on his first day at work and he and his son Bruno set off on a fevered search to get it back. Along the way, their adventures provide life lessons for them both. Every once in a while, a bicycle does play a critical role in someone’s life and in a film.
Next up? James Coburn, attempting a terrible Australian accent pedaling away on a stolen bicycle in the last third of that great screen classic, “The Great Escape”.
Tall and gangly Coburn wrests the chain lock from a bicycle in a small French town, and climbs on, securing his suitcase on the rear pannier, and heads out of town – moments after the French Resistance assassinates a table full of Nazi officers nearby.
The Great Escape
Who can forget one of the great bicycled-centered films, "Breaking Away"? It tells the story of a young man and his friends who are "Cutters" - local kids who grew up around the quarries of Indiana. They are drifting through their post-high school days, but are cyclists who through a series of adventures find themselves competing in a grueling bike race with a host of top teams. The story is uplifting and credible, and features some beautiful cycling scenes. It inspires and showcases the beauty of the sport.
Another notable film in which bicycles figure prominently is “Quicksilver” starring Kevin Bacon. Bacon portrays a disgraced broker, who after losing his client’s money, is forced to take a job as a bicycle messenger. There are plenty of cycle stunts, chases, even a seduction scene between bike-riding Bacon and his live-in ballerina girlfriend.
Let’s just say, by the end of the scene, we understand that balance is everything – in life as well as love. Not a critical or box office success, it’s safe to say the real star of the film was the bicycle.
The Bicycle Thief - 1948