In postwar Italy, two scamps, Pasquale and Giuseppe, work as shoeshine boys, not just to ward off starvation-that's a fact of life-but to raise money to buy a white horse. With this goal they naively become involved in black market activities that get them sent to a reformatory. In the grim Regina Coeli prison, conditions are every bit as harsh as, and even more dangerous than, the struggle for survival on the streets. The pitiful way society encourages the suffering of children functions as both theme and symbol for De Sica and screenwriter Zavattini, and this is eloquently played out in Shoeshine. Pasquale and Giuseppe may seem to be as wily and cynical as the adults around them, but even they feel the anguish of their innocence ebbing away along with their loyalty. In the end even the horse turns his back on the spectacle.

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