In honor of the Tour de France, we’re donning the yellow jersey for a look at some film posters from our collection. The films all include bicycles as their central motif and in the international spirit of the event, we have examples from a number of different countries.
The earliest known example in our collection is this American three-sheet poster for a silent serial featuring the character Patsy Bolivar. Bolivar was a nineteenth century vaudeville character who was always blamed for things going wrong. It is believed that this is the origin of the term “patsy” meaning a scapegoat.
In 1934, Joe E. Brown starred in 6 Day Bike Rider. The movie’s story revolves around Brown trying to get back his fiancée by winning a 6-day bike race. The film’s poster captures Brown’s personality and the movie’s plot by showing female bike riders spinning madly above his head.
In Crazy Over Daisy, Donald Duck was featured as a late nineteenth century suitor on a penny-farthing bike who is bedeviled by Chip ‘n’ Dale until he devises an ingenious way to harness their energy. His sweetheart Daisy doesn’t approve and promptly dumps him.
In 1948, Vittorio de Sica made his classic neo-realist masterpiece, The Bicycle Thief. Illustrator Ercole Brini captures the anguish and despair of Enzo Staiola and Lamberto Maggiorani’s characters. Using strong brushstrokes and sun-bleached colors, Brini’s style perfectly suits this melancholy tale. Our copy of this poster was acquired with documentation indicating that it was Brini’s printer proof.
Contrasting with De Sica’s gritty realism is this charming poster for Jacques Tati’s comedy, The Big Day (Jour de fête). Illustrator René Péron’s illustration of Tati’s befuddled postman is rendered in vibrant colors that capture the spirit of the plot as well as the character’s physicality. Literally stumbling into a town carnival, the loose-limbed comedian at one point gives chase to his bicycle when it gets away from him.
The Magic Bicycle featuring a young Roman Polanski is based on a short story in which a young boy is given a bicycle that throws him off whenever he attempts to ride it. The boy is convinced that the bike must have magical powers and dreams of being able to ride it one day.
Breaking Away is consistently cited as many people’s favorite cycling movie, but there aren’t any bikes in the poster image. Instead we get the film’s four main characters seated atop a small knoll discussing the inadequacies of their lives in a college town. Steve Tesich, who wrote the film’s screenplay, received an Academy Award for his work on this production.
The poster for Pee Wee’s Big Adventure captures the exuberance of the film’s main character for his beach cruiser, which goes missing, spurring the film’s plot. One of the bikes used in the production recently sold at auction for just over $35,000 making it one of the best-known bikes in movie history.
Featuring almost no dialogue, the animated feature film The Triplets of Belleville revolves around the country’s beloved cycling race. During a leg of the Tour de France, a cyclist is kidnapped for nefarious purposes until his Grandmother and the singing Triplets of Belleville come to his rescue.
And finally the recent Saudi Arabian-German co-production, Wadjda tells the tale of a young Saudi girl who dreams of owning a green bicycle. Riding a bike is a scandalous idea for an Islamic girl but Wadjda overcomes the obstacles to her dream when she wins a contest to recite the Koran.