The seminal figure of the neorealism movement, Vittorio De Sica was born in Sora, Italy, on July 7, 1901. Raised in Naples, he began working as an office clerk at a young age in order to help support his impoverished family. He became fascinated by acting while still a youth, and made his screen debut in 1918's The Clemenceau Affair at the age of just 16. In 1923, De Sica joined Tatiana Pavlova's famed stage company, and by the end of the decade his dashing good looks had made him one of the Italian theater's most prominent matinee idols. With 1932's La Vecchia Signora, he made his sound-era film debut and went on to become an even bigger star in the cinema, appearing primarily in light romantic comedies throughout the decade.
In 1939, De Sica graduated to the director's chair with Rose Scarlatte. Over the next two years he helmed three more features (1940's Maddalena, Zero in Condotta along with 1941's Teresa Venerdì and Un Garibaldino al Convento, respectively), but his work lacked distinction until he, along with fellow Italian filmmakers Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti, began exploring the possibilities of making more humanistic movies documenting the harsh realities facing their countrymen as a result of World War II. With 1942's I Bambini ci Guardano, De Sica revolutionized the Italian film industry, crafting a poignant, heartfelt portrait of a downtrodden culture free of the conventions of Hollywood production. Working with screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, who remained a central figure in the majority of his greatest work, De Sica employed non-professional actors and filmed not in studios but on the streets of Rome, all to flesh out the working-class drama of Zavattini's script.