This superbly crafted post-war Italian film belongs to the genre of neorealism. Like the best neorealist efforts by Rossellini or De Sica, it depicts the social problems in postwar Italian society due to severe economic conditions. Ernesto tries to get an honest job, but isn't able to, and ends up sliding down the slippery slope toward a life of crime. The film is beautifully paced and consistently involving.
Suggests that in postwar Italy the only way to survive is to become a thief or a whore (or Anna Magnani's blackhearted bit-of-both). I can't call this one a truly great film as it rests on a few too many melodramatic cliches for my liking (including a wildly unlikely encounter between soldier-turned-crook Amedeo Nazzari and his ideal of innocence towards the end), but it's assured and directed with flair.