Kids Auto Races at Venice (1914): Class is a subject most movies masterfully dodge, which is a touch weird given that one of history’s most iconic movie characters is a penniless bum. Newly hired by comedy producer Mark Sennett, Charles Chaplin used his second film appearance to try out his latest creation: a dirty vagabond soon known as The Tramp. In his debut, the character is a mere nuisance, repeatedly getting in the way of an auto relay. (Chaplin improvised his antics in front of a real crowd.) He didn’t remain an annoyance for long.
Wild Boys of the Road (1933): The notoriously censorious Production Code would have cockblocked William A. Wellman’s ornery look at Depression era life among a group of teens who become train-hopping transients. But despite being founded in 1929, it wasn’t strictly enforced till 1934, meaning impoverished audiences got to see Hollywood actually speak truth before being muzzled.
My Man Godfrey (1936): Depression-era audiences were by and large fed a diet of fizzy fantasies about the rich and fabulous. Gregory La Cava’s screwball thus operates as savage satire: The protagonist is a derelict (William Powell) enlisted by an airheaded heiress (Carole Lombard) to serve as butler to her household, who are even battier than her. What follows is a prime example on how to slip subversive content (in this case, Marxism) past cultural gatekeepers.
Emperor of the North Pole (1973): The concept of the rail-riding vagabond—more recently revived by John Hodgman—was exhumed in this jaunty Robert Aldrich actioner. A rivalry between Lee Marvin’s expert train-hopper and Ernest Borgnine’s homicidal train conductor builds to a knock-down, drag-out fogie fight, complete with chains, axes and other examples of pure awesome.
Vagabond (1985): We tend to prefer our poor people funny and embraceable. Agnes Varda’s drama takes the opposite approach, considering the misery that befalls a tough-minded homeless girl (Sandrine Bonnaire), whose life has to be told in flashback, being that she’s found dead in the opening minutes.
Hobo with a Shotgun (2011): Title says it all.
2014 Films: The Year’s Most Likely