Homeless on the big screen -- ''City Lights,'' ''Midnight Cowboy,'' and others had memorable down and out characters

The Fisher King‘s Parry is the latest in a long line of Hollywood hoboes — those lovable, not-too-dirty, usually white, fluent-in-six-languages, love-stricken folks who pass for street people on the silver screen. As this brief survey shows, being homeless isn’t all that bad if you live in La-La Land:

* Title: City Lights (1931, Playhouse). * Character: Little Tramp Charlie Chaplin sacrifices life and limb to help blind girl Virginia Cherrill. * Cause of homelessness: Unclear; appears to be general societal indifference. * Message about the homeless: They have more native wit and wisdom than you do.

* Title: My Man Godfrey (1936, Goodtimes). * Character: Urbane, Harvard-educated ”forgotten man” Godfrey (William Powell) becomes butler to nutty socialites and saves them from financial ruin. * Cause of homelessness: Dumped by a woman. * Message about the homeless: They make good business managers.

* Title: Sullivan’s Travels (1941, MCA/Universal). * Character: Hollywood director John L. Sullivan (Joel McCrea) disguises himself as a hobo to research a movie about poverty. * Cause of homelessness: Hollywood, ”Art.” * Message abou the homeless: They prefer cartoons to movies about poverty.

* Title: Pocketful of Miracles (1961, MGM/UA). * Character: Street merchant Apple Annie (Bette Davis) remade by gangster (Glenn Ford) into a blueblood to impress her future in-laws. * Cause of homelessness: Something about being dumped by a man. * Message about the homeless: They’re good for relieving guilt.

* Title: Midnight Cowboy (1969, MGM/UA). * Character: Crippled grifter Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) takes over the career of Texas gigolo (Jon Voight). * Cause of homelessness: Unclear; something to do with lower-class upbringing. * Message about the homeless: They make bad business managers.

* Title: Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986, Touchstone). * Character: Wild man Jerry Baskin (Nick Nolte) sends a neurotic Beverly Hills household into an uproar. * Cause of homelessness: Dumped by a woman. * Message about the homeless: They can set free your innermost desires.

* Title: Life Stinks (1991, MGM/UA). * Character: Billionaire Mel Brooks spends month on streets and meets bag lady Lesley Ann Warren. * Cause of homelessness: Machismo; dumped by a man. * Message about the homeless: They’re not really homeless…. Their homes are just different from ours.

Sullivan's Travels
  • Movie
  • 90 minutes