The Billion Dollar Hobo

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Billion Dollar Hobo Movie Poster Image
Truly inane comedy with few laughs, but nothing iffy.
  • G
  • 1977
  • 97 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Meant to entertain, not inform.

Positive Messages

Innocence and good intentions are rewarded.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Portrayed as bumbling buffoons: law enforcement, government officials, journalists, corporate leaders, criminals, the unemployed. The only character behaving with resourcefulness and intelligence is a dog.

Violence & Scariness

All slapstick, cartoon action: pratfalls, a kitchen catches fire, a dognapping sequence, good guys held at gunpoint, a punch in the face, and a comic car chase in a parking lot ends in a three-car crash. No one is ever injured or killed. Several people have their mouths taped after being taken captive.

Sexy Stuff

Morton Salt, Magnavox, TWA, Coca Cola, Ford, Southern Pacific, and Western Pacific Railroads.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One policeman smokes in one scene.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Billion Dollar Hobo is a low-brow farcical comic vehicle made for Tim Conway in 1977 at the height of his successful television career where he plays an artless fool: mugging, falling, causing accidents, getting into trouble, and constantly being rescued. There's nothing scary; the action is cartoonish and non-threatening. Nothing is objectionable either: no language issues, no sexuality, no drinking. The laughs, other than Conway's clueless mishaps (i.e., trying to board a moving train, squeezing toothpaste all over himself, etc.), are, unfortunately, also in short supply. The animals at the heart of the story (two appealing dogs) are never at risk and prove to be the bravest, smartest characters in the film.

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What's the story?

In THE BILLION DOLLAR HOBO hapless loser Vernon Praiseworthy (Tim Conway) is dumbfounded to discover that he's the long, lost nephew of transportation mogul R.R. Trayne, one of the world's richest men (Will Geer). "Choo-Choo" Trayne, as he is better known, has a proposition for Vernon. If the young man is willing to begin a new life -- first, learning about the country as he hops freights from city to city as Trayne did as a youngster, then joining the old man to work in his corporate headquarters -- Vernon will inherit Trayne's fortune. With only a dog as his companion Vernon sets out for Seattle, the first stop on his odyssey. But things never go as planned for Vernon. He catches the wrong train and lands in the middle of a dog-napping scheme with bumbling bad guys, big trouble, and the U.S. State Department in pursuit.

Is it any good?

The story, like the movie itself, goes from bad to very bad. Even the very youngest kids may be bored by this witless travesty. Wooden acting (in even the smallest roles), amateurish writing and directing, and even worse editing, add up to some almost-funny sight gags, a few clown-like scenes for Conway (that go on and on), and 97 minutes the sorry viewer will never get back.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about comic violence. Is it important to know when a film's action or violence is meant to be funny and not taken seriously? Why? What clues do the filmmakers use to help us recognize the difference?

  • "Slapstick comedy" is a kids' favorite. What does the term mean, and what unique elements do slapstick movies have? What are some of your favorite slapstick films?

  • In a good movie, a character arc -- how a person learns from his or her story and changes to make life better by the end --  is important. Does Vernon Praiseworthy have a "character arc"? Was his change only accidental? What would have improved this movie?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love comedy

Themes & Topics

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