Charlie Chaplin was one of the greatest and widely loved silent movie stars. From “Easy Street” (1917) to “Modern Times” (1936), he made many of the funniest and most popular films of his time. He was best known for his character, the naive and lovable Little Tramp. The Little Tramp, a well meaning man in a raggedy suit with cane, always found himself wobbling into awkward situations and miraculously wobbling away. More than any other figure, it is this kind-hearted character that we associate with the time before the talkies. Born in London in 1889, Chaplin first visited America with a theater company in 1907.
As unemployment reached an all time high in 1933, this decade, sandwiched between the roaring twenties and World War II, left little to be highlighted other than the dismal consequences of the Great Depression. From failed farmers to discouraged businessmen to working mothers to displaced children, the Depression between 1929 and 1939 invaded homes across the nation. Twenty-five percent of the country was unemployed at the peak of the Depression in 1933 while even more just barely made ends meet. Despite the excruciating economic hardship faced by nearly all of the country, 60-70 million Americans still packed into theaters each week.
Despite an upbeat ending “Wild Boys of the Road” is one of the darkest, bleakest films of the depression era. William Wellman already had a reputation for going straight to the vein, literary, as in his previous film “Heroes for Sale” and for not beating around the bush. While films like “Gold Diggers of 1933” dealt with the depression, it was mostly light hearted and escapist. “You get no such relief in this 1933 hard core pre-code drama.
Photograph 1939 by Russell Lee. Theater in Waco, Texas Like other industries, Hollywood was hit hard by the Depression, but managed to recoup its profits through a variety of methods.