Thanks to his small-screen success with McHale’s Navy (1962-1966) and The Carol Burnett Show (1967-1978), funnyman Tim Conway earned a shot at big-screen starring roles in the mid-’70s. With his impressive ability to play even the stupidest scenarios straight, Conway was ideally suited to ensemble work or to functioning as part of a comedy duo—hence his G-rated buddy movies with Don Knotts—but, inevitably, Conway wanted to topline his own pictures. And that brings us to The Billion Dollar Hobo, one of the most depressingly unfunny comedies ever made. Part of a two-picture deal Conway made with an indie outfit called the International Picture Show Company (the other picture being the equally awful 1978 romp They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way), this misfire borrows narrative elements from Frank Capra and Preston Sturges, and then delivers its storyline by way of shtick so moronic it would embarrass Benny Hill. Conway stars as Vernon Praiseworthy, a well-meaning nincompoop who discovers he is heir to a railroad tycoon’s fortune. There’s a catch, of course, so Vernon is tasked with traveling the country as a hobo to learn life lessons before he’ll be granted his inheritance. How dumb is The Billion Dollar Hobo? Well, let’s see. In the first scene, Vernon gets hired as a short-order cook and left alone to run a kitchen after less than a minute of training, at which point Vernon fails to accomplish even the simplest kitchen functions, eventually blowing up the diner. Need more? How about the fact that the tycoon (Will Geer) assigns as Vernon’s traveling companion a dog whom the tycoon correctly believes is smarter than Vernon, and will keep Vernon out of trouble? And then there’s the whole business of Vernon stumbling into a criminal plot to kidnap a shar pei dog named “Lee Ching Win.” Can we stop now? Or must we dwell on scenes of Conway walking into doors and/or standing with his mouth open and his shoulders slumped, giving the impression that he’s just been lobotomized? Save yourself a few brain cells by giving The Billion Dollar Hobo a wide berth.
The Billion Dollar Hobo: SQUARE