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In a poor economy, we're the richer for these 10 films about economic woes

Robert W. Butler
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

The Grapes of Wrath

Poverty. Hunger. Dislocation. Joblessness.

Most of us go to the movies to get away from these grim realities.

Yet some of our most memorable films have reflected hard times and the ways in which we cope with and sometimes overcome the boogeyman of economic depression.

Here are 10 great "hard times" movies. They range from children's fare to grown-up seriousness, from somber drama to hilarious comedy.

"Wild Boys of the Road" (1933): Unbelievably grim social drama about homeless children on their own during the Great Depression. Some considered William Wellman's film too shocking for mass consumption. It hinted at child prostitution, and in one notorious scene a boy loses a leg under the wheels of a train.

"The Grapes of Wrath" (1940): Simultaneously poem and documentary, John Ford's adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel follows the Joads, a family of displaced Oklahoma farmers searching for migrant work in California during the Great Depression. Indelible images, great performances (Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell) and empathy for the honest underdog make this one of the great American movies. It's No. 23 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American movies.

"Sullivan's Travels" (1941): In this classic satire from writer/director Preston Sturges, a producer of escapist movies (Joel McCrea) does research for his upcoming "serious" film by donning rags and hitting the road as a hobo. His Swiftian amble through American poverty is full of surprises - some funny, some shocking. With Veronica Lake. Voted No. 39 on AFI's list of the 100 greatest comedies.

"The Bicycle Thief" (1948): In postwar Rome an unemployed father finally gets a job putting up posters. But when his bicycle - critical for his job - is stolen, he launches a desperate search. Shot in the streets with non-actors, Vittorio De Sica's drama is a heartbreaking study of poverty. Perennially on lists of the best movies ever made.

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" (1969): In the depths of the Great Depression, hungry misfits (Jane Fonda, Michael Sarrazin, Susannah York, Gig Young, Red Buttons, Bonnie Bedelia) sign up for a marathon dance contest. The couple left standing after days of nonstop dancing will earn a cash prize. Sydney Pollack directs this grim existential drama.

"Trading Places" (1983): In this worthy successor to "Sullivan's Travels," two scheming millionaires (Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy) share an unethical bet. They'll reduce an aristocratic young man (Dan Aykroyd) to poverty and elevate a street bum (Eddie Murphy) to fabulous wealth, just to see what happens. We get laughs with a message.

"The Journey of Natty Gann" (1985): Perfect for kids. Separated from her father, a tomboy (Meredith Salenger) takes a boxcar tour of Depression-era America, befriended by a young man (John Cusack) and a huge wolfish dog. From Disney.

"The Full Monty" (1997): This Brit film inspired a musical and is widely regarded as a comedy. Yet its first half-hour is painful, depicting the emotional and mental toll of joblessness among a group of former foundry workers. With Robert Carlyle, Tom Wilkinson, Mark Addy.

"Cinderella Man" (2005): Once-proud prizefighter Jim Braddock (Russell Crowe) undergoes a crisis of confidence when he can no longer provide for his wife (Renee Zellweger) and children. A shot at the title brings him back. Ron Howard mixes sports movie elements with social insight and individual psychology. True story.

"The Pursuit of Happyness" (2006): Will Smith stars in this uplifting but grueling based-on-fact story of a man who lands an internship at a corporation; at the same time he's living on the streets of San Francisco with his young son. You won't forget the scene in which they take shelter in a subway restroom.

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