Paper Moon (1973)
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Shot completely on locations in Kansas and Missouri PAPER MOON sparkles with a richness only capable in black and white. Cinematographer Lazlo Kovacs is a great camera artist and never better than PAPER MOON where he uses black and white, deep focus and those great long takes to its best advantage. To the untrained eye it will just appear very sharp, but look closely at each frame and notice that everything is in tack sharp focus from the closest object to far in the distance. This deep focus is very difficult to achieve correctly, especially in the night shots, but Kovacs does it so well it is seamless. Watch for the train station sequence where even the children playing in the background are razor sharp. This is a look that can only be achieved using black and white to its fullest potential. New filmmakers take notice. This is how it's supposed to be done. All this cinematic brilliance would be wasted were it not for the wonderful direction of Bogdanovich. In this his third film, he proves that he is a consummate filmmaker who knows how to move the actors and camera in perfect concert. His craftsmanship of each scene is unmistakable as he brings a fresh and very new approach using Hollywood tricks which are decades old. A lesser director might have used process shots and sets to tell the story, but not Bogdanovich. He shot the entire film in real locations to give it the look and feel of a real thirties road picture. You can almost smell the wide plains and feel the dust as it comes up to slap you in the face. Notice too how he never resorts to sentimentality to move the story along, it is told razor sharp and without tears. This, never more apparent than the final sequence where he pays off the film in grand style.
There is only one thing about this film which still baffles me. Why in the night time hotel sequence toward the end of the film were electric lights everywhere but inside the hotel lobby, which was lit entirely with kerosine lamps? Was it to give the look and feel of the period, or did the real location use them? Small point, but interesting. If, like myself, the last time you saw PAPER MOON was when it was released in 1973, see it again on DVD and be delighted all over again. The DVD transfer is marvelous and only serves to heighten its visual appeal. If you have only seen PAPER MOON on broadcast TV, do yourself a favor and see the new DVD for a pleasant surprise. Without the obligatory broadcast TV commercials, pan and scan and dialogue cuts this will appear like a new film seen the way it was supposed to be seen. And if you have NEVER seen PAPER MOON and harbor some prejudice against black and white films, please see this film. Any preconceived notions against this format will quickly dissolve as it takes you along for a rich ride with Addie and Moze in the only format it could - glorious black and white.
Few times will you ever see a film so visually wedded to its locale and cinematic style. In a typical film, you might picture the presentation of the movie working in a number of ways, but in "Paper Moon," it will forever seem like it could only have been done this way...on location, in black and white, and photographed like moving Andrew Wyeth shots of Americana.
Tatum O' Neal is terrific and justifiably won an Oscar for her part, but Ryan is wonderful as well....funny in that exasperated manner that Bud Abbott is, and the quality goes right down to the smallest bit player in the cast.
A perfect film would have great acting, great visuals and utilization of music, a superb story and lines that have you repeating them for years. Welcome to "Paper Moon." I can't recommend this blend of comedy and drama enough. A modern classic.
If this film was actually made in the 30's Moses could have been played by maybe James Stewart, James Cagney, Henry Fonda or John Garfied. Addie could have been played by Shirley Temple and Trixie maybe have been played by Sylvia Sidney, Betty Field or Ann Sheridan. But I don't think they could have played them any better than Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal and most especially Madeline Kahn.
The con artist and little girl theme had been used before in Damon Runyon's famous comedy "Little Miss Marker" with Shirley Temple and Adolphe Menjou. But here the twist is that the girl is just as much a con artist as the man--and that's the key that makes the film so much more palatable for 1970s audiences without getting too sentimental about it.
There's a real Depression-era feeling to the whole story, with some richly detailed panoramas of rural America and its citizens at that time in history. Peter Bogdanovich has done a commendable job in making sure that his authentic backgrounds illuminate an enchanting tale about two drifters who share an unusual partnership when it becomes clear to the man that the girl would be a valuable aid in his con work.
There's a bright supporting role by MADELINE KAHN as Trixie Delight, a stripper who tosses off some good one-liners, but it's the chemistry between Tatum and Ryan that turns this into the most satisfying "buddy" movie of the '70s.
Summing up: A treat not to be missed.
Having (criminally) never seen Paper Moon before, I suspect that it must have had more than a passing influence on a great many other movies, including my all-time favourite Midnight Run. Watching it is an experience to be savoured and treasured, and one that I'm looking forward to repeating time and again.
Utterly charmed and charming. The story of a father and daughter--the actor and actress O'Neal--echoes the story in the story of a man and a little girl on the road. Yes, they scam and cheat, but they do it with relative innocence. And they are perfectly adorable. The magic between the two is partly good writing, and partly the ease that the two actors already have (or pretend to have) together.
And it's filmed with nostalgic black and white clarity, perfect in a way for the Depression era it portrays, but much more alive and clean than the deep brooding intensity of a real Depression story such as the 1940 Grapes of Wrath. But Peter Bogdanovich is no John Ford, and this is a different kind of tale, with the 1930s as backdrop to a more modern kind of relationship. It has enough subtlety and laughs to make it a classic and a joy. Nothing obviously deep, but yet it sinks in farther than you think.
In the time of the Great Depression, a little girl named Addie (Tatum) is left abandoned by the death of her mother, a woman who hung around in bars and left Addie with a big mystery as far as the identity of her father is concerned. At her gravesite, a dodgy stranger named Moses (Ryan O'Neal) happens by to pay his respects, and is immediately recruited by the other mourners, who don't want to be burdened with the girl, with the assignment of delivering Addie to her next-of-kin.
"God works in mysterious ways," one of the mourners says, after Moses reluctantly accepts.
"Don't He now?" Moses replies.
God indeed may have some unfinished business with Moses Pray, a conman who uses the Good Book as his device for fleecing newly-made widows of a few bucks. Watching the O'Neals work their family chemistry for sparks and laughs while Moses, with unexpected help from Addie, works his scams, is great fun. A lingering question is whether Moses and Addie are in fact related; many in the movie point out their similar jawlines, but Moses refuses to accept the idea. Addie is more open to it. Clearly Moses for all his faults fills a hole in her life.
There was a time when Peter Bogdanovich could do no wrong as a director; here he presents us with an assured callback to 1930s- period sensibilities by employing a flat Kansas landscape and scenic design that suggests a combination of Norman Rockwell and Grant Wood, at once homey and vaguely grotesque. The story moves fast, the dialogue is crisp and believable, and the O'Neals' performances of such strong quality as to make you wonder why they so seldom impressed in other roles. The talent is there on the screen.
Tatum was the real surprise here; decades later, long after the flash of her career faded, it's hard not to be as bowled over by what she gives you as all those critics and movie-goers were so long ago. Avoiding the cutesiness of child actors, she plays her character as sharp-tongued and vinegary, with a hint of real beauty beneath the smudges. "Ain't she got a sweet little face, somehow," is the best anyone can manage in the way of compliments, but Addie don't need them. She just wants her 200 dollars, or "two hundra DOLLA" as she keeps putting it to Moses.
The two of them make such a pair I get annoyed when Madeline Kahn joins them for a time as a conniving, cheapjack vixen named Trixie. Unlike the O'Neals, Kahn is an actress I usually enjoy in anything, so why is she so duff to me here? Trixie is a one-note performance that grates on me; I can't wait for the Prays to leave her in their dust.
I did enjoy P. J. Johnson as Trixie's put-upon maid, Imogene. She adds some heart and gives Addie some company for some of the movie's best scenes. So too does a raft of supporting players, most of whom like Kahn must have been waiting for Mel Brooks' call-backs for "Blazing Saddles" at the time of this production.
Mostly, though, this is Tatum's film; it rises or falls with her and, as a result of her spry performance, rises quite impressively. Bogdanovich clearly gambled putting his promising career on her little shoulders; unlike later gambles of his this paid off spectacularly and yields dividends to this day.
The rest of the story is an entertaining road movie centered on the evolving relationship between Moses and Addie as she shows to have a greater gift for scams than he does. A tough-talking smoker who loves radio, Addie is a tomboy frequently mistaken for a boy, while Moses constantly resists his paternal feelings toward her even though they are kindred spirits. Complications occur first with the appearance of a tawdry carnival stripper named Trixie Delight, who threatens to come between Moses and Addie, and then with a bootlegger and his look-alike sheriff brother, who are in hot pursuit over a scam around crates of illegal whiskey. As Addie, Tatum O'Neal still has the distinction of being the youngest actor to win a competitive Oscar, and in her film debut, her unprecocious performance reflects refreshingly confident work from a child. Perhaps fearful that his daughter was stealing the movie, a well-founded fear it turns out, her father Ryan does some of his best screen work as Moses, better cast here than as bumbling musicologist Howard Bannister in "What's Up, Doc?".
As she proved with her hilarious portrayal of Howard's persnickety fiancée Eunice in "What's Up, Doc?", Madeline Kahn is an unparalleled scene-stealer as Trixie, especially as she tries to coax a belligerent Addie off a grassy hilltop. Just before peaking in Mel Brooks' farces and reunited with the elder O'Neal, Kahn shows what she can do to maximize less than half-hour of screen time. Almost as funny is the eye-rolling cynicism of P.J. Johnson as Trixie's indentured servant Imogene. The 2003 DVD has two substantial extras. First, Bogdanovich offers a full-length commentary full of his personal remembrances and sharing a deep well of cinematic knowledge. The second is Laurent Bouzereau's "The Making of Paper Moon", an exhaustive making-of featurette divided into three parts, which covers all aspects of the film's development and production and includes comments from Bogdanovich, his then-wife Polly Platt who did the production design, cinematographer László Kovács, and producer Frank Marshall.
Unsung hero #1: There's been little mention here of the actor who truly anchors this film--and gives the finest performance of his career-- Ryan O'Neal. He delivers a fully-realized, multi-faceted performance, more than worthy of an Oscar nomination (if not a "win"), in my opinion-- and he received neither. Try watching Paper Moon with your eye on O'Neal pere, rather than his adorable, scene- stealing daughter. Firstly, of course, he was one of the handsomest actors of his era, which makes such an undertaking a painless effort. But watch the subtlety of his expressions, and his nuanced comic turns. For example, in the hotel scene, where he's having his breakfast, when Imogene comes down to tell him that 'Miss Trixie' is having her "ladies' time," his reaction, turning from concerned to mortified, as he rapidly sits back down, while dropping his voice by an octave...now THAT'S comedy! His comic delivery in his first big scene with Addie (the "diner scene") is also brilliant. In fact, I can't think of a single scene where he is not completely "true-to- character". In the hands of another actor, this deceptively difficult role could have been played as 'malevolent'. O'Neal's performance shows 'Moze' to be a lovable rascal who does what he has to do in order to survive during the Great Depression. Imagine, say, Jack Nicholson in the role...It would certainly have been a different film altogether. (Sidebar comment: I realize one shouldn't judge a film actor's performance with how they are 'off-screen'--but if what Tatum says about him in her books and interviews is true, O'Neal is not quite-as-lovable a rogue, off-screen. She claims that when the Oscar nominations were announced, she did sort of a "Nahh- nah-nah-nah-nahh," to him, as bratty 10-year-olds are known to do-- and he fully punched her in the face! Gulp. All four of his children are either addicts, alcoholics or in major therapy. But I digress).
The #2 "unsung hero(-ine) of this movie is the late, brilliant Polly Platt, Peter Bogdanovich's first wife (and soon-to-be-ex-wife, as he had already taken up with Cybill Shepard when this film was made). Ms. Platt designed the costumes and realized the whole "look" of the film, which Bogdanovich fully-credits her for. I can't think of any other American film of the last 50 years that so completely captures the 1930's in such a flawlessly realistic way. The attention to detail is staggering--look at any single "extra" in this film, and they are all absolutely spot-on correct to the look of that era (the hotel clerk in the 'bootlegger hotel,' with her perfect '30s "Marcelle wave" comes to mind.
Unsung hero #3: Gary Chason, who PERFECTLY cast this film, including several first-time actors (Tatum O'Neal, of course...as well as Burton Gilliam, ("Floyd the Hotel Clerk"), P.J. Johnson (Imogene), among many others). I'm hard-pressed to think of another film--ever- -in which every single role is so perfectly-filled...and often by first-time actors!
Unsung hero #4: László Kovács, the brilliant cinematographer. Every single shot is so perfectly thought-out and realized. In the hands of a lesser-visionary, "Paper Moon" would certainly have been a lesser film than it is (and imagine if it had been shot in COLOR!).
FINALLY--he's certainly not "unsung"--but clearly, he's "under- sung": PETER BOGDANOVICH! This film is a work of sheer genius, and all roads lead back to him. I consider Paper Moon the crowning achievement of his career (with apologies to "Last Picture Show"). It's almost as if his career has followed the same "arc" as that of his great hero, mentor and friend, Orson Welles. Both of them had their greatest successes, straight out of the gate...and then were rather hung-out-to-dry by Hollywood, as if considered "passé". I keep waiting for the world to WAKE UP and realize Paper Moon is one of the absolute FINEST films in history--and should be lauded accordingly! Why is Peter Bogdanovich NOT still being given the opportunity to direct major Hollywood studio films?? The man is one of the true cinematic geniuses of our era. And yes, he is certainly a 'peer' of his hero, Mr. Welles. Could we please give him the reverence he deserves?
("Special Mention" to Tatum O'Neal, too! It seems to be "common wisdom" today, that she was simply some kind of "human puppet" for Bogdanovich to manipulate every word and movement of. I beg to differ, strongly. Some of her expressions and line deliveries are so singularly charming and individualistic--proving that she is clearly an innately-skilled and intuitive actress. This performance was no fluke. This girl/lady deserves more credit than she's given, and I say she absolutely deserved that Oscar...though it should have been for "Best Actress,"--with, of course, Madeline Kahn as "Best Supporting Actress"!).
In 1973 Peter Bogdanovich was considered quite a wunderkind as a movie director. He had directed "The Last Picture Show" and "What's Up, Doc?" in the two previous years, and here he could do no wrong. However, after the bland "Daisy Miller" and the horrid "At Long Last Love" his reputation began a rapid decline from which it never recovered. He didn't stay on top very long, but I'm glad he stayed long enough to make "Paper Moon". Don't miss it.
Story essentially comes down to conman Moses Pray (R. O'Neal) hooking up with orphan Addie Loggins (T. O'Neal), who may or may not be his actual daughter. Addie proves to be a precocious live wire, not easily fooled and she smokes, cusses and is more than capable of pulling a con herself. After initial indignation, Moses comes to court Addie's strengths and they form a dynamic partnership as they travel through Kansas, pulling cons left right and centre and piling the money up. But can it last forever?
The chemistry between father and daughter is obviously set in stone, with young Tatum an absolute revelation. The screenplay gives them both ample opportunities to enchant and amuse the viewer as they get up to all sorts of tricks and scrapes. Yet there's always that feeling hanging in the dusty air that something has to give, that we are treading firmly in bittersweet territory, the crafty couple having earned our complete investment in their well being keeping us concerned even as we laugh out loud.
Ryan O'Neal stars with his real-life daughter Tatum in this story about a father and daughter con team scraping together an existence in Depression-era America. Along the way, the dad picks up a brassy floozy, played by the expert comedienne Madeline Kahn, which doesn't go down well with the precocious kid.
The entire success of "Paper Moon" relied upon the performance of the child actor, and Peter Bogdanovich did well to cast Tatum, as she plays the role without any of the self-conscious cutesiness that makes other child actors unbearable. Ryan was never more relaxed or likable in a role, maybe because he was working with his daughter. And Kahn of course is a delight, though one wishes she had a bigger role.
As with "The Last Picture Show," Bogdanovich shoots in nostalgic black and white, but this project is much more light-hearted than the other.
I saw this film again recently on DVD. It's a gem. Taken from its 1970s context, it's obvious that Bogdanovich had talent like Polanski. There are so many scenes in the film that work because Bogdanovich made them work. This film suggests simple humanity. What went wrong for Bogdanovich? Why didn't this guy get the chance to settle down and do more? Kubrick got the chance - and then produced machinistic, technical schlock. 'Paper Moon' has more warmth -despite its austerity- than all of Kubrick's films combined.
Last points? Gotta daughter? Watch it with her. I predict that in 2123, people will watch this film, laugh, and simply believe that it comes from a previous century - as we today confuse the novels of Emile Zola and Victor Hugo.
The film is essentially a road trip movie, with a slim plot to carry around events that happen while the two main characters travel across Great Depression America. Both of the characters are utterly charming with the heartfelt Addie forced to ride along with sleazy Moses.
I prefer "What's Up, Doc?" as I love Buck Henry's writing on that film.
The story is simple. Young Addie (Tatum O'Neal) finds herself orphaned with the death of her single - and apparently rather free-spirited - mother. The arrival of a man named Moze (her real-life father, Ryan O'Neal) at the funeral, provides the other mourners a chance to pack Addie off to her aunt in Missouri. Moze is reluctant to take her along, but sees a chance to blackmail some money out of the whole situation. However, his dreams of pocketing a windfall of $200 and sending Addie off on a train come to nothing - the wily young girl demands the greatly diminished sum that was meant for her care. As a result, he finds himself saddled with this grimly adult child (who is fairly certain that Moze is her father) as his assistant in a crime spree through the Midwest – a scam involving sale of overpriced Bibles to recent widows. In essence, Moze scans obituaries for gullible widows he can convince to pay the balance on Bibles their husbands "ordered" for them - deluxe editions with the names embossed in gold - before "passing on". Unsurprisingly, Addie is an adroit, if unruly, student, who upstages both his skill and daring.
Yes, 'Paper Moon' is about two con artists, but not really about their con, and that's a relief. The scam is only part of the story, which takes a number of turns before reaching its end - including Moze picking up a tart from a sideshow - a carnival dancer named Trixie Delight (a cheerfully trampy Madeline Kahn), who is accompanied by a long suffering black maid, Imogene (wonderfully played by P. J. Johnson) who later turns out to be Addie's partner-in-crime. Bogdanovich takes the con games only as the experience which his two lead characters share and which draws them together in a way that's funny sometimes, but also very poignant and finally deeply touching.
The film is shot in gorgeous black-and-white, giving it a documentary feel that meshes perfectly with the sweet cynicism of the characters. But what really underscores the film is amazing chemistry between the O'Neals. The fact they are father and daughter in real life helps flavor their working dynamic in an intriguing way. Tatum O'Neal is an absolute revelation - she spends much of the film with a sourpuss expression pasted to her adorable little pixie face, but breezes through the film with astonishing confidence. Ryan O'Neal's roguish charm is perfect for the character and the result, paired with his daughter, is a strong co-lead dynamic, in a tale about their delicate relationship that teeters on father-and-daughter quality without adopting the name.
A true treasure, Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon belongs to a magical world that has elements of whimsy and noir!
Moses Pray hustles bibles on unsuspecting widows to make a living when he reluctantly agrees to take recently orphaned Addie Loggins to her aunt in Missouri. Addie suspects that Moses could be her father, something he wants no part of. Addie it turns out is every bit as streetwise as Pray and the two form an uneasy alliance and con their way across the countryside. For part of the trip Trixie Delight a woman of dubious character and her much put upon maid join them but Addie soon puts a stop to that by devising a clever set-up. The two are soon back on the road alone where things get uglier but not enough to destroy this delightful pictures sunny disposition.
As he did in Last Picture Show Bogdanovich again displays a deft touch for black and white film composition. Of course it helps to have master cinematographers like Robert Surtees (Show) and Laszlo Kovacs lensing the work but it is Bogdanovich who manages to convey the very different feel of both films through his actors and the mood he establishes (nostalgia without crushing sentimentality) that fits so well with the somber monochromatic imagery.
The usually dull Ryan O'Neil gives a commendable performance as the flustered con-artist Moses. Playing mostly straight man to Addie he is always a step behind her as she indirectly takes charge on more than one occasion to save the day. Argumentative and abrasive as their screen characters are with each other, father daughter chemistry has never transferred to screen so well. Tatum O'Neil's Addie can't help but walk away with the show as the orphaned waif priming herself for a life of hard knocks. She's no Shirley Temple or for that matter Little Miss Sunshine. She's observant, knows how to play the game and easily outwits most adults she matches wits with. Her tough exterior belies the helpless little girl stereotype making her vulnerable moments all the more powerful. The film ultimately belongs to her character but you never know it when Madeline Khan's Trixie Delight shows up. This terrific supporting actress from the seventies gave any film she appeared in back then a boost and she does here as the brassy, mean spirited threat to Addie.
Bogdonovich's talent deserted him shortly after this with terrible comedies (Nickelodeon, They All Laughed), dull dramas (Daisy Miller, St. Jack) and an horrendous musical (At Long Last Love) but if anyone is in search of some of the best B&W films of the past 40 years they could start with Picture Show and this little gem.
The movie opens with Bible salesman Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) adopting Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal) in a Midwestern town during the Great Depression. It doesn't take her long to figure out that the guy's a con artist. However, she turns out to be cleverer than he.
I remember hearing about how the novel (which I've never read) was simply called "Addie Pray", and didn't feature the scene in which Moses and Addie sit on the title object at the fair. It's debatable as to whether or not it changed the quality to add that object and change the title. But either way, you can't deny that this movie remains a timeless masterpiece. Personally, I think that Peter Bogdanovich deserves a lot more credit as a director than most people give him; he has made some really good movies, even if some came out a little lower than we expect. This one is just great.
Also starring Madeleine Kahn and Randy Quaid.