Starring-Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal
Scott’s Review #1,352
Reviewed March 23, 2023
Peter Bogdanovich’s follow-up to the 1971 brilliance that belongs to The Last Picture Show is a film called Paper Moon named after a song introduced during the opening sequence.
While similar in texture and tone to the former the latter takes much more time to become absorbed in. But the payoff finally arrives. There are also hints of comedy in Paper Moon which The Last Picture Show had virtually none of but they are companion pieces for sure.
The cinematography could even be classified as a carbon copy and the isolated midwest (this time Kansas and Missouri rather than Texas) is on full display, rather than a 1950s Korean War dilemma. In Paper Moon the time is the 1930s Depression Era United States when everyone and their brother was looking for a way to survive.
To make things interesting, real-life father and daughter star together. Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal are a remarkable dynamic duo and the connection is evident.
They portray slick con artists Moses Pray (Ryan) and Addie Loggins (Tatum) who play off of each other in a relaxed easy fashion.
When “Moze” is unexpectedly saddled with getting the nine-year-old Addie to relatives in Missouri after her mother’s death, his attempt to dupe her out of her money backfires, and he’s forced to take her on as a partner.
Swindling their way through farm country, the pair is nearly done in by a burlesque dancer (Madeline Kahn) and an angry bootlegger (John Hillerman).
Knowing that years later Ryan would unwittingly proposition his daughter at a funeral unaware of who she was, is both comical and sad.
But, I digress.
The chemistry makes Paper Moon work though Bogdanovich’s direction is second to none in creating the proper mood as he did so well two years earlier. The muddy, crusty atmosphere is palpable with miles and miles of desolate land on full display for the viewer.
Everything looks dirty, dusty, and depressing which is to the film’s credit.
The small characters are a winning formula as they hope against hope that the scheme Moze is selling (a first-rate Holy Bible inscribed to them by their recently deceased loved one) could be true and is heartbreaking.
I’d give the first half a B or a B+ but the second half earns a solid A. The events start slowly and are a bit tough to get into from a storyline perspective.
I wasn’t so much enamored with Madeline Khan’s character, though the actress is one of the strong aspects of the film. Moze is hot and heavy for Miss Trixie Delight but besides being busty she has little else to offer. She doesn’t treat her downtrodden teenage maid, Imogene (P.J. Johnson) very well and makes a spectacle of herself wherever she goes.
Satisfyingly, Addie, and Imogene make quick work of her when they conspire to have Moze catch Trixie in bed with a hotel clerk. Khan is a hoot but Trixie is mediocre.
When events get back to the Moze and Addie story it’s off to the races. An enthralling final sequence occurs when the pair uncovers a bootlegger’s store full of whiskey, steals some of it, and sells it back to the bootlegger.
Unfortunately, the bootlegger’s twin brother is the local sheriff, and he quickly arrests Addie and Moze. The climax is on par with 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde without the killings- instead, the pair are on the run and foraging for an uncertain future.
The characters may not have the best morals but they are survivors and that makes them appealing. I’d venture to say Tatum O’Neal is the standout though Ryan’s good looks are hard to ignore.
Paper Moon (1973) starts slow but becomes infectious during the final thirty minutes or so.
Oscar Nominations: 1 win-Best Supporting Actress-Madeline Kahn, Tatum O’Neil (won), Best Screenplay-Based on Material from Another Medium, Best Sound