Paper Moon (1973)
Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Ryan O’Neal & Tatum O’Neal
The film is set in Midwestern US during the Great Depression. A 9-year old tomboyish girl, Addie Loggins, was attending his mother’s funeral. The mother was killed in an auto accident. During the funeral, she met a man, Moses Prey, who was a close friend of her mother (Moses is implied throughout the film to be Addie’s father, though he denied this). Moses took Addie to the train station to send her to her relatives. On the way, Moses stopped by to see the person who was involved in the accident that killed Addie’s mother, and managed to blackmail some money out from him. Moses did not realize that Addie eavesdropped on their conversation.
While waiting for the train, Moses took her to a restaurant to get some “Nehi and a Coney Island” (Nehi is a brand of cola, and Coney Island is a hot dog dish like the one in A&W). In the restaurant, Addie asked whether Moses is her father, which Moses denied vehemently. She then told him that she listened to the conversation about his mother’s accident, and that she deserved a share of $200. I love this scene:
Moses had already spent the money on a new car, so he took Addie to travel with him, with the promise that he would pay back the money once he got it. He was a professional conmen, and made his living conning gullible people out of money. He made Addie his sidekick because people are more trusting when a cute child is involved. She adopted the name Addie Prey.
One of their tricks was to check the newspaper obituary section for the name of a recently departed person, and then go and see his widow, and tell her that the deceased husband had ordered a “deluxe Bible” as a gift to her before his death. As a proof, he would show the widow a Bible stamped with the widow’s name (which he had also gotten from the obit) on gold lettering. The widow would then feel obliged to pay an inflated price for the Bible.
Moses and Addie traveled all over the country, and bonded together. There were adventures and misadventures in their trip, often involving some kind of tricks played by slick Moses on unsuspecting victims, and Addie learning the tricks and performed it on other suckers:
Despite their close relationship, the duo argue all the time (the banter between Addie and Moses makes some of the best film scenes). Moses became increasingly protective towards Addie. During their trip, Moses met Trixie, a strip dancer, and became her lover. Moses started caring less for Addie when Trixie started joining Moses and Addie in their cross-country adventure. Addie did not like Trixie, and made life hell for the couple. I can’t remember what happens next (I think Moses found out that Trixie was cheating on him), but the relationship ended.
Moses and Addie then went to Kansas where they tried to con a guy who manufactures illegal whiskey (I think the term is moonshine). It turned out that the con victim is the sheriff’s brother, who chased Moses and Addie all the way to Missouri. Since the sheriff couldn’t arrest him in Missouri, he beat him up and took all his money. Moses blamed all this on Addie, and resolved to send Addie back to her relatives.
Moses send Addie to her aunt’s house, who welcomed her warmly. The house was quiet and orderly, a marked change of pace from the adventurous road life with Moses. However, she felt the change unsettling, and she felt that she like being with Moses better. Outside the house, Moses looked at the photo of Addie sitting on a “paper moon” (she had the photo taken at a carnival booth, with the “paper moon” as the backdrop). Moses then drove away. Before he could go far, Addie ran out with her luggage.
The film ends with a shot of Addie running towards Moses car.
Why is it good?
Chemistry. Addie was played by Tatum O’Neal and Moses by her real life father, Ryan O’Neal. You can’t get better chemistry than real father and daughter.
Acting. Tatum O’Neal is until today the youngest Oscar winner ever for her portrayal of Addie Prey. She won the best supporting actress award in 1974 (although rightfully she plays the leading role) when she was 9.
Father and daughter scenes. I love all scenes with Addie and Moses in it. Addie is simply adorable in her role as sassy, street smart kid. Moses is so slick as a grifter, you can feel the grease on his palm.
Cinematography. Paper Moon is shot in B&W. I love modern B&W films (e.g. Schindler’s List, Raging Bull).
I recommend you see this film. Youtube has the full movie, although I suggest you buy the DVD. Paper Moon is one of my all-time favorite film.