Sunday 1 January 2023

Movie Review: Paper Moon (1973)

Genre: Depression-Era Dramedy
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal, Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman
Running Time: 102 minutes

Synopsis: In mid-America of 1936, traveling con artist Moses "Moze" Pray (Ryan O'Neal) scours obituary notices to sell overpriced Bibles to recent widows. He attends the funeral of a barroom madame, and sensing an opportunity to make quick money, agrees to deliver her 9-year-old orphaned daughter Addie (Tatum O'Neal) to St. Joseph, Missouri. The enterprising Addie notices a family resemblance and plots to join Moze on his travels, helping increase his profits. They forge an effective petty crime combo, but their partnership is threatened by dancing girl Trixie (Madeline Kahn) then a bootlegger (John Hillerman).

What Works Well: This is a charming story of a father and daughter (?) bonding by getting themselves into ever deeper trouble. As a key twist, Addie is smarter than Moze, increasing his profitability and repeatedly yanking him out of trouble, including her elaborate ruse to torpedo Madeline Kahn's obnoxious Trixie. Bogdanovich coaxes a career highlight performance from Ryan O'Neal, and shepherds Tatum through a remarkably mature and affecting debut culminating in the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award at age ten. László Kovács' black and white cinematography captures the aura of an economically arrid time and place, while the soundtrack features big band tunes from the era.

What Does Not Work As Well: The tangle with the bootlegger and his sheriff brother (both played by John Hillerman) goes on for too long.

Conclusion: Paper Moon delights with likeable characters, stellar performances, and sleight-of-hand agility.

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