Friday, October 16, 2009

Paper Moon (1973)

A wonderful homage to depression-era films featuring a brilliant (and historical Oscar-winning performance) by Tatum O'Neal.

Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) is a conman who travels the country, deceiving people out of their money (which is kinda mean, since it's the depression). Anyway, the film begins at the funeral of Addie Loggins' (Tatum O'Neal) mother, a woman who wasn't exactly chaste. This woman once had an affair with Moses, so it's possible that the young girl is his daughter. He is charged with taking Addie to live with her aunt, and along the way finds the man who hit Addie's mother with his car and cons him out of $200, claiming that it belongs to the young girl. Thus, Addie claims that Moses owes her $200 and refuses to leave him, and the two become partners, conning people along their road trip.

The plot of the film is essentially three different "episodes", the forming of their partnership, the disruption of their partnership by the inclusion of Miss Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn), a "Harem Dancer" Moses picks up at a fair, and then a con involving a bootlegger in which Addie and Moses may be in over their heads.

The film itself is really good, but the best thing about it is the young Tatum O'Neal as Addie. The character is almost like the anti-child character, because she's like a child. She's not a miniature adult like we see in a lot of films, she's just a normal kid. And O'Neal brings a great deal of cleverness as well as hurt to the performance, creating a fully realized character where there might not have been one in the screenplay, commanding the screen and overshadowing her father.

Another standout is the ever-brilliant Madeline Kahn as Trixie Delight (she also received an Oscar nomination). Like O'Neal, she creates a detailed character in what could have been a one joke role. Trixie is obnoxious, constantly needing to pull over to "go Winky-Tinky", and calling Moses "daddy". But there's one scene that suggests that she hasn't had the easiest life, and Kahn pulls it off without any sort of falseness about it.

Ryan O'Neal is good as well, making Moses a charming, yet slightly slimy character, and he also portrays his budding friendship with Addie quite well. They never become buddy-buddy, instead they rely on each other, and trust each other enough to perform cons together.

The script is sharp and funny, smartly dividing the film into 3 different stories to avoid the overall idea of the film from becoming stale or tired. The direction is great as well, with Peter Bogdanovich using a lot of one-take tracking shots and stark black and white cinematography.

This is a great film, one that I've seen several times now, and I can't see myself growing tired of it any time soon.

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