ALPHABET MOVIE CLUB: Paper Moon
WEEK 17: "P"
Nominees: Paper Moon, Patton, A Perfect World, Point Blank, The Public Enemy
Winner: Paper Moon
Background: Directed by Peter Bogdanovich in 1973 (two years after bursting on the scene with The Last Picture Show), Paper Moon is a Depression-era comedy/drama about con artists set in Kansas and Missouri and shot in black-and-white. Based on Joe David Brown's novel Addie Plays and adapted for the screen by Alvin Sargent (a few years before his two Oscar wins for Julia and Ordinary People), the film features a unique starring pair, real-life father and daughter team of Ryan O'Neal and Tatum O'Neal.
Ryan plays Moze Pray, is smooth-smiling and smooth talking hustler. His latest con is selling embossed Bibles to the relatives of the recently deceased. While passing through the Kansas-Missouri area, he is talked into delivering the young Addie Loggins (Tatum), the orphaned daughter of a hooker who may or may not be his own daughter, to the girl's aunt's home. This little distraction in tow is adamant that Moze is her dad and owes her money, but he denies and dodges the possibility. She's a frustrating, cigarette-smoking burden, at first, until Addie turns her frown upside-down as a charmer and swindler equal to her possible father.
Seeing her money-making potential as a sidekick, Moze and Addie start to pull off their cons together to raise the money he owes her. In their hustles and travels, they pick up new companions in the form of the gold-digging exotic dancer Miss Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn), her tits, her duplicity, and her 15-year-old African American maid-servant (P.J. Johnson) at a local carnival. With Trixie stealing Moze's attention, Addie meticulously plots to ditch the bitch. Even if she pulls that off, the big quest to deliver Addie, make money, and learning her true connection to Moze awaits the audience before the finish of Paper Moon.
Reaction: 3 STARS-- I was a first-timer withPaper Moon and I will call it above average in a great many areas. For one, I sure got a kick out of the father-daughter team-up. Ryan, in his 1970's prime, always has watchable charisma, but Tatum steals the show, in arguably the greatest performance by a child actor I've ever seen. As most who get into Paper Moon know, Tatum became the youngest ever Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actress) for this role and she earned it. Those who know her life's timeline since Paper Moon can take this film as an endearing time capsule compared to her very troubled life since. Her talent falls into the long Hollywood list of "woulda-coulda-shoulda."
As a cinema fan, what I appreciate the most after the acting O'Neals is the technical skill of Peter Bogdanovich and his crew. I really like the choice to go black-and-white to shoot this Great Depression homage. The blank palette really matches the bleakness of the times. Color would have been unrealistic (though it was tough to compete with the full color The Sting the same year). The subtle use of period music over any musical score is also a nice touch. The long periods of quiet interlude add to same bleak effect as the black-and-white shooting. Great cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs shot the sugar-honey-ice-tea out of this movie. The combination of wide vistas and involving close-ups with sharp tracking in between is pure perfection.
From a story standpoint, I could take or leave Paper Moon. Sometimes, movies about thieves and con artists are tough sells because it's hard to root for, identify with, or side with a lawbreaker or despicable person. Paper Moon attempts to inject some family and heart into its story to so-so effect. As a "road movie," it is far more interesting and successful and that saves it quite a bit. In any case, I'm glad I saw it. Let's hit the lessons!
LESSON #1: THE IMPORTANCE OF BONE STRUCTURE-- If you believe Trixie's mentality and doctrine, bone structure is the shallow person's organic food. It's trendy to have, worthy of bragging and snobbery, and takes the ordinary and gives it polish.
LESSON #2: PEOPLE ARE SUCKERS FOR KIDS-- Ever wonder why Girl Scout cookies are such an expensive and successful hit every year? It's because we can't say no to a puppy dog child's innocent-looking face. They get us every time. On some level, that ability is empowering to some kids hence...
LESSON #3: KIDS ARE MORE RESOURCEFUL THAT WE GIVE THEM CREDIT FOR-- See what I mean? The kid that knows they have that power of influence can start to exploit that talent, ability, and power. Leave an empowered child to his our her own wit and devices and we soon realize that they are more resourceful than we give them credit for.
LESSON #4: SOONER OR LATER, YOU ARE GOING TO CON THE WRONG PERSON-- Before the end of Paper Moon, greed, a bad read, and dumb luck catch up with our con man Moze and he makes a formidable enemy out of the wrong mark and wrong scheme. This is the quintessential inevitability for every movie con man. They will always make this mistake.