Little Orphan Addie
Originally the father-daughter team scheduled to appear in "Paper Moon" wasn't Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, it was Paul Newman and his daughter Nell but through a few issues they dropped out and the O'Neal's came in. In fact it wasn't even called "Paper Moon" to start with and Peter Bogdanovich wasn't even the original director, John Huston had originally been lined up to take the helm. But despite what can only be described as substantial changes "Paper Moon" turned out to be a terrific comedy, one of the best of the 70s and one which shockingly I doubt would have been as good if Paul Newman and his daughter Nell had starred in it.
During the funeral for her mother, young Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal - The Bad News Bears) meets Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal - What's Up, Doc?) a man who says he knew her mother and is just paying his respects whilst passing through. Before Moses knows it he is saddled with orphan Addie taking her to St. Louis to live with her relatives, but having a young girl with him cramps his style as he is a hustler who sells bibles to widows. But things soon start to work out as Addie shows she is a dab hand at being a con artist and suddenly together they are making more money than ever and that's just the start of a very adventurous road trip.
There are 3 very clear sections to "Paper Moon" with the first covering the con work of Addie and Moses Pray as they make their way to St. Louis. What is particularly nice is that in this first section we get a little history, we know that Addie's mother has died and without a father she is being shipped off to her aunts. But at the same time you have the comedy over whether Moses is related to Addie because they share the same jaw line. That little set up works nicely before we get all the amusement of them working together as a couple of con artists, selling bibles to the recently widowed and tricking cashiers with a slick money con. Plus there is Addie who basically blackmails Moses in to keeping on going because he conned someone out of money she is entitled to.
But then rather than just giving us a whole movie of one con after another the second part of the movie sees Moses falling for entertainer Trixie Delight and Addie feeling pushed to the side by her. And whilst there is a lot of obvious comedy going on through out this section as the young Addie becomes increasingly jealous of the money grabbing Trixie there is also plenty of clever stuff as she works to get rid of the woman.
And it doesn't stop there as you then get a third section to "Paper Moon" as Addie and Moses finding themselves in trouble when they con a bootlegger only to discover that the bootlegger's brother is a lawman. And so we have more comedy, more cons and some action as we have a couple of chase scenes until Addie and Moses expectedly reach St. Louis and the relatives.
The thing about "Paper Moon" is that it takes us on a journey, which develops into something more at just the perfect time. So when we have had plenty of fun with Addie and Moses conning people it changes track slightly, bring in Trixie and when we're just about to bore of the Trixie storyline it develops again. It's because of this that "Paper Moon" never becomes dull and on top of that director Peter Bogdanovich paces it all beautiful so that it never drags yet gives you time to breathe between each bout of humour. A perfect example of which is the money con when Moses buys something then continually offers to change the change for a bigger note, the delivery is humorous, it makes you think and rather than scamp along to another funny scene we get time to try and work out what has just happened. And you have to say that Bogdanovich decision to shoot in black and white is a clever one as it helps create this old depression era atmosphere.
Now "Paper Moon" is very much a father and daughter movie, oh there is Madeline Kahn as the shallow and money grabbing Trixie Delight but the whole thing is built around Ryan and Tatum O'Neal. The irony is that whilst Ryan O'Neal was an established actor with a couple of hits under his belt "Paper Moon" was Tatum O'Neal's first movie yet she outshines her father in every scene. It's almost jaw dropping to watch a young Tatum because she is so good, no over dramatics, no lack of confidence just a young girl delivering what is simply a brilliant performance, so good that she won an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, although why it was for supporting role escapes me as she is in pretty much every scene. Of course it helps that Tatum was acting with her father and Ryan does an equally good job as Moses Pray, delivering a brilliant performance as a con artist whilst also the frustration of being out witted by a young girl.
What this all boils down to is that "Paper Moon" is easily one of the better, more intelligent comedies to have come out of the 70s and whilst over a quarter of a century old is still absolutely brilliant to watch. From director Peter Bogdanovich's decision to shoot in black and white through to the pacing it just grabs your attention and keeps it. And whilst Ryan O'Neal delivers a more than solid performance as con artist Moses Pray he is outshone by his daughter Tatum who delivers a performance which many established actors would die for.