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‘Paper Moon’ (1973) Review

LisaOConnor4 LisaOConnor4 When con-artist Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) pays his respects at his ex-girlfriend’s funeral, he leaves the proceedings with more than a touch of grief and sorrow. Saddled with his ex’s young daughter, Addie Loggins (Tatum O’Neal), because he’s travelling in the vague direction of the child’s only known relative, clearly his concerns lie in the potential cramping of his small-time criminal style. Little does he know that this freckle-faced tomboy is about to make his clever con-artistry look like playground bartering for sweets. Fully aware of his shameful cashing-in on her mother's death, she demands compensation for his apparent theft of her money and becomes an able accomplice in his shady life of ducking and diving.

A Lighter Look at the Great Depression

Set in 1930s Kansas during the Great Depression, ‘Paper Moon’ is a lighter -hearted look at a grey time in the history of the US. Times were hard. Orphaned children like Addie had a bleak future with no relatives to step up, hence the excitement of well-meaning locals on realising that Aunt Billie could take her in.

“Seems you got the child’s jaw,” remarks one of the funeral party on Moses’ arrival, seeming convinced that he may be related, possibly her father.

Father and Daughter

Despite his deceitful ways, you cannot fail to fall for Moses. Ryan O’Neal plays him as the sweetest villain you could hope to con you; heart-throb features, eyes with an incongruous sincerity and an overall gentleness that makes you forget he’s on the wrong side of the law and makes you root for him instead.

Tatum O’Neal, his actual daughter, plays Addie, the tough end of the pairing. Unwavering, edgy and sharp-witted, her consistently armoured exterior is played to perfection. The unblinking eyes, the set line of her mouth and her tight-lipped throwaway responses are admirable and complement her father’s slight bumbliness.

Comedy, Tension and Pathos

Director Peter Bogdanovich’s choices, from monochrome over technicolor, to barren landscapes and a supporting cast of questionable characters, make this movie a hundred minutes of comedy, tension and pathos. The decision to cast father and daughter as unwilling partners in crime pays great dividends in entertainment value, as does the screenplay, ably reworked by Alvin Sargent from Joe David Brown’s novel, ‘Addie Pray’.

Addie’s precociousness is the main attraction; from her casual smoking habit to her dry put-downs of Moses:

“You know what that is? Scruples?”

“No, I don't know what it is but if you got ‘em you can sure bet they belong to somebody else!”


But just as you start to yearn for a slight softening of character, Moses reaches out to Addie and whilst maintaining that upper hand, we glimpse compassion.

A quirky movie tinged with some serious themes, this is a beautifully shot piece with some memorable one-liners. A very watchable and rewatchable film.

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