Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Classic Film Flashback" - Paper Moon (1973)

Paper Moon, the 1973 film that stars Ryan O'Neal and his daughter Tatum, tells the story of a conman and a 9 year old girl. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich, and based on the book Addie Pray the film is set during the Great Depression. Tatum is Addie, an orphaned girl who's mother was once associated with Moses Pray and since she has his chin she thinks he might be her father. Even though Moses originally wants nothing to do with her, only agreeing to get her to her Aunt's house by putting her on a train, when he finds himself owing her money he let's her travel with him as he conducts his business until he earns enough to pay her back.  

The film follows Moses and Addie as they travel across Kansas in Moses' car.  Addie quickly realizes not only just how Moses makes money- mainly by convincing recently widowed women that their husband's had recently ordered expensive bibles with their names engraved on them, but also that she is pretty good at conning as well.  So, they find themselves drawn to each other and acting much like a father and daughter behave, well ones that swindle people and fight and bicker at least.

Madeline Kahn is Trixie Delight, a "performer" at a carnival they visit.  Moses becomes enraptured with her so she joins them on their journey, bringing her young black maid, Imogene and multiple pieces of luggage as well.   While Addie appreciates having Imogene along since she is close to her age, she quickly becomes jealous of Trixie and realizes that Trixie is just using Moses to get what she wants.  Addie must find a way to get Trixie out of the picture and Moses still needs to get Addie to her Aunt's house.  But there are bootleggers, the police, stolen cars and various other obstacles they have to deal with first.

How Addie and Moses get out of the situation they're in and what happens between the two of them once Moses earns the money he owes Addie takes the film to it's conclusion, one that isn't exactly how you think it will be.

Tatum O'Neal clearly deserved the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress that year, she is a complete natural in the role.  Her father is also in top form and while this is a departure from the "straight man" he played in the classic comedy What's Up Doc? just a year before, he has beautiful comic timing that easily translates into this depression era drama with many comic moments.   It is also interesting to note that Kahn, who was also in What's Up Doc? is playing a very different, yet in many ways very similar character to the one she played with O'Neal just a year before.  But in the earlier film, she was a completely out of control character, here, she is in complete control of the situation.   Also, Bogdanovich directed both of those films.  So, clearly, the three of them knew how to work extremely well together and the results show in both films.

The black and white cinematography of Paper Moon is absolutely beautiful.  The wide open fields that butt up against the roads that Moses and Addie travel along clearly are stark and extremely representative of what one believes the effect the Great Depression had on states like Kansas. 

So, if you're looking for a film with great performances, a well thought out and plotted story with some twists and turns along the way, check out Paper Moon.

The film was actually turned into a musical that had plans to play Broadway.  In 1993, the musical had a try-out at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, just about 30 minutes from New York City.  Unfortunately the reviews it got said it was too overproduced, misdirected and unfocused so the show never made the journey from New Jersey to Broadway.   At Paper Mill, the musical starred Gregory Harrison as Moses, with Christine Ebersole as Trixie and Chandra Wilson (from tv's Grey's Anatomy) as Imogene.  The musical had music by Larr Grossman, a book by Martin Casella and lyrics by Ellen Fitzhugh and Carol Hall.  The musical has been produced a couple of other times in other cities outside of NYC in the mid 90's, but still received mixed reviews.
A scene from Paper Moon with Ryan and Tatum - shows the great direction, cinematography, acting and dialogue -

A scene from Paper Moon with Madeline Kahn-

Amazon link for the Paper Moon - dvd - Paper Moon

Amazon link for the What's Up Doc? blu ray dvd - What's Up Doc? [Blu-ray]

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