skip navigation
Paper Moon
share:
Remind Me
 Paper Moon

Paper Moon

A key film in the 'road movie' genre, Paper Moon (1973) introduces us to a traveling salesman named Moses Pray who cons widows into buying his Bibles. While attending the funeral of one of his former girlfriends, Moses discovers that the deceased left behind a nine-year-old daughter named Addie. He soon finds himself pressured into escorting the young orphan to relatives in St. Joseph, Missouri. However, Moses' new traveling companion is no angel (she smokes and curses) and she's a quick study in the art of the hustle. In record time, Moses enlists her as a partner in his deception of unsuspecting rubes.

Based on the novel Addie Pray by Joe David Brown, Paper Moon was Peter Bogdanovich's last popular success before a string of flops like Daisy Miller (1974), At Long Last Love (1975), and Nickelodeon (1976) made him box-office poison in the mid-seventies. It's hard to say why he went off the tracks on those subsequent productions but Paper Moon is a winner all the way, from its evocative black and white cinematography that perfectly captures the Midwest during the Depression to the vintage soundtrack which includes tunes performed by Ozzie Nelson, Hoagy Carmichael, and Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra.

Bogdanovich, who was a film critic before he became a filmmaker, was heavily influenced by the work of Howard Hawks and John Ford and you can see their influence throughout this film; the humor has the sharpness of Hawks' best comedies while the characters and settings recall the work of Ford and his affection for rural America. In fact, there is a homage to Ford in the scene where Moses and Addie are in a diner and across the street, the movie house is playing Ford's Steamboat 'Round the Bend (1935).

Originally, Paul Newman and his daughter, Nell Potts, were to star in Paper Moon with John Huston as the director but the project fell through. Luckily, the assignment fell to Peter Bogdanovich who cast Ryan O'Neal and his daughter Tatum. It was Tatum's first film role and, from most reports, she was difficult on the set. Bogdanovich said later that working with Tatum O'Neal was "one of the most miserable experiences of my life." Nevertheless, the end result won Tatum the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, making her the youngest actress to ever win that award. The other Academy Award nominations for Paper Moon were for Best Sound, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actress Madeline Kahn who almost steals the movie with her sad-funny portrayal of Trixie Delight, a pathetic carnival stripper.

Director/Producer: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Alvin Sargent, based on the novel by Joe David Brown
Cinematography: Laszlo Kovacs
Editor: Verna Fields
Art Direction: Polly Platt
Cast: Ryan O'Neal (Moses Pray), Tatum O'Neal (Addie Loggins), Madeline Kahn (Trixie Delight), John Hillerman (Deputy Sheriff Hardin/Jess Hardin), P.J. Johnson (Imogene), Jessie Lee Fulton (Miss Ollie).
BW-103m. Letterboxed.

by Jeff Stafford

VIEW TCMDb ENTRY