Father and daughter Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, under Peter Bogdanovich's superlative direction, produce one of the most affectingly warm and cunningly sly movies of the 1970s. Set in depression era America and beautifully photographed in pristine monochrome by Laszlo Kovacs, it's a period piece that refuses to get old, such is the deft imagery and sharpness of the screenplay.
Story essentially comes down to conman Moses Pray (R. O'Neal) hooking up with orphan Addie Loggins (T. O'Neal), who may or may not be his actual daughter. Addie proves to be a precocious live wire, not easily fooled and she smokes, cusses and is more than capable of pulling a con herself. After initial indignation, Moses comes to court Addie's strengths and they form a dynamic partnership as they travel through Kansas, pulling cons left right and centre and piling the money up. But can it last forever?
The chemistry between father and daughter is obviously set in stone, with young Tatum an absolute revelation. The screenplay gives them both ample opportunities to enchant and amuse the viewer as they get up to all sorts of tricks and scrapes. Yet there's always that feeling hanging in the dusty air that something has to give, that we are treading firmly in bittersweet territory, the crafty couple having earned our complete investment in their well being keeping us concerned even as we laugh out loud.
***Ryan O’Neal and his kid daughter Tatum in 1930’s Kansas***
In Depression-era Kansas, a conman who sells Bibles (Ryan O’Neal) is coerced into allowing a precocious 9 year-old (Tatum O’Neal) to ride with him as they travel to St. Joseph, Missouri, where her aunt lives. Madeline Kahn plays a carnival “dancer” with P.J. Johnson as her teen aide. John Hillerman appears in a double role as a bootlegger and police officer.
"Paper Moon" (1973) is a B&W drama with amusing moments. Imagine “The Highwaymen” (2019) and “Bonnie and Clyde” (1967), but with a lighter tone and much less severe criminality, mixed with father/quasi-daughter antics. The movie’s entertaining throughout, but the ending’s too low-key for my tastes (How about some good ol’ fashioned emotion?). But that’s a minor quibble.
The film runs 1 hour, 42 minutes and was shot in Kansas, Nebraska & Missouri (with one part done in Pasadena).