peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2023 12 22 PaperMoon

Paper Moon (1973)

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Prompted by Ryan O'Neal's recent passing. The obits talked him up as a leading man but I've only seen him playing a wooden social climber in Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. Also via Wesson's The Path to Paradise: this was director Peter Bogdanovich's first contribution to The Directors Company. His second, the apparently uncommercial Daisy Miller, killed that arrangement. Coppola managed to make The Conversation before things went tits up. Also a Madeleine Khan jag from Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. She got her first Oscar nom here and is a bit funnier though just as hackneyed.

This is another one of those solid chunks of retro nostalgia that have swung back into style — or have they never gone out of fashion? We're in black-and-white 1930s Depression-era Kansas where all a man can do is visit the funeral of a woman who may've borne him a daughter, O'Neal's very own Tatum. She got Oscared for what is sometimes a very funny performance that would be impossible now: notionally 9 she smokes at every opportunity she gets. Failing to get her on a train to her relatives and in debt to her for the few hundred he bilked from the culprit of the accident that killed her mother, what else can her sort-of-father do but engage in scams? Specifically selling bibles to recent widows, exploiting the innumeracy of Kansans, attempting to rip off the local bootleggers. Getting her involved is what: the sort-of-family that scams together stays together, though the production code (of the 1930s) does not let them keep the proceeds.

O'Neal himself put me in mind of Warren Beatty, making this something adjacent to Bonnie and Clyde from 1967.

Roger Ebert: four stars. P. J. Johnson is awesome as dejected Imogene but it seems she didn't get many further roles. Vincent Canby was far less impressed with the story. Hotel receptionist Burton Gilliam was very well cast. He was also in Blazing Saddles.