Thursday, May 09, 2013

It's Only a Paper Moon

Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal): I got scruples, too, you know. You know what that is? Scruples?

Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal): No, I don't know what it is, but if you got 'em, it's a sure bet they belong to somebody else!

Many great comedies were made in the 1970s.

I know there were some I missed, but I often feel as if I saw them all — Mel Brooks, Monty Python, Peter Sellers, Gene Wilder, John Belushi, the list goes on and on.

Ryan O'Neal even made a few noteworthy comedies in the '70s. Originally noticed for his work in dramas (especially "Love Story"), he gravitated toward comedy with "What's Up, Doc?" and "Paper Moon," which premiered 40 years ago today.

O'Neal's peak as an actor probably came in the mid–1970s. There were occasional exceptions, but mostly his film roles have been mediocre at best.

"Paper Moon," though, was and remains a delight — largely because of O'Neal's daughter, Tatum, who stole the show (and the Best Supporting Actress Oscar). Like her father, Tatum has been in few truly strong movies since "Paper Moon," which suggests that the problem for father and daughter may be that they haven't been given great material.

That definitely wasn't a problem with "Paper Moon." Like so many of the comedies of the 1970s, the dialogue crackled then, and it crackles now.

How could it not?

Set in the Depression, a Bible–peddling con man named Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) stops to pay his last respects to a prostitute with whom he had been, er, friendly. Among the small group of mourners is the woman's child, Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal), whose future has been rendered uncertain by her mother's passing. It is decided that Moses (who, some of the ladies in town have concluded, resembles Addie and might be related to her) should take Addie to her aunt in St. Joseph, Mo., since he will be going that way, anyway.

It didn't take long for Moses and Addie to learn unpleasant things about each other.

Moses learned that Addie, although only 9, was already a seasoned smoker. She didn't know the president's correct name — she kept calling him Frank D. Roosevelt (as in "Frank D. Roosevelt says we're all feeling a lot better").

And Addie learned that Moses made his living by scamming unsuspecting, grieving widows — and there was a matter of $200 that Moses owed Addie.

Addie didn't get along too well with Moses' lady friends, especially Trixie (played delightfully by Madeline Kahn). Trixie, it is safe to say, was a bit self–absorbed.
Trixie (to Addie): You already got bone structure. When I was your age I didn't have no bone structure. Took me years to get bone structure. And don't think bone structure's not important. People didn't decide to call me Mademoiselle until I was 17 and getting a little bone structure

Not all movies hold up as well after 40 years as "Paper Moon."