Just one year after Director Peter Bogdanovich unleashed the hilarious comedy "What's Up Doc" on moviegoers, he and Ryan O'Neal teamed up again for the huge hit PAPER MOON.
Ryan O'Neal is Moses Pray, a depression era con man moving city to city in the small, poor towns in Missouri and Kansas.
As the film opens, Mose arrives late for the funeral of a young local dancer. He meets the dancer's 9 year old daughter Addie Loggins.
The locals ask Mose to drive Addie to her only known relatives in Missouri and he agrees to take her, mostly just to serve another con.
Addie is played in an Academy Award winning performance by Tatum O'Neal. Usually when you say, "that child actor was really good", its a backhanded compliment thinking "at least that young kid was good enough to not ruin the movie".
Tatum is great in every scene, creating a full blooded, real character from her very first moments. Imagine Shirley Temple. Now imagine the opposite of Shirley and you have Tatum as Addie.
She smokes, she scowls, she manipulates and she emerges as a much better con than Mose ever dreamed of being.
By the time Addie starts selling bibles for three times as much money as Mose ever asked for them traveling door-to-door, a dust bowl con duo is born.
Madeline Kahn follows up her debut in "Doc" with her turn as Trixie Delight, a sideshow burlesque dancer with eyes on Mose and his box full of cash.
Trixie goes on the road with Mose and Addie, bringing along her young maid Imogene, played to perfection by teenager PJ Johnson.
When Addie grows increasingly jealous of Trixie's hold on Mose, Addie and Imogene craft an elaborate and hilarious set up to get Trixie out of the picture.
The sequence could have played for full comedy like the hallway confusion of "Victor/Victoria" or the plaid suitcase switches in "What's Up Doc" but Bogdanovich plays it much more cleverly, mixing real emotion into the scene to create a perfect payoff.
John Hillerman plays both a bootlegger AND a sheriff, the photography by Laszlo Kovacs (Shampoo, New York New York) is Ansel Adams perfect and Bogdanovich bathes everything in black and white glory just as he did in his 1972 hit "The Last Picture Show".
Just as it did in that film, the B&W seems to fit the depression era, small town setting perfectly.
The screenplay by Alvin Sargent (Ordinary People, What About Bob?) is loaded with laughs, most of which are flawlessly delivered by young Tatum.
My favorite exchange between Mose and Addie:
Mose: I got scruples too, you know. You know what that is? Scruples?
Addie Loggins: No, I don't know what it is, but if you got 'em, it's a sure bet they belong to somebody else!
Ryan and Tatum are great together and their interactions never feel forced. Tatum has serious chops.
Fun, suspenseful and a modern classic. PAPER MOON shines it's way to an A.