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PAPER MOON

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Ryan O’Neal, Madeline Kahn, Tatum O’Neil, John Hillerman
Director:  Peter Bogdanovich
Audio:  Dolby Digital Mono
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Three Featurettes, Commentary
Length:  102 Minutes
Release Date:  August 12, 2003

“God works in mysterious ways!”

“Don’t he, now?”

Film ***1/2

It may only have been a Paper Moon, but it was a box office hit in its day and continues to be a beloved and charming classing well into the new millennium…which makes this film a perfect one to preserve on DVD.

In 1973, producer/director Peter Bogdanovich was riding a high crest of success with his critically lauded The Last Picture Show and the audience pleasing What’s Up Doc?  But he had some misgivings when the studio presented him with a screenplay based on a novel called Addie Pray about a Depression era con man who finds himself partnered with an orphaned cherub with a brain for the business.  But after his wife convinced him it could be a good film, and even suggested that friend Ryan O’Neil and his little daughter Tatum should play the leads, he agreed.

It was the right decision.  Paper Moon is an effervescent, joyous look back at our nation’s troubled times through the eyes of a winning pair of characters.  Moses Pray (Ryan) is a two-bit con man with a…er, gift for selling Bibles.  But at the opening, when he attends a funeral for an old lover, he ends up with the woman’s child, Addie (Tatum).  He’s supposed to just drive her to the next state to drop off at her Aunt’s, but he has other ideas, including how to make a quick bit of cash and be rid of the girl and well on his way to his next adventure.

But Addie turns out to be more than he bargained for, and so a simple scheme turns into a road story as man and child make their way through the Midwest.  Cons are orchestrated, money is made, and soon the pair realize they have more in common than they could have imagined!

The road picture takes two major detours along the way…one is when Moses becomes enamored with the exotic dancer Trixie Delight (the scene stealing Kahn), and little Addie has to open his eyes to the kind of trouble he’s getting himself into.  The other involves an attempted scam on a bootlegger that goes horribly awry when his cop brother puts the squeeze on our heros.  When it cuts to the chase, all hell breaks loose!  (John Hillerman plays both bootlegger and cop, for a solid double role).

It’s all breezy and winsome…not particularly deep, but lots of fun.  This was yet another picture my mother forced me to watch when I was a kid, where I went in grumbling but came out smiling.  Some pictures make you contemplate life, death and the universe.  Some just make you happy.

Paper Moon is a certified smile inducer.  No wonder we still love it after all these years.

BONUS TRIVIA:  Both Madeline Kahn and Tatum O’Neil earned Supporting Actress Oscar nods, with Tatum taking the statuette as the youngest ever Oscar recipient!

Video ***

This anamorphic rendering from Paramount offers a clean look at a classic black and white film from the 70s.  Detail level is strong and images are sharp, with well defined lines, clean whites and deep blacks.  A smidgen of grain in noticeable here and there, as well as an every-now-and-then telltale sign of aging like a scratch or spot, but overall, the film has held up well, and the studio has done a serviceable job with this DVD.

Audio **

The sound is mono, which suit the period feel of the piece just fine.  There’s mostly dialogue to listen to, with a few scratchy recordings of Depression-era songs to add spice, but with an occasional burst of action here and there to give it some range.  Unspectacular by nature, but perfectly suitable.

Features **1/2

The disc contains a likable commentary track from a likable filmmaker in Peter Bogdanovich, who’s pleasant to listen to and generous with his memories about how the project came to be, working with his stars (particularly his young ones), and more.  There are three short featurettes with Bogdanovich and crew members about the making of the movie, though they could have easily been edited into one long one.  They feature behind the scenes footage and outtakes, and are enjoyable.

Summary:

It won’t be make believe when you add this modern movie classic to your home library.  Paper Moon is one of those rare jewels that never seems to get old no matter how many times you experience it.