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Paper Moon

review by Zach B.



MPAA Rating: PG

Running Time: 102 minutes

Starring: Ryan O'Neal, Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman and Tatum O'Neal as Addie

Screenplay by: Alvin Sargent
Based upon on the novel "Addie Pray" by: Joe David Brown

Directed by: Peter Bogdanovich


Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $14.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Peter Bogdanovich, The Next Picture Show, Asking For The Moon, Getting The Moon

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, French Mono, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (13 Scenes)

Released: August 12th, 2003



In depression-era Kansas, Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) is a slick, smooth-talking con man who makes his business by selling "personalized" bibles to new widows. But his life is going to change drastically when he meets up with the orphaned Addie Pray (Tatum O'Neal), who he is reluctant to help out (by getting her to the family she has left) but ends up using her through blackmail, all against the brother of the guy who killed Addie's mother in a car crash. But Addie is one tough and smart kid. She may smoke, but she realizes what's up and demands to Moses that she get a piece of Moses' con. The two end up going into business together, as Addie helps Moses with his bible cons. Moses is surprised at first in how she plays the game, but their friction soon dissolves into an endearing relationship, almost as if they truly are father and daughter.

But their relationship is ultimately tested when Addie grows jealous of Moses' infatuation for Trixie Delight (the late Madeline Kahn), who he ends up picking up (with her helper). The two join Addie and Moses on the road. But once again, Addie is no dummy and creates a master plan to make it in that she's playing around with another man. The two then hightail it together, but more trouble is down the line when Moses gets caught up in another con involving liquor and is arrested for it. The movie is essentially divided into three acts, all tied by the growing relationship between Addie and Moses.

I may be going out on a limb by saying this, but this movie is probably far better than it actually should be because of the acting. You have some marvelous actors in their hey-day here, some of them Bogdanovich alumni. The real star here of course is Tatum O'Neal, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar (it was her first film no less). I'd consider her role a lead, but you know how crazy the Academy is and how movie studios push certain actors for certain catagories to maximize their chances of winning. But at such a young age, Tatum is such a force on screen and her performance will always be timeless. She's a bit harsh, but it's hard to not love her in-your-face attitude and how she slowly warms up to Moses. Her acting is excellent, and you can't help but love her. Her expressions, her apathy, her mannerisms and how she's looking for family when she feels she really has none.

As much as I love Tatum in the role, I still think her father Ryan steals the show as Moses - why he didn't get an Oscar nod is beyond me. It's a shame the real father and daughter aren't on good terms now, but for obvious reasons they have such remarkable and flawless chemistry on screen. Ryan O'Neal is a real charmer here, especially when he sells bibles and how he acts with Trixie and the law. Ryan O'Neal's sweetness and smooth fast-talking is wonderful, he can get frustrated but shows a more gentle side. Moses is usually doing the wrong thing, but like Addie, he's loveable and it's hard to resist Ryan O'Neal's concise, realistic portrayl. Madeline Kahn is excellent with the diva-ish persona and attitude she puts on Trixie, even if she's barely in the movie (again, the Academy is weird with their guidelines). John Hillerman is also good in the film.

To me though, my problem with "Paper Moon" lies within the movie's "three act" style - it is not my cup of tea. It's something I feel you're more prone to see on television, but it's hard to not appreciate the growing relationship between the two leads, which is the main point of the movie, but I didn't enjoy the Trixie situation and Moses' arrest as I did the first act - Addie and Moses meeting up, bickering and of course, conning people. It's not that it felt random or something along those lines, but I felt there could have been more drama with Trixie (and more of her, of course) and a little bit more stumbling blocks with the arrest sequence. But the plot's points are well taken and well done, so much that we get a feel for them and how the characters are affected by them. "Paper Moon" does the right thing, in that it considers its characters a bit more than the story. But story is also important, and while it ultimately shapes the characters and hones what the movie is all about, there could have been more to the story itself. It's just not so even, and sometimes, just not as interesting as the characters that it is trying to establish. I guess you could say the movie contradicts itself at times and is more focused on certain areas than others, but it's all for the best.

The movie does so much right though. Alvin Sargent's script maybe uneven in the story (it's based on the novel Addie Pray by Joe David Brown), but it's characters and themes are well-developed - so much so that we as the audience have no problem taking it all to heart. He spices the movie up with some great lines and great dialogue stretches and confrontations. The movie has some fine bits of dark humor that is always amusing and never fails, while there is some incredibly strong foreshadowing and symbolism. Of course, the film's title may be the most obvious, but the interactions and happenings early on between Addie and Moses set up a lot more than what the viewer may originally think. But the heart of the film and what makes it all come together are those two excellent characters who grow from inital resentment to mutal respect to some slightly rough feelings and ultimately, the ultimate pair as if they truly are the perfect match of father and daughter. Each of the two complement the other in a strong fashion, and ultimately, change their views on the world and make things all the better.

Director Peter Bogdanovich's approach to shooting the movie in black and white is a stroke of genius. It further captures an old-time feel, as if it were a movie from the 1930s and highlights a pure, deep feeling - so much so that it's hard for me to imagine this movie in - and playing just as well - in color. Working with director of photography Laslo Koavacs, "Paper Moon" probably ranks as one of the most carefully and best shot films I've ever seen. From the gradual zooms, tight shots that capture every expression and true emotion and many beautiful locations and isolated settings, how this film missed out for Best Director and Best Cinematography nods will probably always remain a mystery - not to mention the seamless, natural editing and the excellent production design work of Polly Platt. The film is so authentic in getting the Depression-era just right (aside from the references in the dialogue about the president and country's state) that you can't help but admire all the details - Addie's box, the little games, the cars, the look of the houses and stores. The costumes are just as good and just as interesting too, and the lighting is outstanding. But one of my favorite elements, if not my absolute favorite element, is the film's glorious final shot of that winding road ahead against the lovely landscape, and that automobile picking up the space once Addie and Moses board. Pitch-perfect symbolism if you ask me... and it looks so lovely, let alone feels so lovely, to boot.

I still see "Paper Moon" as a somewhat uneven movie, but it's wisely grounded in the relationship between Moses and Addie and what they go through. The movie overcomes some of its flaws through its messages, wonderful visuals and central relationship, and the actors certainly help what the movie is trying to represent. Nonetheless, "Paper Movie" is a very endearing and very entertaining movie, one that is pretty direct and not as subtle as you may think (that's definitely an advantage here). It's not perfect, and at times there seems to be some missed potential. But the story and characters certainly hook you in, all with plenty of charm and warmth to spare. This one is a keeper.


"Paper Moon" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the results are quite spiffy and beautifully reflect the film's wondrous visual look. The film is in black and white as many (if not all of you) probably know, and the transfer doesn't tamper with it's incredibly focused and polished look. The film's classic color scheme looks just as it was probably intended to be. The image is pretty damn sharp, but at times it's a bit faded and can be slightly grainy. Fleshtones are quite nice, the saturation of the black and white color scheme looks marvelous (giving off the feel Bogdanovich probably intended to have) and detail is some of the best I've seen in a long time. There are a few flaws though, but don't get in the way too much. There is some noise and a little shimmering to be had, some slight edge enhancment and only a few blemishes and dirt pieces - the transfer is surprisingly clean (I admit it: I expected more bruises on it). The transfer is much more lush than I expected it to be, so I expect all of you to be really happy with this one. Paramount did a nice job of cleaning this one up.


The film includes its original English mono track (in Dolby Digital), and it suits the movie quite fine. It's you're not going to get any surrounds from this at all, and while a remix would have probably been pretty nice, the mono has a bit more power and action than you'd probably expect. The dialogue sounds really clear and crisp, the old time music sounds just fine but what captured my attention most were the sound effects. They're a nice touch, and do bring a lot to the track. Be it something as small as foot steps or the car rumbling, the most active and empowering ones come from the big car chase toward the end of the movie (there's plenty of action and fast moves there). I would have probably enjoyed a 5.1 remix, but I'm always glad to have the original track (the way it was meant to be heard) and this one is pretty great (even if there's some slight background hiss). There's also English closed captions, English subtitles and a French mono track as well.


In what is his one of his best and most beloved films, we have an Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Peter Bogdanovich who guides us on the making of the movie. Bogdanovich is very proud of the movie, and offers a heap of praise for the cast and crew. But despite all the congratulatory remarks, he offers quite a bit of trivia on the movie. He talks about the location shooting in Kansas, setting up certain key shots, manipulating the audience, the music in the movie, inspriations and what a "Directors Company" movie is. He even mentions the short-lived television series based on the movie (Bogdanovich's reason why it wasn't popular: it was in color!). An explementary track that covers all the bases. If you're a fan of the movie, you owe yourself a listen.

Also included are three featurettes on making the movie by famed documentarian Laurent Bouzereau. The first, lasting about fourteen minutes is The Next Picture Show. This featurette chronicles the beginnings of creating the movie. With stills, film clips and interviews, we mainly hear from Bogdanovich as he his plans to do a big western fell through and how he was reluctant to do "Paper Moon." He talks about casting Tatum O'Neal, reworking the script and how it fits with the book, the actors, locations, making the ending and changing the title of the movie (sounded too much like a snake to Bogdanovich). We also hear from his ex-wife and former collaborator Polly Platt (who was the film's production designer), associate producer Frank Marshall who subsequently comments on some of the topics.

Asking For The Moon lasts about sixteen and a half minutes. It also has scenes from the movie, stills and some neat behind-the-scenes footage (there's some fun outtakes to behold), and more of making the film is covered here. There's a lot on filming the movie in black and white and how it was shot, with some fine technical details from Director of Photography Laszlo Kovacs, Peter Bogdanovich, Frank Marshall and Polly Platt. There's also some bits on the costumes and how certain things were established. This one isn't for everyone, but if you want details on the movie's wonderful look and want to see how certain problems were solved, be sure to watch this.

Getting The Moon is the last featurette, and the shortest at about four minutes. There are stills here, film clips and more outtakes to behold. Bogdanovich expresses disappointment about the film's lack of Oscar nominations (he was so disappointed at the time he didn't go to the ceremony) and talks a little bit about Tatum's win. Frank Marshall, Laszlo Kovacs and Polly Platt also chime in reflections on the movie.

It's a nice batch of supplements, but I personally would have liked to hear from more people involved in making the movie (namely the O'Neals).


"Paper Moon" is a beloved American movie that gets just the right treatment on DVD. The supplements are strong and informative, the transfer is lovely and the mono track sounds wonderful. For a retail price of $14.99, this one is definitely a steal - especially since you get such a great movie that's been longing for a DVD release for many years. Even if you've never seen it, I'd say it's worth picking up.