Paper Moon (Paramount 1973 with Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal and Madeline Kahn)

USA / Paramount / 103 minutes / 1973 / Black and white

Writer: Alvin Sargent / Novel: Addie Pray by Joe David Brown / Producer and Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Cast: Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman, P J Johnson, Jessie Lee Fulton

Ryan O’Neal and his daughter Tatum, aged nine, starred in Peter Bogdanovich’s film for which the youngster won an Oscar, still the youngest recipient. She plays Addie Loggins, first seen at her mother’s funeral; an orphan, all she has left is $200 to get to an aunt in Missouri. Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) is an old flame of the departed (and, although never stated, probably Addie’s father). He agrees to take her to her aunt but relieves her of the money. A rebellious Addie threatens him with the law and so he must turn to the only trade he knows to get the money back: selling worthless bibles to widows on the pretence their late husbands ordered them. But Addie has plans on how to improve the business…

Anyone expecting a Shirley Temple turn from Ms O’Neal was in for a shock: cigarette smoking, foul-mouthed and more cunning than her supposedly worldly elder, she was the sort of child even W C Fields would have taken a shine to. Nor is the film ever sentimental; set during the Depression, Bogdanovich shows the misery of the mid-West, and while the obvious rapport between father and daughter helps, Madeline Kahn – as a woman with a certain reputation who tries to elbow Addie out to get to Moses – and John Hillerman as a vengeful sheriff after his brother’s stolen bootleg liquor both contribute stunning support performances (Kahn received an Oscar nomination).

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