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Paramount Studios presents
Paper Moon (1973)

Moze: Stop standing around here checking on me! I ain't about to leave some poor little child stranded in the middle of nowhere. I got scruples too, ya know. You know what that is, 'scruples'?
Addie: No, I don't know what that is, but if you got them, I sure bet they belong to somebody else.

- Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: August 17, 2003

Stars: Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal
Other Stars: Madeline Kahn, John Hillerman
Director: Peter Bogdanovich

MPAA Rating: PG for (language)
Run Time: 01h:42m:15s
Release Date: August 19, 2003
UPC: 097360846546
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-A- B

DVD Review

Paper Moon was released at the height of the auteur-1970s, the modern Golden Age of American movies, when directors were creating films that consciously broke from the Hollywood tradition to explore weightier concepts and characters in more abstract and artistic ways. But Paper Moon is, oddly enough, more than anything else a throwback to the Hollywood of the 1930s and '40s, when directorial flash often took a back seat to sharp storytelling and rich performances. Filmed in black & white, the movie is a simple, character-driven road comedy that could have been made in 1935 (the year in which it is set), if not for some questionable language and loose morals.

Ryan O'Neal and daughter Tatum are the leads in this father/daughter story about two expert con artists. The elder plays Moses "Moze" Pray, a small-time grifter who makes a living selling overpriced bibles to grieving widows. He picks up Addie (the younger O'Neal) at her mother's funeral (Moze, it is implied, could be the girl's dad—he met her mother in a barroom, after all), telling the townspeople that he'll drive her to her aunt's house. He actually plans to use her to extort $200 of the girl's inheritance from a local businessman, but she catches wind of it, and demands her money. Moze has already spent it, so he takes her along on the job, and she turns out to be even better at it—she figures out his scheme quickly, and has an eye for suckers, raising or lowering a bible's price based on the mark's perceived wealth (this doesn't sit well with Moze when she gives one away, but he happily takes the money when she sells one for $24).

The chemistry between the O'Neals is wonderful. Though the father/daughter casting conceit might sound like a sure thing, a palpable energy between the two was by no means assured. Ryan O'Neal is often stiff and showy (Barry Lyndon), but Moze's profession allows him to use his theatrical style to the fullest. He is particularly adept at hiding his affection for Addie under affected annoyance. Tatum, in her debut, eclipses her father. She's one of but a few child actors who can simply exist in front of a camera—she never feels stilted, cutesy, or rehearsed. Director Peter Bogdanovich is a fan of long takes, and it's clear the girl's performance is no mere trick of editing, which probably helped her on her way to an Oscar® win (inexplicably in a supporting category, when she is unquestionably a lead).

The story follows a classic road movie structure. Moze and Addie are a great team, and, in a series of entertaining vignettes, their personal bond grows along with the pile of money in Addie's cigar box as they pull off a string of successful cons. At a traveling circus, Moze meets "exotic dancer" Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn), and Addie schemes to break the two up when she sees his attention wandering. The late Kahn is a scream—she had worked with Bogdanovich on What's Up, Doc? the year before and does wonders with only a few minutes of screen time as the braying, loudmouthed Trixie (she also has two of the best lines in the picture, neither of which I'll spoil here, but fans probably know what I'm talking about). Later, Moze and Addie run afoul of a bootlegger (John Hillerman) and his crooked cop brother (also Hillerman), leading Moze to question whether the life of the con man is appropriate for a 9-year-old girl.

Peter Bogdanovich and cinematographer László Kovács give the film the feel of a classic Hollywood comedy with the gritty visual style of a Depression-era photograph (the decision to shoot in dusty black and white was the right one, as was the use of deep focus photography). Alvin Sargent smoothly adapts Joe David Brown's novel, Addie Pray, and Bogdanovich shows restraint in filming the sweet story of a lost little girl looking for a daddy without resorting to the maudlin (his decision to use period music in lieu of a score was another wise one). This is a nearly perfect film, one that hits nary a wrong note. It's endlessly enjoyable, but not lightweight—the desperation of the Depression is there, lurking in the corners of the screen, but it's hard to spot when Tatum O'Neal smiles.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: There's nothing I like to see more on DVD than a beautifully preserved black & white film, and Paper Moon gives me much cause to celebrate. This is a great looking disc, with only a few minor problem areas. The deep focus photography shows excellent detail throughout, with a great range of grays and blacks to really make textures stand out. Film grain is present, of course, but always looks natural. There are a few minor scratches on the source print, but it's in very good condition overall. I spotted some occasional aliasing (particularly in the last shot), but no significant artifacts or edge enhancement.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: Paper Moon is presented in the original mono, and the mix sounds wonderful—clean and crisp throughout. Dialogue is clear throughout, well supported in the mix. The period songs on the soundtrack have a slightly hollow sound typical of the recordings of the 1930s, and the effect works to set the tone for the picture. My only quibble is that the mix is presented as 2-channel mono in the mains rather than true mono in the center, but that's just personal preference.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 13 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: Paramount has really started to turn things around in the last couple of months, offering quality catalog titles at new, lower price points. They still aren't big on the supplements for most releases, but for their prestige pictures, they don't skimp. Paper Moon is certainly one of those, and in addition to wonderful video and audio transfers, it has received a nice package of extras. The $14.95 retail price doesn't hurt either.

First up is a trio of featurettes, all three of them produced by DVD guru Laurent Bouzereau. The Next Picture Show (14:06) is primarily an interview with Bogdanovich (wearing his interview ascot), in which he discusses the genesis of the film, from the casting, to the development of the screenplay, to the start of filming. He talks a bit about each of the main cast members, sharing a few anecdotes about each. He also touches on the adaptation of the source novel and location scouting.

Asking for the Moon (16:29) discusses the production in more detail, focusing on the technical side of the shoot. Bogdanovich talks about why he decided to shoot the picture in black & white, and also reveals his inspiration for the title (he thought it was a good fit after hearing the song, but to convince the studio, he had to include a scene with a literal paper moon). Bogdanovich also touts his decision to shoot the film with deep focus photography (so everything is always in focus), which gives him the opportunity to drop in comments about his personal friendship with Orson Welles (about six times). Production designer Polly Platt reveals the secret of Trixie Delight's jiggling jugs (a special bra was constructed for star Madeline Kahn). This featurette also includes some wonderful on-set footage of Tatum O'Neal goofing around with her director, and some B-roll footage of Bogdanovich acting out a scene with his young star.

Getting the Moon (4:16) is significantly shorter, and the most fluffy of the three. Bogdanovich basically reflects for a few minutes on what a wonderful an experience it was making the picture, and how it is remembered as a classic even though it received some mixed reviews at the time. He touches on Tatum's Oscar® win, and remembers skipping the ceremony that year after he was passed over for Best Director. When talking about why the film hasn't dated in the 30 years since its release, he calls it a "pre-shrunken shirt" (since it was already dated in the '70s), an apt, if odd comparison. Check out the vintage gag reel, too.

Bogdanovich also contributes a commentary for the feature. His track repeats much of the material from the featurettes (some of it nearly word for word, giving the impression that the director has told these stories many times over the years), and Bogdanovich isn't exactly an engaging speaker, but he does talk nearly non-stop throughout, and he has an excellent memory for details—he seems to be able to recall how every trick shot was accomplished. He also wants to make sure you notice how he shot in deep focus photography. I assume, anyway, since he repeatedly points out that "everything in this shot is in focus; that's very hard to do!"

No trailer for the feature, and chaptering is a little sparse, but this is still a fine batch of supplements.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Paper Moon is a sweet, subtle family film, an anachronistically cheery bit of Depression-era nostalgia. Father and daughter O'Neal give the best performances of their careers, the late Madeline Kahn is brash and hilarious, and it's one of Peter Bogdanovich's best and most enjoyable movies. Paramount's DVD is certainly not only a paper moon—the smart supplements and spiffy audio and video transfers are the real deal.

 


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