Paper Moon (1973) Review

This is a wonderful movie, the sort that rarely gets made these days, and if it were to get made, nobody would go to see it. Two great and thoroughly engaging performances from Ryan O’Neal and Tatum O’Neal, some colorful support especially by Madeline Kahn, a terrific script by Alvin Sargent, spot-on direction from Peter Bogdanovich, all lovingly captured in silky-smooth black and white by master cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs.


Set in Kansas and Missouri during the Great Depression and centering on the odd-couple pairing of a con man getting mixed up with a confident nine year old girl, this comedy/drama has a light touch all throughout, and can easily be seen as an inspiration for Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men. Some of the shots in this film last for a long time, and the clarity of Kovacs’ images were at times startling to behold, with an emphasis on the flat and anonymous Midwest geography. Sargent’s screenplay was romantic, funny, clever, and from what I’ve read, a big departure from the novelistic source material; he would receive an Oscar nomination for his adaptation.


Shot on a $2.5 million budget, the film would become a big hit, grossing $30 million domestically, and would net Tatum O’Neal an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, making her the youngest winner in Academy history.