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Film / Paper Moon

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Moze: You don't have to worry. I ain't about to leave some poor little child stranded in the middle of nowhere. I got scruples too, y'know... You know what that is, scruples?
Addie: No, I don't know what it is, but if you got 'em, I sure bet they belong to somebody else!

Paper Moon is a 1973 period comedy-drama film adapted from the 1971 novel Addie Pray by Joe David Brown, directed by Peter Bogdanovich and starring the father and daughter team of Ryan and Tatum O'Neal.

Set in Kansas during The Great Depression, the film follows Moses "Moze" Pray, a Con Man specializing in Scamming the Bereaved, who is reluctantly tasked with delivering the recently-orphaned, nine-year-old Addie Loggins to her aunt in St. Joseph, Missouri. Despite vehemently denying that Addie is his daughter (which she likely is, considering Moze knew her "wild" mother well), he takes a liking to her — even more so when he realizes his grifting looks more legitimate with a child by his side.

Madeline Kahn appears as Miss Trixie Delight, a High-Class Call Girl who joins them for a spell.

This work provides the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Title Change: The movie is based on the novel Addie Pray, a title which Bogdanovich didn't like because it "sounded like a snake", so he came up with Paper Moon (picked up from the 1935 hit song "It's Only a Paper Moon", which plays over the opening credits).
  • The Alleged Car: Moze is introduced arriving at a funeral in an antiquated jalopy that backfires so much that it disturbs the service. He uses his first influx of cash to fix it up. Later he replaces it with a new 1936 Cadillac but has to trade that for a busted up truck that's even worse than his initial car. Its doors fall off and barely runs, to the point that he has to push it across the bridge over the Missouri River with Addie at the wheel.
  • Bedroom Adultery Scene: Invoked by Addie and Imogene when they concoct a scheme to have Moze find Miss Trixie in bed with the desk clerk.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Addie sports short hair which makes her look boyish, to the point that a barber mistakes her for a boy (to her anger), and Moze makes her wear dresses and ribbons in her hair to make it more obvious that she's a girl.
  • Breakfast in Bed: Miss Trixie's high-class attitude is expressed when she has Imogene serve her breakfast in bed while she still has her Sleep Mask on.
  • Brick Joke: At one point Addie makes reference to "Frank D. Roosevelt". Much later, after she and Moze get an in argument and she walks away, he yells after her: "And his name ain't Frank, it's Franklin!"
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: Trixie has no qualms about using her assets to get what she wants from men.
    Trixie: So how 'bout it, honey? Just for a little while, let old Trixie sit up front with her big tits.
  • Children as Pawns: Moze uses Addie for his cons since Children Are Innocent.
  • Combat Pragmatist: For a con man, Moze actually seems to be approaching his wresting duel with Leroy honorably. They establish that the rules will be catch wrestling without shoes, but when Leroy goes for a trip, Moze comments that the rules seem to be out the window. He then distracts Leroy and knocks him out with a haymaker and uppercut.
  • The Con: Quick Change is done several times by both Moze and Addie, such as when Moze purchases ribbons for Addie and rapid-talks the befuddled clerk out of several dollars, or when Addie causes a cotton candy vendor to give her a sample for free just to get rid of her.
  • Cosmetic Catastrophe: A non-visual example — Addie puts on some of her mother's perfume in an attempt to seem more grown up, but having never used perfume before she practically bathes in it. She's pleased when Moze obviously notices the smell, but becomes less pleased when he cracks open the windscreen in the car to get rid of it.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Sheriff Hardin and his men catch up with Moze, corner him in an alley, and beat the hell out of him.
    Moze: You can't arrest me now. We're in Missouri. And your damn brother's a bootlegger!
    Hardin: You got an awful big mouth, mister. Maybe I can't arrest you in Missouri and maybe I don't want to. But I sure can make sure that you ain't gonna feel too good while you're here.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: Addie plays up her innocence to sell the grifts that she and Moze pull.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The film is shot in black and white to evoke the 1930s setting.
  • Duels Decide Everything: Moze tries to swap his convertible for a pickup truck to ditch the sheriff chasing them; when the truck's owner refuses to swap, he proposes a "wrassling" match to resolve the matter.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Moze arrives late to a funeral in a back-firing jalopy and steals the flowers from another grave, establishing him as a freewheeling rogue.
    • Addie demands the $200 that Moze conned from a local on her behalf and starts making a scene to put pressure on Moze, establishing her as a canny and strong-willed child.
  • Fake Period Excuse: Imogene lies about Trixie excusing herself for being on her period to invoke a Bedroom Adultery Scene later on.
  • Forged Message: Addie writes a "booty call" letter to Miss Trixie supposedly coming from the desk clerk.
  • Gold Digger: Miss Trixie is only sticking around Moze because he's free with his cash.
  • Here We Go Again!: The movie ends as it started, with Addie demanding $200 from Moze.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Addie hides the money tucked into the lace of her hat. The sheriff even pulls her hat off and still doesn't notice it.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Miss Trixie, though she doesn't have the refinement or discretion typical of the trope.
    Addie: Imogene, what do you suppose Miss Trixie'd do if somebody offered her $25 to put out?
    Imogene: Ooo-wee! You crazy? For that much money, that woman'd drop her pants down in the middle of the road!
  • Hustler: Moze is a professional grifter, and Addie becomes his protoge.
  • I Choose to Stay: In this case, with a person rather than in a place, but after Moze drops Addie off at her aunt and uncle's house in St. Joseph's, it becomes obvious from her behavior that Addie finds the prospect of a comfortable life with her mother's relatives stifling. In the final scene, she decides to return to a life on the road with Moze, ostensibly because he still owes her $200, but really because she has grown attached to him, and he to her.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Moze and Addie, although there's father-child undertones as well.
  • Kids Play Match Breaker: Addie and Imogene concoct a Kids Play Matchmaker plot between Miss Trixie and the desk clerk to make Moze leave his unfaithful love interest.
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: Addie is repeatedly mistaken for a boy much to her chagrin.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: How Moze and Addie escape from the sheriff.
  • Little Miss Con Artist: Addie, who is very talented in the field.
  • Look Behind You: Moze tells Leroy to watch his footing and then punches him out while the redneck is distracted.
  • Lovable Rogue: Moze and Addie are con artists but due to the power of the Sympathetic P.O.V., the audience can't help but root for them.
  • Luke, I Might Be Your Father: It's never answered definitively whether Addie is Moze's child or not (and Moze certainly denies it often enough), but it's certainly implied. By the end of the movie, the question no longer seems to matter.
  • Mouthy Kid: Addie is not a sweet-talking, always-smiling child.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Addie realizes that her Kids Play Match Breaker stunt might actually result in violence and runs to call it off, but she finds that Moze has simply walked away.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The movie ends with the credits rolling over footage of Moze and Addie driving off into the distance.
  • The Oner:
    • The scene in the car after they pass the broken down truck where Addie and Moze argue about their next steps goes on for over two minutes.note 
    • The scene at the carnival where Addie tricks the cotton candy vendor and then fights with Moze over his new friend Trixie Delight runs for almost two minutes.
    • The scene where Addie and Moze decide to end their partnership, chart a route to the train station, decide to work the towns in between, and then call it all off to have lunch is all shot in a single take.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Addie is not amused to find Moze hooking up with Miss Trixie.
  • Period Piece: The film takes place during the Depression Era of the 1930s, during FDR's presidency.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • Addie stops Moze from swindling a widow whose house is packed with small children. As the very next scene shows, though, she has no qualms about overcharging people with money to spare.
    • Moze is a conman and is pretty lacking as a parental figure, but when Imogen warns Addie that most men would kill a man for sleeping with his girl, Addie discovers that Moze has simply walked away. For all his faults, Moze isn't a violent man.
  • Police Brutality: The Corrupt Cop and his fellow officers give Moze a good beating.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Several changes were made from the novel to the movie, including changing the setting from the Deep South to Kansas, and cutting out the last quarter of the book entirely.
  • Precious Photo: Addie keeps a photograph of herself with her mother in her tin box. It shows her mother wearing the hat we later see Addie wearing and hiding the money in.
  • Random Smoking Scene: Addie is seen smoking in several scenes.
  • Road Trip Plot: Moze and Addie travel from Gorham, Kansas to St. Joseph, Missouri.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Trixie's maid, Imogene, is a subdued example; while she won't sass Miss Trixie to her face, she doesn't hesitate to perform small acts of subversion, such as recklessly tossing the bags right after Trixie warns her to be gentle with them.
  • Sherlock Scan: While accompanying Moze on his Bible sales calls, Addie glances into a couple of marks' houses and quickly works out that one can afford to pay more than Mose usually asks for, and that another can't afford it at all.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Addie definitely thinks so.
  • Source Music: All the music in the movie has a diegetic source, usually Addie's radio or the car radio.
  • The Teapot Pose: The Precious Photo Addie has of herself with her mother shows the mother assuming this stance.
  • Titled After the Song: The '30s standard "It's Only a Paper Moon,"note  which is heard over the opening credits.
  • Token Minority: Imogene is the only non-Caucasian character in the entire movie.
  • Tomboy: Addie has a boyish haircut and often wears boyish clothes. Early on, a couple of adult characters anger her by mistaking her for a boy.
  • Too Much Information: Addie tells Moze that Trixie is sick to keep him away from her for a while, but he wants to see her. Imogene then mentions that it's due to her period, which causes Moses to immediately back off.
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behaviour: Addie acts more like an adult than a child. Moze's and the audience's image of her as cute and innocent is shattered when she whips out a cigarette and lights a match with her thumbnail.
  • Unusual Euphemism:
    • Miss Trixie has to "go winky-tink".
    • Imogene describes Trixie's period as "her ladies' time".
  • Visual Title Drop: Although the film was Titled After the Song, a literal paper moon factors into the plot when Addie has her picture taken on a paper moon prop at a carnival. She later gifts it to Moze. The movie's poster features a version with both her and Mose on it.
  • Work Off the Debt: This is the reason why Addie stays with Moze in the beginning — he uses the threat of a lawsuit to collect $200 from the family of the man who accidentally killed her mother, then spends most of it to repair his car and tries to send Addie off on a train to her aunt's with just $20. Addie, knowing that the money rightfully belongs to her, threatens to report him to the police unless he raises the money to pay her back.
    Addie: I want my two hundred dollars!