By Elisabeth Donnelly
Tatum O'Neal became the youngest Oscar winner in history as part of a maybe father-daughter grifter duo in Peter Bogdanovich's charming Depression-set relic of the golden age of '70s cinema.
Dir. Peter Bogdanovich (1973)
With the recent dispiriting news that father-daughter duo Ryan O'Neal and Tatum O'Neal are shopping around a reality series about their potential reconciliation, let's go back to happier times in the '70s, when Ryan and Tatum were co-starring in the classic Paper Moon.
Based on the book Addie Pray by Joe David Brown, and adapted snappily for the screen by Alvin Sargent, Paper Moon is a delightful film about a Depression-era con man, Moses Pray, who is saddled with a grifter kid, Addie, who may or may not be his daughter. It's funny to think that the film came out of the golden era of the '70s, where, for a short while, directors got away with smart mainstream entertainment about likable people and interesting stories. Shot in crisp black-and-white, the film feels like a tribute and a lost film from the '30s, and the Depression setting adds layers and shades to the con-man plot.
At one point, the film was going to be a vehicle for Paul Newman and his daughter Nell Potts, but when John Huston didn't work out as the director, it fell to Bogdanovich. He cast Ryan—hot off Love Story, and also the star of Bogdanovich's last flick, What's Up Doc—and Tatum made her debut as Addie. It's a corker of a role, and she handled it well, coming off like a real kid who was constantly thinking of the best way to figure out a situation and do what she can to win.
Tatum even hustled her way to an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the youngest Oscar winner in history, even if the role was clearly a co-lead. (And robbing co-star Madeline Kahn and her dizzy comic performance as Miss Trixie in the process.) Tatum went on to her other definitive performance in The Bad News Bears, while Ryan rode out his '70s-era stardom. (And Kahn continued to be one of the funniest dames in film history.)
Despite whatever depressing tabloid infamy comes to mind when the O'Neals are mentioned these days, Paper Moon is a wonderful record of their very real acting talents, and a film that you can cherish and enjoy with your whole family.
Watch the film now for free on Hulu