Directed By: Peter Bogdanovich
Starring: Ryan O'Neal, Tatum O'Neal, Madeline Kahn
Tag line: "As P.T. Barnum put it, 'There's a sucker born every minute'"
Trivia: Tatum O'Neal's role is regarded to be the most substantial role ever nominated as a supporting performance. She is on screen for nearly all of the film's running time
Despite being only ten years old at the time, Tatum O'Neal guided her character in Peter Bogdanovich’s 1973 comedy/drama, Paper Moon, far beyond the ‘cute little girl’ stereotype. In fact, her performance was strong enough to earn O'Neal an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her the youngest Oscar recipient ever in an acting category.
At a time when most people are feeling the financial sting of the Great Depression, Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) is doing pretty well for himself. A con man, he travels from town to town across the American Midwest, stopping just long enough to cheat the occasional widow out of a portion of her inheritance. While attending a former girlfriend’s funeral, Moses is introduced to Addie (Tatum O’Neal), the 9-year-old daughter of the deceased. With nobody to look after the young girl, Moses agrees to drive Addie to her Aunt’s house in Missouri, but when he discovers she's just as skilled a con artist as he is, Moses instead makes Addie part of his act. Posing as father and daughter, the two are soon bringing in more money than Moses ever dreamed possible.
By 1973, Ryan O’Neal was already a bankable movie star, whereas Paper Moon was his daughter, Tatum's, very first film. Yet in spite of her inexperience, the younger O'Neal not only keeps up with her famous dad, but upstages him on a number of occasions. When Moses runs into some trouble with a local sheriff while bilking the recently widowed Mrs. Bates (Yvonne Harrison) out of a few dollars, Addie comes to his rescue, and even succeeds in getting more money from Mrs. Bates than Moses would have. Being a natural grifter also gives Addie the edge in recognizing a swindle. Believing he's fallen in love, Moses invites his new girlfriend, exotic dancer Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn), to tag along with them. Addie senses almost immediately that Trixie is after Moses’ money, and is so astute that Trixie, who's already pulled the wool over Moses' eyes, doesn’t even attempt to fool Addie. She knows this little girl can see right through her. Fortunately for Moses, Addie can see through most anybody.
Addie appears in nearly every scene in Paper Moon, and Tatum O’Neal never once falters in her performance. Much like her character, who swindled countless dollars from a good many people, young Tatum herself managed to steal an entire motion picture.