Monday, June 3, 2013

PAPER MOON Light

Remember when Peter Bogdanovich was mentioned as one of the hot, new filmmakers -- like Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg?  He was a hot, new filmmaker.  Just look at The Last Picture Show, Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1971, and What's Up, Doc?, his wonderful 1972 salute to 1930s/40s screwball comedies.  His triple play came with Paper Moon.  Young Tatum O'Neal took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress of of 1973.  She played Addie, a motherless 9-year old in America's heartland hit hard by the Great Depression.  She becomes the unlikely sidekick to a not-too-slick con man who may or may not be her biological father.  He was played by Tatum's real-life dad, Ryan O'Neal.  Also nominated for Best Supporting Actress was the late Madeline Kahn for her golden performance in Paper Moon.  She's the traveling sideshow hootchie-koo dancer who shows us that the con man can be had.  She's terrific as Trixie Delight.  Keeping right up her Kahn and adding her own bright light as one of the most subversive black maids in Hollywood movie history is young PJ Johnson as Imogene.  Pronounced Eye-mogene.
Just when that low-class floozie starts acting all high-falutin' and cute to some man whose wallet she wants to empty, there's Imogene to cut her off at the ankles with an innocently said suggestion like, "Tell him 'bout that time you almost got throwed in jail, Miss Trixie."
We know the whole dynamic between these two characters as soon as we see their body language.  There's Miss Trixie the chatty golddigger, leaving the traveling carnival, her crystal ball-sized boobs jiggling like two separate sideshow attractions, and Imogene behind her, awkwardly struggling to carry Miss Trixie's luggage.  Imogene can't stand her.
Watch how she loads the suitcase full of Miss Trixie's "breakables" into the back the car.  I have friends who quote Imogene's lines in Paper Moon as frequently and fervently as they quote the Thelma Ritter as Birdie lines from All About Eve and the Coral Browne as Vera lines from Auntie Mame.  As a matter of fact, so do I.  They're great lines that got a great delivery from PJ Johnson.  Imogene is totally hip to the potholes on her road of life.  She's black and she's from a large family in the Depression.  As she says to Addie, "Times is hard."  She needs the little bit o' money she's getting from cheap Trixie Delight.
Imogene is smarter and more respectable than Trixie Delight.  If Imogene had to be a maid, she would've preferred to work for cool and genteel white folks who paid what they promised they would -- like the folks Louise Beavers worked for in Bombshell (opposite Jean Harlow), Imitation of Life, Holiday Inn and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream  House.  Instead, she's working for this dame who's been laid, re-laid, and par-laid.
Imogene and Addie are two Dorothys who'd be happy if they could just see a rainbow let alone get over it.
Imogene's treatment of Miss Trixie is so delightfully pleasing because we've wished we could behave the same way at some time.  Most of us have had a friend or acquaintance who sucks up all the oxygen in the room...gets all the flirtatious overtures...simply because he or she is a babe.  Those friends can be irresponsible, unreliable and shallow as the day as long (especially the first day of summer), but they will get dates simply because of being a babe.  They get fabulous opportunities for work because they're cute.  But when it comes to intellect, they'd have to be told that Mount Rushmore is not a natural rock formation.  We, the dependable ones, know what it's like to be date-less on New Year's Eve night.     If the sexiest compliment you receive constantly is that you're "cute and funny," you know exactly what I'm talking about here.  There's a little bit of Imogene in a lot of us.

Apparently, PJ Johnson didn't pursue much film work after Paper Moon.  She did only one more film.  I don't know anything about this actress but I sure wish she had done more films with that personality.  She could've followed in a great tradition of wisecracking supporting players like Thelma Ritter, Eve Arden, Mary Wickes and Oscar Levant.  PJ Johnson had the right stuff.  She is fabulously funny as the long-suffering maid.  Her role in Paper Moon isn't a big one like Tatum's, but she makes it stand out.  She complements Madeline Kahn's Oscar-nominated performance with a comic light all her own.




3 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Miss PJ was one of the best things that great film!

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  3. I saw this movie in the 80s, on TV, searching the internet I found the DVD and see him again, also on youtube is complete without subtitles in Spanish
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=adM9nE-y3oo

    encontre algo de pj johnson

    http://www.rottentomatoes.com/celebrity/pj_johnson/

    ReplyDelete

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