Oscar Blindspots: Save the Tiger/Paper Moon

It might be 50 years late, but I’ll be catching up on all the Oscar nominees and winners I have missed from the year 1973 through the month of May

Two Oscar-winning performances from 1973 show two very different performers at very different phases of their careers delivering towering performances.

Save the Tiger
Directed by John G. Avildsen

Harry Stoner (Oscar-winning Jack Lemmon) owns a struggling fashion company. Due to a series of fraudulent accounting practices, Harry and his partner Phil Greene (Jack Gilford) are barely able to survive. Harry battles the morality and immorality of his life and business while constantly being obsessed with his past loves as well as his demons.

This is a very old-fashioned film, but it’s dated aspects are a feature instead of a bug. Harry cannot escape the memories of his past, be it the horrors of war, or the pop culture references he knew as a younger man. Harry is too caught up in tradition and holding on his past successes to let something like morality get in the way of what he wants to get done. Meanwhile, Phil is much more steadfast in his beliefs. He has no desire to stoop to Harry’s level, but Harry drags him along anyway.

The feeling of living a life that has passed you by is not a new notion. The old-fashioned style of this film may make it seem dated, but the themes are just as relevant today as they were 50 years ago, just with a newer generation. Harry has a dalliance with a hippy who has no reverence for anyone he holds dear. It just makes him feel that much older.

Lemmon is spectacular. He is drowning as a character, but he never lets on that he is in as much trouble as he could be. It’s not a role that is introspective, but Lemmon is able to imbue Harry with a level of sad exasperation that he becomes a tragic figure, rather the unlikeable lout his character actually is. Gilford is a quieter equal, providing the film with an audience surrogate to Harry’s transgressions. He doesn’t want to be a part of what Harry has planned, but he also knows it might be the only way forward.

Avildsen doesn’t make things too complicated and lets Lemmon cook. Few actors are better when they are great and Lemmon’s Oscar win is much deserved, despite the smaller film Save the Tiger is.

Paper Moon
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

Also old-fashioned, this film actually satirizes the aw-shucks sensibilities and gullibility of depression-era middle America. The cons prey mostly on faith-loving widows, but Addie adds the wrinkle of a level of sensitvity and understanding that otherwise would make the film seem cruel. In the wrong hands, everything could have gone very wrong. Instead, everything goes very right.

Despite winning Best Supporting Actor, Tatum O’Neal is the undeniable star of this film. Addie is strong-willed and intelligent, but never annoyingly precocious. Despite her active role in the schemes of Moses, her empathy for him while maintaining her reality of the situation is a perfect balance the film needs to maintain. Ryan O’Neal leans into the sleaze of his character, allowing his daughter to do all the heavy lifting. He plays his part to a tee. Kahn doesn’t last long in the film, but she steals every scene she’s in, especially during a lengthy monologue about Addie’s bone structure.

Paper Moon is just a top-to-bottom delight. Even when the narrative gets a bit unpleasant, the audience is never given a feeling that something actually bad is going to happen. There’s a comfort level with all the hijinks and con work. Bogdanovich never allows things to get too out of hand. It’s just a good time.

Next week: Classic actresses Barbra Streisand and Joanne Woodward give their all to their films, with differing results in The Way We Were and Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams

Oscar Blindspots: My Favorite Year/Frances
Oscar Blindspots: The Rest of 1972

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