Moviepooper (Short Ending):
Although Moses does eventually drop orphaned Addie off at her aunt's house, Addie escapes and reunites with him. The two, accepting their destiny together, drive on down the never-ending road.
Movie Spoiler (Full Summary):
The film opens at a funeral, where young girl Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal - in a role that made her the youngest Oscar winner ever - at age 10) is witnessing her mother being buried. America is in the midst of the Great Depression, and FDR is president. A mysterious man, later introduced as Moses Pray (Tatum's real-life father, Ryan O'Neal) shows up to pay his respects. He is mistaken for Addie's father, and though they share a physical resemblance and the fact that he had a promiscuous relationship with her mother, he denies being her parent. Nonetheless, Moses is convinced to drive Addie across country to her aunt's house.
It turns out that Moses is actually a con-man, and he convinces local townspeople to give him $200 for Addie's benefit. He uses much of the money to buy a new car, and also buys Addie a train ticket to the city where her Aunt lives. Addie witnessed his scheme though, and she threatens to turn him in to the cops unless he gives her the whole $200, most of which he already spent. So, he is forced to bring her cross-country with him and to raise the money to pay her back.
His main scheme is to look up the recently deceased in local town papers, engrave cheap bibles with the names of the deceased's loved ones, claim that the deceased ordered the bible as a gift for their loved one before they died, and then get the loved one to pay him the "amount owed." Addie quickly catches on to the scheme, and assists him greatly, maximizing his profits (although she also refuses to let him sell the bibles to truly poor families). Addie is incredibly adept at conning people. Moses is clearly impressed with Addie's con skills and the two begin to extend their journey to her aunt's house so they can hit more towns together.
At a county fair, Addie takes a picture sitting in a paper moon, but is upset when Moses refuses to take a picture with her, opting to visit the peep show. The next morning, she discovers that "dancer" Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn) and her maid have taken up with Moses. Addie quickly recognizes that Trixie is a prostitute and con-woman, but Trixie convinces Addie to keep her secret for the short-term so that she can make a few bucks. Instead, Trixie sticks around for two months and gets Moses to spend most of their funds on her. Addie conspires with the maid to have Trixie sleep with one of the hotel staff at one of their stops, and arranges for Moses to walk in on them. Realizing he had been played, Moses and Addie abandon Trixie and drive off alone together for more adventures (and Addie gives the maid enough money so she can quit working for Trixie, who had abused and neglected her).
In another town, Addie and Moses devise a plan to steal liquor from the town bootlegger and sell it back to him for a major profit. Little did they know that the bootlegger's brother was the town sheriff, who arrests them after the deal. Addie hid the money from the transaction in her hat though, so the police are unable to charge them with a crime, although they intend to lock the two up until Moses will agree to confess. Addie manages to pocket the car key and her hat with the money, and orchestrates her and Moses' escape from jail. They end up switching their car for a broken-down truck, and escape across state lines and out of the corrupt sheriff's jurisdiction.
Addie and Moses devise another plan to con a wealthy industrialist out of his money. But Moses is tracked down by the corrupt sheriff and his posse. They end up beating Moses up and stealing every cent from him. They are unable to con the industrialist, and now only have $10.00 and the broken-down truck. Although Addie suggests they start from scratch with their bible scheme, Moses decides to finally bring her to her aunt.
At the aunt's doorstep, Addie once again confronts Moses and accuses him of being her dad. He once again denies her claims before driving off. Addie's aunt takes Addie into her home happily, and Addie is finally in a stable environment. Meanwhile, Moses drives a mile down the road before stopping to collect his emotions, where he finds that Addie has left him the picture of her posing alone with the paper moon. Moses looks back and sees Addie running down the road after him, having escaped her aunt's house. Although he initially tells her to leave him, he eventually relents and helps her into the truck and they drive down an endless road, bound together as father and daughter, regardless of their actual relationship.