Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
Little Big Man (1970)
Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) directed this western that helped revise the type and set the tone which was emulated by a few movies that followed it, including the much later Forrest Gump. Like Gump, the protagonist of Little Big Man was present at a lot of history making events.
Little Big Man tells the story of Jack Crabbe (Dustin Hoffman), age 121, the oldest living man, who relates to a historian that he was captured by Indians as a child, raised by them, escaped, became a gunslinger, married an Indian, and had many adventures including scouting for General Custer (Richard Mulligan) at the Battle of Little Big Horn, which he obviously survived as the only white survivor. Then the movie gives flash backs to show all these happenings in a winding, episodic fashion that is quite entrancing. Of course, it is a comedy but it is sometimes so funny it hurts as it points up tragic underlying truths giving it a value that seems to increase the more often you see it through the years.
Jack Crabbe as a 10 year-old boy is first shown in a wagon train that is destroyed by Pawnee Indians, killing his parents, and leaving him and his sister in the wreckage of their wagon. They are then rescued by the Cheyenne under Chief Old Lodge Skins, played by the wonderful Chief Dan George (Outlaw Josey Wales). George as the garrulous Indian Chief got the only Oscar nomination for the movie. Unfortunately he lost, but you'll agree that he was superb. This is also Dustin Hoffman's best performance, well, at least as good as Tootsie.
The Cheyenne Indians attack some troops, Crabbe, by this time a teenager known as Little Big Man, escapes and gets given to a stern preacher whose wife (Faye Dunaway) wants to baby the teenaged Crabbe, including giving him a bath. Thus Crabbe is introduced to sex and hypocrisy as he sees the man-hungry Dunaway having her way with a storekeeper all the while singing hymns and praising the Lord. Dunaway becomes a recurring character who turns up in some surprising places.
Another episode shows Jack as assistant snake oil salesman to peddler Martin Balsam who continues to lose body parts as the story progresses. He also becomes a gunfighter and makes the acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Corey), marries a farm girl and loses her to Indians, and meets Richard Mulligan's kill-crazy Custer - one of the best lampoons ever done, whether accurate or not. During the Cheyenne sequences, one of Jack's friends is an effeminate boy named Little Horse who is accepted by the tribe and allowed to dress and act like a girl. All of these characters rotate through the story and recur showing their change through time.
The movie is obviously from an anti Vietnam War perspective but despite its failure to follow history very closely it is far from preachy as most message films tend to be. This makes it a fun movie to watch whatever your political persuasion and even the epic length (139 minutes) does not seem to wear the viewer out like a lot of overlong films. The Indians are the heroes but from their point of view they had some justifiable complaints.
The Paramount DVD has a clean copy of the 139 minute color 2.35:1 format Little Big Man with subtitles in English and French and the same spoken languages. For such a good movie it's a shame there were not more extras but if you haven't seen the movie yet, you should.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day