#82) Little Big Man (1970)

little_big_man

#82) Little Big Man (1970)

OR “Crabb’s People”

Directed by Arthur Penn

Written by Calder Willingham. Based on the novel by Thomas Berger.

Class of 2014

The Plot: 121-year-old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) recounts his early years in the old west; from being raised by Cheyenne leader Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George) after his parents were killed, to his brief Christian upbringing with repressed Louise Pendrake (Faye Dunaway), to his turn as a gunslinger alongside Wild Bill Hickok (Jeff Corey). Along the way Jack sees the Cheyenne culture and the white culture for all their pros and cons, never remaining loyal to or truly understanding either of them. His unique perspective on the American west is put to the test when he finds himself in the middle of General Custer (Richard Mulligan) and the Battle of Little Bighorn.

Why It Matters: The NFR praises the film for being “the Western reimagined for a post-1960s audience” and salutes Hoffman, Penn, Willingham, and makeup artist Dick Smith. There’s also an essay by Kimberly Lindbergs, freelance film writer and fellow WordPress film blogger.

But Does It Really?: I chalk this one up as a minor classic. Everyone involved has been in more famous films, but “Little Big Man” is important due to its unique views of the western genre, particularly with how it depicts Native Americans. “Little Big Man” was one of the first mainstream films to show that the West wasn’t won, it was stolen, and that the brave pioneers and cavalrymen we made our heroes may have actually been the villains.

Shout Outs: Some have suggested that Faye Dunaway’s seduction scene is an homage to “The Graduate”, but who knows if this was intentional or not.

Everybody Gets One: Many of the featured cast members, most notably future TV star Richard Mulligan.

Wow, That’s Dated: While many of the actors playing Native Americans were actually Native American (or in Chief Dan George’s case, First Nations), Cal Bellini (Younger Bear) was Malay and Aimee Eccles (Sunshine) was Chinese.

Take a Shot: “Little Big Man” is Jack’s Cheyenne name and is only uttered a handful of time during scenes with the Cheyenne.

Seriously, Oscars?: “Little Big Man” received only one Oscar nomination; Best Supporting Actor for Chief Dan George, making him one of the very few indigenous peoples to receive an Oscar nomination. He lost to British actor John Mills’ performance as a mentally impaired mute in “Ryan’s Daughter”, because Oscars.

Other notes

  • There was a real life Little Big Man, but there are few, if any, similarities between him and Dustin Hoffman’s character.
  • That’s William Hickey at the beginning as I’m assuming the reporter for “The Framing Device Weekly”.
  • What can I say about Hoffman’s old age makeup except Dick Smith you brilliant bastard. I can’t believe the Oscars wouldn’t have a make-up category for another 11 years (Smith finally won in 1984 for “Amadeus”).
  • A lot of slams on the Pawnee in this film. The Cheyenne must be from Eagleton.
  • I gotta say this is one of Faye Dunaway’s most underrated performances. It’s short, but very impactful and surprisingly funny. A nice departure from the roles I typically associate Ms. Dunaway with.
  • Okay, someone’s having fun with the forced perspective between Jack and Wild Bill Hickok.
  • Jack’s sort of a Zelig of the Old West.
  • Just when you think this film is done showing you how diverse the Cheyenne were, along comes Little Horse, the tribe hwame.
  • Ah yes, quick cuts and sudden spurts of violence. Truly this film is from the man who brought you “Bonnie and Clyde”.
  • The music that accompanies Custer and his men sounds a lot like the “Patton” theme. They came out in the same year, so who copied whom?
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, Dustin Hoffman’s ass!
  • Technically this film intersects with the first season of “Deadwood”. I’d love to see that c********** crossover.
  • Nope, just ignore Martin Balsam’s real leg sitting on top of his peg leg.
  • Do you think Dustin Hoffman went full “Revenant” when Jack becomes a trapper?
  • For those of you who know Richard Mulligan from “Empty Nest” and “Soap”, this is probably his most restrained performance. Fun Fact: His older brother is “To Kill a Mockingbird” director Robert Mulligan. Thanksgiving must have been fun at that house.

Legacy

  • While the film never got a sequel, Thomas Berger wrote one for the original book in 1999 called “The Return of Little Big Man”. The book showcased Jack Forrest Gump-ing his way through such other historical Wild West moments as the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
  • Old Lodge Skins’ line “Today is a good day to die” has been adopted by another culture, the Klingons.

Further Viewing: An excerpt from “The Many Faces of Dustin Hoffman” shows Dick Smith helping Dustin Hoffman age 88 years.

 

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