Little Big Man Reviews

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Super Reviewer
December 19, 2012
Historical revisionism at some of it's finest (and most stinging).

Based on a satirical novel, this is a bleakly dark dramedy/western about a 110 year-old man named Jack Crabb who tells his life story to a misguided 20th Century historian.

Crabb is a white man who was raised by Native Americans from a young age. He grows accustomed to their humane, enlightened way of life, but eventually strikes out on his own to see the world. He gets involved in many notable historical events (a concept later revisited in Forrest Gump), mostly involving Custer, the white conquest of the west, and the dark side of American imperialism. It's not always a pretty sight, but it definitely rings true.

This is a great movie, and definitely one of those times where I'm surprised (but happy), that it was a mainstream affair. It definitely fits into the scholarly movement going on at the time where revisionism was going strong, shedding light into events from previously ignored perspectives, and presenting a more balanced view of history.

The cinematography is excellent, the direction is strong, the ambitions and goals noble, and the performances excellent. Hoffman delivers a wonderful turn here, and it's easily one of his best, even though it is sadly overlooked a lot of the time. The dark, quirky humor balances out with the material nicely, and this is a really eye opening film.

Please give this one a look. It's not only a gem of the 70s, but a really important masterpiece of cinema in general.
Super Reviewer
½ November 7, 2006
The last survivor of the battle of Little Big Horn reminisces about his life in this off beat comic western starring Dustin Hoffman. The film obviously belongs to Hoffman himself as the entire story revolves around him and his life and he's an engagingly bemused anti-hero as he witnesses the atrocities and hypocrisies of the changing face of the old west, but what gives it real character is the supporting cast of oddballs who flit in and out of his sphere. These include yet another hilarious and charming performance from Chief Dan George as his adopted grandfather, a smouldering Faye Dunaway as the western equivalent of Mrs. Robinson and Richard Mulligan who plays Custer as a self-obsessed, pompous boob. It's very much a film of its time, sharing much of the flavour of anti-establishment fiction of the era and employs sly wit and gentle humour rather than the sentimentality and melodrama of the likes of Dances With Wolves in its depiction of the appalling mistreatment of the Native American population. One of the strangest westerns you'll ever see certainly, as well as one of the most interesting and fun.
Super Reviewer
November 2, 2007
one of the more unusual westerns ever made and one of my favorite films as a kid. starring dustin hoffman as a supposedly 121 yr old man, the only white survivor of the battle of the little big horn. ranging from black comedy to drama to slapstick and back, it's a highly entertaining picaresque and also one of the first films to address native american rights in any way. a bit dated now and i think dustin is probably miscast (his accent is particularly bad) but i still love it. and chief dan george is awesome! <3
Super Reviewer
½ November 5, 2006
Dustin Hoffman turns out a great but overlooked performance as a 121 year-old man who tells his life story. Little Big Man is a good movie but has a tone that changes way too much for its own good. It hits everything from black comedy to slapstick to heartbreaking. Just like with the movie Little Big Man is a precursor to, Dances With Wolves, I felt completely ashamed to be white. The Bill Hicock scenes were too few but at the same time great. Chief Dan George was amazing and had some of the best lines ("does she show pleasant enthusiasm when you mount her?"), the gay Indian/Native American (whatever your pleasure) was great and Faye Dunaway was very entertaining for the few brief moments she was in this movie.
Richard B.
Super Reviewer
December 8, 2011
Diluted Medicine, Man,

Having just completed the source novel by Thomas Berger, I thought I'd see the film again after all these years. I'm glad I did, though it was not a pure pleasure.

The ambition of the film stands out - they really did try to capture the wonderful, unusual voice of the book - like True Grit, a standout book in the tradition of Twain. Hoffman is the only actor who could carry the part off, and he does it great justice, even if he is a bit mannered at times. Chief Dan George is unforgettable as his 'Grandfather.' Fay Dunaway is a fabulous Mrs. Pendrake -his lusty 'step-mother.' There is a great sense of beauty and calm in the shooting of this terrible tale of Indian massacre, and Penn tries hard to capture the spirit of the book.

I'm afraid two things let the enterprise down a bit. One is the script from the normally excellent Calder Willingham (co-author of Paths of Glory and other outstanding films). He makes the Indians too nice, caught up in the revisionist spirit of the times. In Berger's book, make no mistake, the Indians were extremely violent, both to other Indians and white men. You know from the very beginning, when Jack's family is massacred by the Cheyenne and he is abducted - but in the film, by the Pawnee. Guess he did not want too much ambivalence, so the Indians are, pardon the expression, 'whitewashed.' Throughout the movie, white people are portrayed as depraved and crazy and Indians, somehow spiritual and nice (other than eating dog!). He's got Jack Crabb's voice, but not the true plot.

The second thing is ketchup. There is too much of the stuff, and it looks terrible. Scenes of violence have become a lot more realistic, and this has more of the red stuff than a busy Saturday night at McDonalds.

Nevertheless, it is well worth seeing, but is not a patch on the Coen Brother's new version of True Grit for capturing the era. It is more like the John Wayne version of this wonderful novel.
Cameron W. Johnson
Super Reviewer
June 20, 2014
"Little Big Nose"-I mean, "Little Rain Man"! Shoot, this is more like "Little Rain Dance Man"... or "Little Sun Dance Man", or whatever dance the Cheyenne tribe thought would actually work in bending the elements. Man, as crazy as the titular Little Big Nose's... or whatever's story is, him summoning the rain/sun gods wouldn't be all that relatively ludicrous, and he wasn't even born to the Cheyenne's. If this guy is lying about nothing else in his story, he's lying about being taken in by the Cheyenne after his family got killed, because I'm sure his parents were just trying to get rid of him for being such a big Jew in the Old West. Dustin Hoffman's family must not have drifted too far away from him, because Arthur Penn was so much that level of Jew that he probably was Hoffman's father, but the fact of the matter is that the Old West seemed to do a better job of driving out the Jews than it did getting driving out the Redskins. I joke, but it is weird how scarce Judaism was in the Old West, especially in comparison to whatever in the world the Cheyenne practiced, but now, they join forces to take on the whole "little big world" (I don't know if my saying that makes me want to play the video game of the same name, or play The Hives' "Hey Little World"), or at least tell a pretty good story. Well, that is accomplished, if nothing else, and yet, it sure takes its time to reach such an accomplishment.

As a relatively extensive fictitious biography, this film ought to be tight with its relatively mere runtime of just a minute shy of 140 minutes, but there's still something excessive, to a point of aimlessness that is exacerbated by directorial cold spells, of which there are only a few, but enough for there to be occasions of blandness which distance resonance. Resonance is further betrayed by, of all things, a certain hurrying in narrative structure, which is driven by a narration that doesn't simply objectify storytelling and betray potential subjective immersion value, but dashes over a lot of elements, sometimes with an awkwardness that challenges developmental depth and keeps the shifts in focus from smoothing out. This inconsistency in pacing, at the very least, convolutes the structure of this layered film which is both overblown and undercooked, to the point of some glaring focal inconsistency that is even more problematic than the tonal unevenness. Storytelling ambitiously dances between often over-the-top satire and weighty dramatics which defuse each other as they jar back and forth, leaving the humor to be contradicted by the seriousness, which is in turn diluted by the humor. As uneven as the tone is, there is at least a certain consistency of cheesiness, whether it be within a humor that is often cornily overwrought, - trying too hard to be sharp as satire - or within the dramatics which often devolve to melodramatics, trying too hard to be engrossing as a human epic. The film is overwhelmingly ambitious, and too often, it is simply overwhelming with its ambition, and no matter how firm inspiration stands, all of this bloating, rushing and inconsistency, broken by a consistency in overt fluff, seem to kind of hold the final product back. That being said, the film still rewards the patient by meeting ambition with inspiration, and even some artistry.

John Hammond's score's minimalism underplays musical value that is underplayed enough by many quiet spots, but it's almost psychedelic, in a manner which compliments the surrealism of the film just as Harry Stradling Jr.'s cinematography handsomely polishes already handsome art direction. Well, Angelo P. Graham's art direction isn't so much aesthetically appealing in its beauty, but in its being so distinguished, and doing much to sell the evolution of the 19th century, the sense of which, of course, plays a big role in selling the progression of the narrative. There is not much dramatic consequence to this film as an extensive study on the eccentric life and times of an unconventional man, but as a surrealistic portrait and satire on the distinctions between native tribes and God-fearing whites of America during the 19th century, over an extensive character piece, this story concept is promising, and done justice by highlights in storytelling. Calder Willingham's script is all over the place, but it's often well-rounded in it characterization, as well as colorful in the drawing of clever humor and dynamic set pieces, while Arthur Penn's direction augments the color with plenty of stylish and slick pacing which is tasteful enough to move at times. Alternating between superficial and overblown, storytelling here is flimsy, but captures a fusion of scope and intimacy which makes the pseudo-epic pretty compelling in its inspiration. The performances ice quite the colorful cake, with highlights that include the beautiful Faye Dunaway as a hypocritical and unpredictable woman of seduction, as well as Chief Dan George as a wise and good-hearted, if eccentric tribe chief and spiritual guide, and leading man Dustin Hoffman, whose charm and layering sell the confusion and, of course, the emotional sensitivities of a man torn between cultures. Emotional highlights are few and far between, but between these highlights, Hoffman truly mesmerizes in his changing so much in the titular Jack "Little Big Man" Crabb character, a spiritual being, a sinner, a stranger in strange lands, a family man, a mad man, and, of course, a good man, a compelling man who thrives on Hoffman's charisma, as surely as the film itself thrives on him as a character study that, through all of its many missteps, entertains and compels enough to make a rewarding western drama.

When it's time to go back in the ocean again (Well, I guess I'm playing The Hives, because "Hey Little World" is pretty fun for modern rock), uneven pacing, focus and tone, as well as overtly cheesy humor and some histrionic dramatics threaten to wash away reward value that is ultimately secured firmly enough by the nifty style, immersive art direction, sharp storytelling and strong acting - especially by Dustin Hoffman - which mold Arthur Penn's "Little Big Man" into a mighty compelling study of the eccentric culture clashes along the frontiers of the 19th century.

3/5 - Good
Super Reviewer
½ July 30, 2012
Not a bad story told by a centurian (Dustin Hoffman) Jack Crabb to a reporter about his dealings with (Richard Mulligan)General George A. Custer while also being raised by the Cheyenne Indians...and by chance meeting with Wild BIll Hickock. As teh story is being told by the centurian, the realism of his chances and close brushes with death and dying is told in a vivid manner. Truly and enjoyable film realistically retold. See's not a bad western at all! :-)
Super Reviewer
½ December 3, 2011
Before there was Forrest Gump, there was Little Big Man, a film that gives its' satirical take on the wild west and the Indian wars through the eyes of one man, Dustin Hoffman. The tone is wildly erratic, which is to be expected to some extent for a satirical film, as it is part black comedy and part drama, but this does lead to some of the good dramatic moments being lost between the comedic scenes. The performances, however, are really strong all around, and there is some very funny moments and smart satire. The execution is also strong, which makes this strange mix ultimately hold together.
Super Reviewer
½ June 9, 2011
An odd film that doesn't seem to know whether it should be aiming for comedy or tragedy at certain points. It's almost a mix of 'Forrest Gump' and 'Dances With Wolves' and both those have taken the best moments from this film. Hoffman is clearly enjoying himself in an early star role and although the film goes on a little too long there is a lot to enjoy, as the film is quite episodic and if you don't enjoy one segment they'll be another soon to enjoy. Specail mention to Chief Dan George as Hoffman's 'Grandad'. A great moving and comedy performance. My only big gripe with the film is the sudden ending. Why couldn't the story carry on with Hoffman's character getting older? There is a large gap that demands for a sequel. Little-er Bigger Man?
Super Reviewer
½ October 14, 2010
Here's the best advice you'll get all day: skip Dances With Wolves and watch this instead. Ahead of its time for its knowledgeable and sympathetic depiction of Indians, unflinching in the underhanded and brutal manner in which white man overran these United States. And yet still sprinkled with humor and grand-scale adventure, delivers the message clearly without sermonizing or using emotionally manipulative tactics, unlike that other Old West epic.
Super Reviewer
December 29, 2007
Little Big Man starring Dustin Hoffman and the great Chief Dan George is a timeless piece of film genius.A film quite ahead of it's time in it's telling the story of how the west was won from the perspective of the Native North Americans.Reflects the tragedy of the American Holocaust almost as well as the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.The film had a great book from which to work-Little Big Man and has elements of Dickensian humor throughout in displaying hypocracy,society in general and the shakiness of "history".A film that runs the gamut of emotions-skillfully blending comedy with tragedy long before it became a Hollywood fad.
Super Reviewer
December 30, 2007
Super Reviewer
½ June 19, 2006
This is the Forest Gump of the 70's. Loved this as a kid and it still holds up.
August 7, 2013
Is "Little Big Man" post-modern because it wants to reinvent the wheel (in the wise words of the late, great Roger Ebert: "to spin an epic in the form of a yarn"), because it takes place at the tail end of when the Wild West was won? Or because it wants to have its cake and eat it too?

Gah. This movie is so frustrating. I want to love it for Arthur Penn's peerless staging and ambition, but for some reason I just ended up really liking it. Don't get me wrong, please-- "LBG" is a damn fine flick, even flat-out terrific, the sort of epic on which Hollywood would sooner wipe its ass with millions of dollars as opposed to billions than take a leap of artistic and cultural faith. Dustin Hoffman is perfectly cast as the opaque faux-Indian white man Jack Crabb, a showcase Hoffman at every corner delivers with wry humor and neurotic, fish-out-of-water empathy. And Faye Dunaway, as Hoffman's unhappily Christian foster mom, will take your breath away, both in terms of beauty and the Southern-belle devastation with which she plays her character.

"Little Big Man" kind of goes on too long, starts to repeat itself, and just loses steam in general with narrative inconsistencies and a sour final beat that left me more puzzled than emotionally winded. But the masterful Penn tells it all with such deep wonder. He so finely entrances us with Crabb's bravado because he, too, we feel, isn't quite sure what to make of it himself.
September 20, 2011
It's like a gross, bastard version of Forrest Gump. Hoffman isn't simple, but he isn't the brightest either, and he seems to be simply propelled through several great events in history by chance. Except most of the time his actions result in intercourse or death for the other party.
Again, kind of stressed when I was watching it, and extremely not in the mood for what this film had to offer; perhaps I would appreciate it more if I saw it again, but that won't be anytime soon.
½ June 8, 2011
Little Big Man has to be the most unusual and interesting western I have ever seen. Wow! What a story. The best part was the very believable, politically incorrect portrayal of George Armstrong Custer. I think the writer really nailed what happened at Little Big Horn.
March 20, 2011
watching Hoffman evolve throughout this movie is both hilarious and entertaining...more comedy than western..that being said well worth the watch..hope you enjoy
November 13, 2009
Hoffman rocks the western frontier in this "Gump like" tale. It takes you through Little Big Man's (Hoffman"s) life changing events, and trust me you'll love how this movie ties historically monumental events into his life. very fun but time consuming... 2hrs 19min
½ July 27, 2009
how the west was.....matters none since it has already happened. good movie for reason other than laughing
October 21, 2008
You must see this Movie...
It spans time, it has multi settings and plots, and I Loved seeing it as a young boy with my friends with the popcorn etc...great acting the whole deal...Its a gem...
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