Little Big Man

Critics Consensus

No consensus yet.

96%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 26

87%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 17,401
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Movie Info

Adapted from the novel by Thomas Berger, Little Big Man opens with the spoken reminiscences of 121-year-old Jack Crabbe (Dustin Hoffman, immersed in tons of age makeup). In flashbacks, we see how, as a young and wide-eyed frontiersman, Crabbe is adopted by an Indian tribe led by philosophy-spouting Chief Dan George. The film's highlight is the Little Big Horn massacre, with megalomaniac General Custer (Richard Mulligan) self-destructing as Crabbe looks on. Faye Dunaway shows up along the way as a sensual preacher's wife, who later becomes the jaded object of Wild Bill Hickok's (Jeff Corey) affection. The ingenuous Crabbe at hand during virtually every highpoint of Western history. To prepare for the scenes in which Crabbe is one hundred-plus, Hoffman screamed for hours in order to give his voice the proper parched timbre. Little Big Man seldom falters during its 150 minutes, but time has taken some of the lustre off this once highly-praised frontier fable.

Cast

Dustin Hoffman
as Jack Crabb
Chief Dan George
as Old Lodge Skins
Faye Dunaway
as Mrs. Pendrake
Martin Balsam
as Merriweather
Richard Mulligan
as Gen. George Custer
Jeff Corey
as Wild Bill Hickok
Amy Eccles
as Sunshine
Robert Little Star
as Little Horse
Cal Bellini
as Younger Bear
Ruben Moreno
as Shadow That Comes in Sight
Steve Shemayne
as Burns Red In The Sun
William Hickey
as Historian
Jesse Vint
as Lieutenant
Thayer David
as Rev. Silas Pendrake
Aimee Eccles
as Sunshine
Jack Bannon
as Captain
Ray Dimas
as Young Jack Crabb
Alan Howard
as Adolescent Jack Crabb
Jack Mullaney
as Card Player
Steve Miranda
as Younger Bear as a Child
Lou Cutell
as Deacon
M. Emmet Walsh
as Shotgun Guard
Emily Cho
as Digging Bear
Cecelia Kootenay
as Little Elk
Linda Dyer
as Corn Woman
Leonard George
as Crow Scout
Bert Conway
as Bartender
Earl Rosell
as Giant Troop
Ken Mayer
as Sergeant
Bud Cokes
as Man at Bar
Rory O'Brien
as Assassin
Tracy Hotchner
as Flirtatious Girl
Don Brodie
as Stage Passenger
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Critic Reviews for Little Big Man

All Critics (26) | Top Critics (2)

Audience Reviews for Little Big Man

  • Jun 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
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Dec 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.
    Chris W Super Reviewer
  • Jul 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 this..it's not a bad western at all! :-)
    Fascade F Super Reviewer
  • Dec 08, 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.
    Richard B Super Reviewer

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