Little Big Man – 3 stars (good)
You know that “Little Big Man” has the makings of a good movie when a historian visits Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), a forgotten centennial of more than 100 years in an assisted living facility, to ask how Native Americans lived. in the Old West. Crabb is said to have lived among the Cheyenne, and in fact did.
Both young Crabb and his sister Caroline were the only survivors among their family during an Indian raid as they headed west and are rescued by a Cheyenne and taken away with their leader, Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George), who is raising the young man. Jack as a son after. Caroline escapes back to civilization.
Jack finds life as Cheyenne good and becomes important by saving Younger Bear’s life. Old Lodge Skins calls him “Little Big Man” because while he’s small, he has a big heart.
From this unlikely beginning, Jack recounts his walk through life with some amazing characters, including the wife of a preacher with an appetite for illicit sex, a snake oil salesman, a Swedish woman who becomes his wife, a Cheyenne woman. who becomes his wife and mother. to his son, General George Armstrong Custer and Wild Bill Hickok.
He becomes a counterfeit goods dealer, a gunman named Soda Pop Kid, Will Bill Hickok’s friend, shop owner, drunk, “mule skinner” and scout for General Custer, a trapper, and a hermit.
It is General Custer who orders his troops to attack Jack’s Cheyenne family without cause and Jack’s wife and son Cheyenne are killed in the massacre. Ultimately, it is Jack who leads Custer into the trap at Little Big Horn and becomes the “sole white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn.”
Little Big Man, based on the 1964 novel by Thomas Berger, was directed by Arthur Penn and released in 1970. The film is not historically accurate and treats Native Americans favorably and American cavalry less favorably.
The film adaptation with the help of Calder Willingham makes Little Big Man a balanced mix of humor and drama. The narration of the character Jack Crabb makes this movie enjoyable and something more. Little Big Man is really the story of Jack’s relationship with his adoptive grandfather, Old Lodge Skins.
Boss Dan George received Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Supporting Actor in this film. He excelled in his role as Old Lodge Skins. When his people are attacked and killed without good reason, he will not run, saying “today is a good day to die.”
Old Lodge Skins calls its Cheyenne people “human beings”, noting that there is “an endless supply of white men” and “a limited supply of human beings”. He sees and feels the injustice being done against Native Americans who are given their own land and then attacked and killed without cause.
There are too many funny, moving, and dramatic moments in this movie to count here. One of my favorites is when, after escaping with the help of Jack from the last of the brutal attacks on his people, Old Lodge Skins climbs to the top of the mountain to die. He prays and then lies down to die, but wakes up when it starts to rain and asks Jack if he’s still in this world.
Jack replies yes, to which he replies, “I was scared of that. Well sometimes magic works, sometimes it doesn’t,” and goes back down the mountain with Jack for dinner.
Dustin Hoffman set a record for playing the longest span of a single character in Little Big Man, playing Jack Crabb from ages 17 to 121.
Jack Crabb’s storytelling, his walk through life, his contact with important people, and his moving story remind me of Tom Hanks and his role in “Forest Gump.” Both films are well done, they have a story to tell that is worth listening to and they leave us a better person for the experience.
It’s been 37 years since Little Big Man hit the big screen. Not much has been said about it, but there is a certain group of moviegoers like me who will not let this movie slowly die. It is too good for others not to see or enjoy. I feel the same with “A Christmas Story” and many others as well.
If you haven’t seen Little Big Man, do yourself a favor while you can.
Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley