I just saw “Little Big Man” and am amazed that it has managed to stay under my radar for so long. It stars a very young Dustin Hoffman playing a very old (120 years to be exact) former Indian fighter being interviewed by a snobby and bookish looking journalist with an old reel to reel tape recorder.
Hoffman plays Jack Crab, AKA “Little Big Man” a name he receives from a tribe of Cheyenne (or as they refer to themselves—the Human Beings) after he is captured at the age of ten and raised with them. Crab lives with Indians and is mentored by a grandfather figure played by Chief Dan George, who is a treat to watch here.
The movie is told in the form of a yarn, and in many parts the movie plays fast and loose with history, especially in dealing with actual people such Wild Bill Hickok or General George Armstrong Custer. But no matter, as it is a very entertaining yarn.
Crab’s life takes him across every single cliché of the old west. His family started out as settlers coming in by wagon, he is captured by Indians, then by whites. At various times he is a Cheyenne brave, a white soldier, a snake oil salesman, gunfighter (until he see’s someone get killed), store owner, hermit, etc…
Hoffman’s character here is far from noble in many places but he is sympathetic. In a way this movie reminded me of “Barry Lyndon” a Kubrick film made five years later about another main character with noble intentions but whose courage and morals often fail him.
Faye Dunaway has an entertaining turn as a preacher’s wife turned prostitute, and Richard Mulligan is the perfect villain as Custer in a near movie stealing performance.
Custer is the chief villain of the film, as he either intentionally or accidentally brings disaster upon Crab’s life time and time again, giving bad advice that leads to Crab’s first tragedy of the movie, and leading a raid upon a Cheyenne village that results in his biggest personal tragedy.
The final climax of the movie is the infamous Battle of Little Big Horn. I especially liked how they weaved Crab’s story into Custer’s reasoning for attempting that suicidal charge.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable movie, certainly not your typical western, but one that should not be missed.
Little Big Man gets a four out of five: GREAT.