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Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson

3.4 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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(May 08, 2001)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

From director Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, The Player) comes an uproarious, high-spirited look at "Buffalo Bill" Cody, the legendary Western adventurer. With a fine cast that includes Paul Newman, Harvey Keitel, Burt Lancaster, Joel Grey and Geraldine Chaplin, Buffalo Bill and the Indians is a hilarious yet poignant comedy that shows the Old West as you've never seen it before! Although Buffalo Bill (Newman) has fought Indians and Civil War battles, nothing can prepare him for his newest challenge: show business! His "Wild West Show" is hugely popular, but when he signs a former enemy, Sioux Chief Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts), for a featured role, a hysterical clash of cultures reverberates far beyond the boundaries of their sprawling outdoor theater. And the complications only multiply when the troupe discovers it must put on a special command performancefor none other than the President of the United States!

Robert Altman was often ahead of his time--once at the cost of being behind himself. Buffalo Bill and the Indians, a snorting exposé of the U.S. predilection for buying into heroic myths, opened on July 4, 1976. Clearly the film was positioned as the ultimate bicentennial event, Altman-style. But Altman had already delivered that a year earlier: the splendiferous, deeply disenchanted yet exhilarating Nashville. Both Nashville and Buffalo Bill are films about America-as-show business, hucksterism, and the rare miracle of performance. But everything Altman got so thrillingly right in Nashville, which teems with life and mystery and widescreen dynamism, came out flatfooted and obvious in Buffalo Bill, a cramped, smirky inside joke that ends up being on the joker.

The setting is the base camp for Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, where the blustering Indian fighter of legend is gearing up for his latest national tour. Apart from sharpshooter Annie Oakley (Geraldine Chaplin) and her great friend, the Sioux chieftain Sitting Bull (Frank Kaquitts), the show is populated by phonies and opportunists. Biggest phony of all is Cody (Paul Newman), whose fame has been based more on the penny-dreadful scribblings of Ned Buntline (Burt Lancaster) than on any real accomplishments; even his long blond tresses are fake. Altman and cowriter Alan Rudolph (working from a play by Arthur Kopit) thump their insights about the Establishment's feet of clay as if they were breaking-news bulletins instead of countercultural clichés. Only the occasional ineffably mysterious Altman zoom shot offers relief. --Richard T. Jameson

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Paul Newman, Joel Grey, Harvey Keitel, Geraldine Chaplin, Burt Lancaster
  • Directors: Robert Altman
  • Writers: Robert Altman, Alan Rudolph, Arthur Kopit
  • Producers: Robert Altman, Dino De Laurentiis
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
  • Subtitles: Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
  • DVD Release Date: May 8, 2001
  • Run Time: 123 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000059TFT
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,841 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
I too first saw this film in a theatre in 1976 after its release; I was with a few other people and to this day none of them probably care for this movie.

I read a lot on the west and have several books about Buffalo Bill Cody, so I wanted to see what Mr. Altman had done with this movie. I can not argue with anyone who doesn't care for this picture, would not try to couch my review so that they would.

Though I realize that the film doesn't give a total picture of what was going on at this time in the still unsettled west it does have a quality of those times to it. Buffalo Bill here is not the young, agile Army Indian Scout of old, nor the brazen hero awarded the Medal of Honor, he has been tempered both by age and the bottle; but let no one doubt that he in fact had done many things that were historical. He was notable and respected in his time, and more over he was a capable western man and scout. Later he was bankrupt not only in money but also in spirit; and his final show days with the 101 Wild West show are pitiful to this day.

One needs to remember, too, that shortly after Sitting Bull left Wild Bill's show, he was savagely murdered by his own Indian Police tribesmen at Pine Ridge Reservation. Though the movie doesn't bring this out, and that was not never its intent, the 'west' was yet an unsettled area in some places, with several places being very dangerous. There are some western writers who claim the Apache were still making raids out of the Sierre Madre into the 1930s.

But men like Buffalo Bill and Frederick Remington who realized not only that the western times were changing, saw their 'west' disappearing, being replaced by something alien, with which they were totally unfamiliar.
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Format: DVD
Altman has made some very good movies, and some very bad ones, often right next to each other. Viewing this film right after the highs of "Nashville" will surely lead to a serious Altman letdown. Historically, of course, coming out during the Bicentennial and right after that great film, expectations that were very high were mostly dashed, and this film quickly joined other Altman stinkers in the "not good" Altman film repository, right next to "H.E.A.L.T.H."

But time has been very kind to this Altman sleeper. I found Newman's performance exhilarating and comic, and Joel Grey hilarious and knowing. Like many of Altman's films, this one is about the mythmaking of contemporary pop history, and the "necessary illusions" required by the audience to buy into and celebrate these myths. Although the particular target here is western pop history, Altman's aims are much broader: the legacy of Native America abuse, the need of the audience to create and celebrate "hero myths," and the schematic critique of star-worshipping history, written by the "winners." Frank Kaquitts plays the critical role of truth-teller, and is understated and very funny as Sitting Bull, who joins Buffalo Bill's troupe with his interpreter, attempting to add some reality to Cody's wildly distorted (and wildly popular) western shows.

While the script of Altman and Alan Rudolph has some typical Altman flaws, fat, and excess, the benefit of time and careful reflection has served this little gem well.
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Format: DVD
Robert Altman's expertise at framing and then exposing the three dimensions of show business, of presentation and performance, place and status, ala Nashville, Gosford Park, A Praire Home Companion, The Player, The Company and Kansas City (to name a few), gets the interesting, ironical and historical treatment here.

In Paul Newman's Buffalo Bill Cody, legend of the wild west, and extraordinary showman, Altman gives the American man of myth, then chips away at him, all while the rival and counterpart Sitting Bull grows and deepens in merely standing still. Newman's performance is terrific, his eyes never betraying the truth of his limitations, though his histriotics along with those of his minions in his large show, work very well at entertaining and maintaining. Joel Grey, Kevin McCarthy and Harvey Keitel all stand out as Newman's producing partner, press agent and flunky respectively. Their sycophancy echoes the Emperors New Clothes, and is set against Sitting Bull and his right hand man Halsey, who agree to join the wild west history show in order to tell the truth of the matter, ever stoic and unimpressed by the show.

With humor and his trademark layering of sound, dialogue and wit Altman gives us the lesson of what is real and unreal, fraudulent and true, the stuff of history books and shows, and the heart of the matters.
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Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
well, all I can tell you is having grown up in western oklahoma with lots of real indians this is the best movie about INDIANS i have ever seen. Not only do real Indians play Indians (as opposed to Italians playing Indians) but they actually sound and feel like real Indians. I saw this movie over twenty years ago and it has haunted me ever since. Although I really don't think Buffalo Bill was as big a fraud as he is portrayed here (in fact the Indians in his Wild West show LIKED him and remarked on his generosity and compassion) I think of him (in this movie) as a symbol of how we (whites) view ourselves and of our tendency towards superficiality and phoniness.
But above all, I think this movie made a powerful statement about Native American spirituality that rings true. Sitting Bull WAS a profoundly spiritual person. He WAS mistreated and murdered by greedy and shallow people who couldn't appreciate his profound depth.
To me, this was a movie about Sitting Bull and the greatness of Native American spirituality and I hope it haunts you the way it has me.
I can't believe it's not more well known.
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