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Customer Review

61 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political Commentary from the Native American viewpoint, February 16, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Little Big Man [VHS] (VHS Tape)
The film opens on a decrepit, wrinkled, yet still energetic ultra senior citizen. He is the film's central figure - one who looks back on a 121 year life - a life lived in interesting times.
Hoffman's Jack Crabb, is perhaps a more cynical old west version of Forest Gump. Through random experience, this one man encounters almost every legendary figure and event of the old west. Like the movie "Forest Gump", there is strong subliminal commentary on the period that came nearly a century after. Yet, very much unlike Gump, but true to it's era, Little Big Man sees more of the negative side of the world. At 121, Jack is very much a critical child of the 1960's.
When first shown in the early 70's, the film's protracted war on the Native American culture became a metaphor for the period of genocide, then closing in Vietnam. While perhaps lost on first time viewers today, the protest message is so strong, that one can almost hear the sounds of helicopter air cavalry under the droning thunder of Custer's horse mounted assault on an Indian village. All that is missing is the Wagner and Napalm of "Apocalypse Now".
The eyes of Jack Crabb see the white man as bigoted, arrogant, insincere, vindictive and amoral - as he fluctuates between white culture and that of the Native Americans, whom he labels: "the human beings". A bit of a shuttle diplomat at times, Jack becomes almost an external missionary to both nations, while never truly accepting, or being accepted, by either group.
On the first level, Little Big Man is satisfying entertainment, on the next it is literature. One can see this film merely as a humorous western with employment opportunities for half the character actors in Hollywood and smile frequently. - OR - One can also look deeper and see the perspective of the period in which it was written and developed. It may give one pause to think hard about the mood of those times.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 7, 2009 9:06:40 PM PST
Alias says:
First off- really good review. However, I have to disagree on one point that's commonly associated w/ this movie. While the film can certainly be seen as a commentary on the Vietnam war & the late 1960's, I really don't think this is soley the case. The 'Indian Wars' and the Vietnam War is sadly an instance of 'history repeating itself' rather than the filmmakers giving 'Little Bigman' political undertones it wouldn't have otherwise. It's obvious that the filmmakers recognized this connection and released 'Little Bigman' b/c it was relevant with what was happening in the world at the time. But this film stands on it's own as a mad window into the turbulent America of the mid 19th century. And while there is a lot of humor in the film the historical accuracy is disturbingly spot on: Custer was indeed a lunatic who was hated by his men, it was US military policy at the time to exterminate the American Indian, villages were destroyed, women and children were slaughtered, ect. A lot of things that happened in Vietnam in the 20th century happened in the 19th century only on our soil. I think 'Little Bigman' mirrors perfectly the politics of the time it was released, but it's also completely true to the history of the events unfolding in the film itself. If you liked this movie I'd recommend reading the book 'Son of the Morning Star' by Evan S. Connell and you'll see what I'm talking about. Cheers.

In reply to an earlier post on May 27, 2010 2:04:09 AM PDT
oldpink says:
Well said, Alias.
The review was quite good, but it bears repeating that the book the movie was based upon was originally published in 1964, when Vietnam had not quite yet become the massive controversy it would become by 1967.
I have read the Thomas Berger book, and there is not even a hint in the text or author's notes that it had anything to do with Vietnam.
It was exactly what it looked like: a fictionalized account that uses its characters to put into context some of the major events in U.S. history.
The movie stands on its own, not needing the parallels of Vietnam to support its main contentions that the American Indians were treated abominably during the 19th century.
However, this is no overly romanticized view of American Indian life, as it prominently depicts the fact that the Indians fought each other as well.

Posted on Sep 30, 2010 7:33:56 AM PDT
submandave says:
A generally good review tarnished by cinema-fueled Vietnam War trope. Vietnam was the closing of "the period of genocide?" Hyperbole much? Now, if the Sioux had been in danger of being subjugated by the Crow, who had the financial backing of Spain, and they asked the U.S. Cavalry for assistance, then your Vietnam analogy might have held up a bit better. Yes, both were armed conflicts involving the U.S. and people died in both, but the Indian Wars were the closest the U.S. ever came to a national policy of actual genocide, while the Vietnam War was execution of a national policy of Communist containment in the assistance of an ally (which Congress later rolled over on).

I recommend you try to avoid personal political axes from tainting future reviews of films that are good enough to stand on their own regardless of posturing.

Posted on Mar 28, 2013 1:41:36 PM PDT
"the human beings" is a literal translation of the Cheyenne word for their own tribe. The words used by the Cheyenne for other people imply they are not human. Racism is not peculiar to the white world.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 3, 2014 7:14:17 PM PST
I don't want to turn this into a political debate, but submandave's analogy is questionable. First, he seems to not know that the South Vietnamese government that "asked" for U.S. assistance was entirely a creation of the U.S. that had no local legitimacy to begin with. There was no legitimate, stand-alone government of South Vietnam, the entire entity of "South Vietnam" was a successful U.S. policy to undermine the Geneva peace agreement. Prior to the invention of "South Vietnam" by the U.S. government, there was a struggle against France's attempt to re-colonize Vietnam that had widespread local (Vietnamese) support. There was no "South Vietnam." There was Vietnamese independence movement, "Viet Minh" against French imperialism.

Now, that record straightened out, I agree with Alias and oldpink. I,too, read the novel by Thomas Berger (great read, I also recommend Arthur Rex) and concur that it seems to not have Vietnam in view at all. This movie version is one of my all-time favorites. It has a few blemishes and some of the "commentary" may be viewed today as liberal naivete. However, I do not agree with Bruce Korb who seems to imply that the movie (or book) portrays the Cheyenne as racially progressive. Overall, for the time, Berger provided a demythologized view, not the "noble savage," view of the Cheyenne. In the book, it is the same Cheyenne band that attack and kill Jack Crabb's family, but the movie distances the Cheyenne and makes the bad guys, I believe, Crow or Shoshone or something. It seems there was a time when Cheyenne and Sioux were portrayed as the good guys. The book didn't do that and it is unfortunate, in my view, that the movie version scapegoats one group to the benefit of the other.

Anyway...I hope this comment on a comment on a review was interesting to someone. I will stop now.
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