Little Big Man
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Recounting how the West was won through the eyes of a white man raised as a Native American, Arthur Penn's 1970 adaptation of Thomas Berger's satirical novel was a comic yet stinging allegory about the bloody results of American imperialism. As a misguided 20th-century historian listens, 121-year-old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) narrates the story of being the only white survivor of Custer's Last Stand. White orphan Crabb was adopted by the Cheyenne, renamed "Little Big Man," and raised in the ways of the "Human Beings" by paternal mentor Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George), accepting non-conformity and living peacefully with nature. Violently thrust into the white world, Jack meets a righteous preacher (Thayer David) and his wife (Faye Dunaway), tries to be a gunfighter under the tutelage of Wild Bill Hickock (Jeff Corey), and gets married. Returned to the Cheyenne by chance, Jack prefers life as a Human Being. The carnage wreaked by the white man in the Washita massacre and the lethal fallout from the egomania of General George A. Custer (Richard Mulligan) at Little Big Horn, however, show Crabb the horrific implications of Old Lodge Skins' sage observation, "There is an endless supply of White Men, but there has always been a limited number of Human Beings."
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The varied paths that Dustin Hoffman's character treads are at once humorous, tragic, and powerful, and Chief Dan George is superb as the Cheyenne chief. It is an unvarnished look at American history from the 1870's, from the perspective of a white man who becomes an accepted member of the Cheyenne, under the tutelage of the "grandfather" chief. Segments with Wild Bill Hickok, George A. Custer, hypocritical religious characters, con men, and the sheer dishonesty and brutality of the white man's government and soldiers of the time, with their broken treaties and exploitation of the Indian are all portrayed with unabashed honesty.
The scene near the end with Chief Dan George and Hoffman, who trek together up the mountain for the chief's last rites, is priceless, and it alone is well worth the price of the movie.
I like to watch it around Thanksgiving, because it just sorta of falls in place the way Die Hard is to Christmas for me.
This movie is on my top 100 list.
The story of Jack Crabbe is not to be taken lightly, for it is the story of Human Beings, of which there are far too few. While other films from the last century may seem dated, this one does not. It is as pertinent today as it ever was and doesn't hit a wrong note in any of its 2+ hours running time.
Chief Dan George is amazing as Old Lodge Skins, the adoptive grandfather of Jack Crabb. It is one of the most memorable performances.
He drops into each character with complete abandonment and it works every time. We can't help but believe Jack Crab's story. A remarkable film. Chief Dan George is amazing and well worthy of the Academy recognition. Richard Mulligan creates a masterpiece for Custer. And Faye Dunaway is nothing but original and hot! Great, great movie!