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Little Big Man Movie Review

george chief crabb indian

1970 – Arthur Penn –

The revisionist urge especially prevalent in the 1970s of questioning the received truths and myths handed down from the past has rarely been exercised more fully than in Little Big Man. Just as the romanticized version of the Custer's last stand in They Died with Their Boots On casts Errol Flynn as an inspiring George Armstrong Custer, this legend-smashing mock epic by Arthur Penn portrays the calvary general as a stupid, strutting peacock too self-assured to act on the sensible advice not to enter the Indian-packed valley of the Little Big Horn.

The film is based on Thomas Burger's grand tale of deglamorized heroes. It is all set within the framework of the fanciful yarns recounted mostly in flashback by the 121-year-old Jack Crabb, played in a tour-de-force performance by Dustin Hoffman. Crabb professes to have been nearly everything—an Indian, a gunfighter, a Buffalo hunter, a scout, a shop owner, a hermit, and a drunk. He maintains that he was friends with Wild Bill Hickock (Jeff Corey) and that he was the sole white survivor of Custer's Last Stand.

Fact and fancy simultaneously intertwine in Crabb's tales, but it is Penn's poignant depiction of the cruel, systematic extermination of the American Indian that generates deep emotions of truth and guilt. Beautifully and sensitively depicted are the Cheyenne who call themselves “The Human Beings.” Little Big Man was stunningly shot on actual locations and shows perhaps the deepest sympathy and understanding for the plight of the American Indian in any film to that time. Dan George was seventy-one when he played Old Lodge Skins, the Cheyenne chief. He adopts the young Jack Crabb after the massacre of Jack's family by an opposing tribe. The authenticity that George brings to the part could only have been achieved through the knowledge of and empathy toward actual American Indian traditions. He deservedly snagged an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Cast: Dustin Hoffman (Jack Crabb), Chief Dan George (Old Lodge Skins), Faye Dunaway (Mrs. Pendrake), Martin Balsam (Allardyce T. Merriweather), Jeff Corey (Wild Bill Hickock), Richard Mulligan (Gen. George A. Custer), William Hickey (Historian), Kelly Jean Peters (Olga), Carol Androsky (Caroline), Robert Little Star (Little Horse), Steve Shemayne (Burns Red in the Sun), Thayer David (Rev. Silas Pendrake) Screenwriter: Calder Willingham Cinematographer: Harry Stradling Composer: John Hammond Producer: Stuart Miller for National General MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 135 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: New York Film Critics Circle Awards, 1970: Supporting Actor (Chief Dan George); National Society of Film Critics Awards, 1970: Supporting Actor (Chief Dan George); Academy Awards, 1970: Nominations: Supporting Actor (Chief Dan George) Box Office: $15M (domestic rentals).

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