Little Big Man


2h 19m 1970
Little Big Man

Brief Synopsis

An American pioneer raised by Indians ends up fighting alongside General Custer.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Historical
War
Western
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 14 Dec 1970
Production Company
Hiller Productions-Stockbridge Productions
Distribution Company
National General Pictures Corporation
Country
United States
Location
Montana, USA; Alberta, Canada; California, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Little Big Man by Thomas Berger (New York, 1964).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 19m
Sound
70 mm 6-Track (Spanish release), Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

A historian interviews Jack Crabb, a 121-year-old man who claims to be the only white survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn: Jack, a 10-year-old orphan lost with his sister Caroline, is found by the Cheyenne Indians. When Caroline escapes, Jack is left under the fatherly guidance of Old Lodge Skins. During adolescence, he saves the life of Younger Bear in a raid against the Pawnee Indians and is given the name Little Big Man. At the age of 16, he is about to be killed in a battle against white men when he renounces his Indian background in order to save himself. Subsequently, he is taken into the home of Rev. Silas Pendrake and his wife, who is eager to introduce Jack to the pleasures of sex. After leaving the Pendrakes, he goes into business with Allardyce T. Merriweather, a hawker of patent medicines, and later briefly becomes a gunfighter known as the "Soda Pop Kid." He becomes friends with Wild Bill Hickok, but after one of Hickok's bloody gunfights, Jack decides to settle down. Olga, a Swedish woman, becomes his bride, and Jack opens a haberdashery, but he is cheated by his partners. Following the advice of Gen. George Custer, he decides to head West to seek his fortune. During the trip, however, Olga is abducted by the Indians, and Jack searches for her, joining Custer's U. S. Cavalry unit as a scout to facilitate his search. During a savage attack on the Indian village where he once lived, Jack deserts his unit and finds an Indian woman, Sunshine, in the process of giving birth. They travel to a reservation, headed by Old Lodge Skins, now blind from a battle wound. A year later, at a reservation, Sunshine is about to give birth to Jack's child. Jack is surprised to discover that Olga and her new husband, Younger Bear, are neighbors. The morning after Jack has slept with Sunshine's three widowed sisters, Sunshine shows him his new son. But Custer suddenly strikes, and only Jack and Old Lodge Skins survive. Jack tries to take revenge on Custer and sneaks into the general's tent, but Custer's vulnerability causes Jack to falter, and he wanders off, eventually becoming an alcoholic. A brief encounter with Wild Bill helps Jack get back on his feet, but when Hickok is shot down, Jack goes off to become a hermit. Later, he meets up with Custer, who hires him as a scout. Despite Jack's advice and the opinions of the officers, Custer orders the attack on Little Big Horn; the Cheyenne massacre Custer's forces, although Jack is saved when he is recognized by Younger Bear. He is taken back to Old Lodge Skins, who is in the process of preparing for his death ritual; he takes Jack to the mountain and lies down to die, but rain begins to fall, and Old Lodge Skins realizes that his time has not yet come. The two men walk back down the mountain. Jack finishes his story, but the historian is skeptical about the accuracy of the events.

Film Details

MPAA Rating
Genre
Comedy
Drama
Historical
War
Western
Release Date
Jan 1970
Premiere Information
New York opening: 14 Dec 1970
Production Company
Hiller Productions-Stockbridge Productions
Distribution Company
National General Pictures Corporation
Country
United States
Location
Montana, USA; Alberta, Canada; California, USA
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Little Big Man by Thomas Berger (New York, 1964).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 19m
Sound
70 mm 6-Track (Spanish release), Mono
Color
Color (Technicolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Supporting Actor

1970

Articles

Little Big Man


Arthur Penn's vaguely loopy revisionist Western, Little Big Man (1970), is mainly remembered today for the carefully crafted, seriocomic performance delivered by its star, Dustin Hoffman. But Hoffman's character, Jack Crabb, has a great deal in common with a far more popular big-screen creation named Forrest Gump. Like Forrest, Jack is a chameleonic everyman who stumbles through pivotal moments in American history, always surviving when many others die. He's also brimming over with a sense of humanity that's beyond the reach of the people surrounding him...unless they're Native Americans. And that last part makes Little Big Man a landmark in movie history.

The film opens with Jack - at this point an ornery 121-year-old who insists he's the only white person who survived the Battle of Little Big Horn - being interviewed by an incredulous young historian (William Hickey). Jack gets all huffy and tells the misinformed interviewer to just sit back and shut up- he has a few things to say about Gen. Custer, and about assorted historic events from the 19th century. He was there, you see. He experienced them.

The saga that follows touches upon such concepts as manifest destiny, the government-sanctioned genocide of Native Americans, religious and sexual hypocrisy, and the sheer idiocy of revenge. Jack's surrealistic embellishments of each story are a particular highlight, because you're never really sure, in fact, if they're really embellishments or the truth. If history proves anything, after all, it's that crazier things have happened. Over the course of the film, Jack spends time as a Western settler who's kidnapped and raised by peaceful Cheyenne Indians, as an orphan being pursued by a lecherous preacher's wife (Faye Dunaway), as a snake-eyed gunfighter, as a medicine show con artist, as a down-and-out drunk, and as a scout for the egotistical, utterly buffoonish General Custer (Richard Mulligan).

Not surprisingly, Little Big Man is far more political than the studiously benign, and studiously commercial, Forrest Gump (1994). Jack has strong opinions about the events that unfold around him, and he's tormented by what he's experienced. Penn and his screenwriter, Calder Willingham, took Thomas Berger's source novel and turned it into a commentary on how Native Americans have been treated by this country's government, as well as how they've been portrayed in our motion pictures. Despite the number of belly-laughs it contains, Little Big Man is a righteously angry film, and that dichotomy of emotions makes for a very memorable ride.

Little Big Man's production was no small undertaking. The film was shot on location, and often outdoors, in Montana, California, and Alberta, Canada, with an increasingly exhausted cast. The Canadian portion was especially grueling, as large pieces of it needed to be filmed in the bitter cold, with snow on the ground. At one point, when snow seemed out of the question, Penn even tried to convince a medicine man to do a dance and stir up some precipitation! That's what you call thinking of everything.

Dunaway writes about Hoffman and Little Big Man in her autobiography, Looking for Gatsby. She and Hoffman knew each other as struggling New York actors in the early 1960s, but had never worked together before this picture. And she was fascinated by his acting process on the set.

"Dusty was always reaching for a way to make each take fresh," she writes. "He wanted to make the performance different and unique every time. Everyone develops their own way of getting that freshness, but his, I think, goes down as one of the most entertaining." Hoffman's ritual before the cameras rolled undoubtedly made sense to no one but Hoffman himself. Apparently, he was a fan of the old Earl Scheib car-painting commercials that peppered radio and TV airwaves in the 1960s, and he utilized them in a patently strange manner.

"Dusty would get just the right nasal sound," Dunaway writes, "and promise, as Earl had done for years, that 'I'll paint any car, any color for $29.95...guaranteed.' When the assistant director called 'Rolling,' before Arthur said 'Action,' Dusty, to keep himself loose, would go into these ads, rattling off their corny, hard-sell spiels- you hear it on the printed takes. And then on 'Action,' he'd go from unabashed commercialism to high art, moving right into the heart of Jack Crabb. It was an amazing thing to watch."

Director: Arthur Penn
Producer: Stuart Millar
Screenplay: Calder Willingham (based on the novel by Thomas Berger)
Editor: Dede Allen
Cinematographer: Harry Stradling, Jr.
Music: John Hammond
Production Design: Dean Tavoularis
Art Design: Angelo Graham
Special Effects: Dick Smith, Logan Frazee
Set Design: George R. Nelson
Stunts: Hal Needham
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
Makeup: Terry Miles
Cast: Dustin Hoffman (Jack Crabb), Faye Dunaway (Mrs. Pendrake), Martin Balsam (Allardyce T. Merriweather), Richard Mulligan (Gen. George A. Custer), Chief Dan George (Old Lodge Skins), Jeff Corey (Wild Bill Hickok), Aimee Eccles (Sunshine), Kelly Jean Peters (Olga), Carol Androsky (Caroline), William Hickey (Historian).
C-139m. Letterboxed.

by Paul Tatara
Little Big Man

Little Big Man

Arthur Penn's vaguely loopy revisionist Western, Little Big Man (1970), is mainly remembered today for the carefully crafted, seriocomic performance delivered by its star, Dustin Hoffman. But Hoffman's character, Jack Crabb, has a great deal in common with a far more popular big-screen creation named Forrest Gump. Like Forrest, Jack is a chameleonic everyman who stumbles through pivotal moments in American history, always surviving when many others die. He's also brimming over with a sense of humanity that's beyond the reach of the people surrounding him...unless they're Native Americans. And that last part makes Little Big Man a landmark in movie history. The film opens with Jack - at this point an ornery 121-year-old who insists he's the only white person who survived the Battle of Little Big Horn - being interviewed by an incredulous young historian (William Hickey). Jack gets all huffy and tells the misinformed interviewer to just sit back and shut up- he has a few things to say about Gen. Custer, and about assorted historic events from the 19th century. He was there, you see. He experienced them. The saga that follows touches upon such concepts as manifest destiny, the government-sanctioned genocide of Native Americans, religious and sexual hypocrisy, and the sheer idiocy of revenge. Jack's surrealistic embellishments of each story are a particular highlight, because you're never really sure, in fact, if they're really embellishments or the truth. If history proves anything, after all, it's that crazier things have happened. Over the course of the film, Jack spends time as a Western settler who's kidnapped and raised by peaceful Cheyenne Indians, as an orphan being pursued by a lecherous preacher's wife (Faye Dunaway), as a snake-eyed gunfighter, as a medicine show con artist, as a down-and-out drunk, and as a scout for the egotistical, utterly buffoonish General Custer (Richard Mulligan). Not surprisingly, Little Big Man is far more political than the studiously benign, and studiously commercial, Forrest Gump (1994). Jack has strong opinions about the events that unfold around him, and he's tormented by what he's experienced. Penn and his screenwriter, Calder Willingham, took Thomas Berger's source novel and turned it into a commentary on how Native Americans have been treated by this country's government, as well as how they've been portrayed in our motion pictures. Despite the number of belly-laughs it contains, Little Big Man is a righteously angry film, and that dichotomy of emotions makes for a very memorable ride. Little Big Man's production was no small undertaking. The film was shot on location, and often outdoors, in Montana, California, and Alberta, Canada, with an increasingly exhausted cast. The Canadian portion was especially grueling, as large pieces of it needed to be filmed in the bitter cold, with snow on the ground. At one point, when snow seemed out of the question, Penn even tried to convince a medicine man to do a dance and stir up some precipitation! That's what you call thinking of everything. Dunaway writes about Hoffman and Little Big Man in her autobiography, Looking for Gatsby. She and Hoffman knew each other as struggling New York actors in the early 1960s, but had never worked together before this picture. And she was fascinated by his acting process on the set. "Dusty was always reaching for a way to make each take fresh," she writes. "He wanted to make the performance different and unique every time. Everyone develops their own way of getting that freshness, but his, I think, goes down as one of the most entertaining." Hoffman's ritual before the cameras rolled undoubtedly made sense to no one but Hoffman himself. Apparently, he was a fan of the old Earl Scheib car-painting commercials that peppered radio and TV airwaves in the 1960s, and he utilized them in a patently strange manner. "Dusty would get just the right nasal sound," Dunaway writes, "and promise, as Earl had done for years, that 'I'll paint any car, any color for $29.95...guaranteed.' When the assistant director called 'Rolling,' before Arthur said 'Action,' Dusty, to keep himself loose, would go into these ads, rattling off their corny, hard-sell spiels- you hear it on the printed takes. And then on 'Action,' he'd go from unabashed commercialism to high art, moving right into the heart of Jack Crabb. It was an amazing thing to watch." Director: Arthur Penn Producer: Stuart Millar Screenplay: Calder Willingham (based on the novel by Thomas Berger) Editor: Dede Allen Cinematographer: Harry Stradling, Jr. Music: John Hammond Production Design: Dean Tavoularis Art Design: Angelo Graham Special Effects: Dick Smith, Logan Frazee Set Design: George R. Nelson Stunts: Hal Needham Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins Makeup: Terry Miles Cast: Dustin Hoffman (Jack Crabb), Faye Dunaway (Mrs. Pendrake), Martin Balsam (Allardyce T. Merriweather), Richard Mulligan (Gen. George A. Custer), Chief Dan George (Old Lodge Skins), Jeff Corey (Wild Bill Hickok), Aimee Eccles (Sunshine), Kelly Jean Peters (Olga), Carol Androsky (Caroline), William Hickey (Historian). C-139m. Letterboxed. by Paul Tatara

Quotes

Invisible! I've never been invisible before!
- Old Lodge Skins
Well, Jack. Now you know. This is a house of ill fame. And I'm a fallen flower. This life is not only wicked and sinful. It isn't even any fun.
- Louise Pendrake
Do you hate them? Do you hate the White man now?
- Jack Crabb
Do you see this fine thing? Do you admire the humanity of it? Because the human beings, my son, they believe everything is alive. Not only man and animals. But also water, earth, stone. And also the things from them... like that hair. The man from whom this hair came, he's bald on the other side, because I now own his scalp! That is the way things are. But the white man, they believe EVERYTHING is dead. Stone, earth, animals. And people! Even their own people! If things keep trying to live, white man will rub them out. That is the difference.
- Old Lodge Skins
Mr. Merriwhether, you don't know when you're licked!
- Jack Crabb
Licked? I'm not licked. I'm tarred and feathered, that's all.
- Allardyce T. Merriwhether
A Custer decision impetuous! GRANT called me impetuous, too. The drunkard. Sitting there in the White House! Calling ME impetuous!
- General Custer

Trivia

In order to get the raspy voice of a man who is supposed to be over 120 years old, Dustin Hoffman sat in his dressing room and screamed at the top of his lungs for an hour.

The role of Chief Old Lodge Skins was initially offered to Marlon Brando , who turned it down.

Notes

Copyright length: 147 min. Location scenes filmed in Montana, California, and Alberta, Canada. The film acknowledges the cooperation of the Crow Nation, Cheyenne Nation and Stony Indians (Chippewa Nation).

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States March 1976

Released in United States January 1994

Released in United States February 2007

Shown at Berlin International Film Festival (Homage) February 8-18, 2007.

Released in USA on video.

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1970

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1970

Released in United States March 1976 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (The 48-Hour Cowboy Movie Marathon) March 18-31, 1976.)

Released in United States January 1994 (Shown at Sundance Film Festival (Tribute to Arthur Penn) in Park City, Utah January 20-30, 1994.)

Released in United States February 2007 (Shown at Berlin International Film Festival (Homage) February 8-18, 2007. )