Friday, May 21, 2010

Little Big Man(1970)

Little Big Man (1970). Director: Arthur Penn. Based on the 1964 novel by Thomas Berger. Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Chief Dan George, Faye Dunaway, Martin Balsam, Jeff Corey and Richard Mulligan. It is considered a Revisionist Western, with Native Americans receiving a sympathetic treatment uncommon for Western films in previous decades.

121-year-old Jack Crabb, story begins when Jack and his older sister Caroline survive the massacre of their parents wagon train at the hands of the Pawnee. Soon they are rescued by a Cheyenne warrior and taken back to a Cheyenne village. Caroline leaves during the night on horseback, but Jack decides to stay and is raised by the Cheyenne leader, Old Lodge Skins. Jack grows up happy, until one day, Jack accidentally makes an enemy of Younger Bear. Jack is given the name "Little Big Man" because he's short and proves himself very brave. During a fight with US soldiers Jack, quickly says that he is a white man to save himself. He is then turned over to Reverend Silas Pendrake and his wife Louise. Louise's attitude and her sexual appetite is too much for him to understand and he quickly leaves her home.

Jack becomes the apprentice of the snake-oil salesman Merriweather. They are tarred and feathered when their customers realize that Merriweather is a fake. One of the customers turns out to be Jack's sister, Caroline. Once Caroline realizes that Jack is her brother, she tries to turn her brother into a gunslinger named the Soda Pop Kid (because his favorite drink is soda pop). My favorite part of the movie is when, Jack meets Wild Bill Hickok at a saloon. When Hickok is forced to kill a man in self defense, Jack loses his interest in gun slinging.

Jack's next career, is to open a general store and marries a Swedish woman named Olga. Unfortunately for Jack, his business partner is a crook and Jack is forced to close the store. General Custer happens to ride past and suggests they head out west. Jack agrees, during their travels, their stagecoach is ambushed by the Cheyennes and Olga is kidnapped. On his journey, he is reunited with Old Lodge Skins, who is thrilled to see Jack. After a short visit with the tribe, Jack continues on in search of Olga.

He becomes a "muleskinner" for Custer's 7th Cavalry. He fights in a battle against the Cheyenne. When they begin killing women and children, he becomes enraged and leaves the U.S. Soldiers. In the nearby woods, Jack finds Sunshine giving birth. He saves Sunshine from the soldiers and returns to Old Lodge Skins' tribe. Sunshine becomes his wife and they have a child together. Jack runs into Younger Bear, who is now the henpecked husband of Olga. Olga does not recognize Jack, and he does not tell her who he is. Sunshine asks Jack to take in her three widowed sisters as wives and father children with them. He is reluctant at first but finally agrees.

One day, Custer and the 7th Cavalry attack the Cheyenne camp. A now-blind and elderly Old Lodge Skins is saved by Jack and the Circle of Life. Sunshine and their child are killed along with her sisters. Jack wants revenge, but at the moment, with a razor to Custer's neck, Jack loses his nerve, and Custer makes fun of him. Destroyed, Jack becomes the town drunk in Deadwood, South Dakota. He is recognized by Wild Bill Hickok, who gives him money to clean up. When Jack returns to the bar, Hickok is shot and killed. With his last breath, Hickok asks Jack to give his money to a a widow he was having an affair with. Jack goes to see the widow, a prostitute who turns out to be a Mrs. Louise Pendrake.

While out trapping, Jack hears the faint sound of Custer and his troops. Jack still wanting revenge takes a job as a scout, believing anything he says will be a lie, they do the opposite. Jack leads the troops into a trap at the Little Bighorn. Jack truthfully tells Custer of the Native Americans hidden in the valley. Custer does not believe him and leads the 7th Cavalry to its doom. During the battle, Custer begins raving. Ignoring the closing circle of warriors, Custer decides to kill Jack and points his pistol at him. Before he can pull the trigger, Custer is killed by Younger Bear, who takes the wounded Jack, back to Old Lodge Skins' tepee.

Jack walks with, Old Lodge Skins to a nearby hill, where he gives his speech to the Great Spirit, saying he is ready to die. It begins to rain. Old Lodge Skins sighs and says, "Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't." It is not his time to die.

My family enjoys watching this long but enjoyable western epic, which gives you insight to the lives of the American Indians.. In my opinion one of Dustin Hoffman's, best performances.

In 1960, Chief Dan George, was already 60 years old, when he got his first job acting in a CBC Television series, Cariboo Country, as the character "Ol' Antoine". He performed the same role in a Walt Disney Studios movie, Smith!, adapted from an episode in this series (based on Breaking Smith's Quarter Horse, a novella by Paul St. Pierre). At the age of 71, George won several awards for his role in the film Little Big Man, including a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He continued to act in other films, such as The Outlaw Josey Wales, Harry and Tonto and Americathon, and on television, including a role in the miniseries Centennial, based on the book by James A. Michener, as well as appearing in a 1973 episode of the original Kung Fu series, with David Carradine.

1 comment:

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