It is quite obvious that director Arthur Penn is a great storyteller. He told us a story of triumph with The Miracle Worker and a story crime with Bonnie and Clyde. In Little Big Man Arthur Penn tells us the story of tragedy and a man who suffered through it until the very end. The fictionalized story of a man known as Jack Crabb (Little Big Man to The Cheyenne) is a tale that I will never forget, it is a tale of a man trying to find his place in the world with the harsh reality that many of us never do.
The film begins with a curious historian questioning an old man about the plains Indians. Turns out that this old man is 121 year old Jack Crabb, or Little Big Man as he is known to The Cheyenne. Jack Crabb chooses to tell this historian factual events that happened in his life rather than just tell him about the Indians. When he was 10 years old, Jack Crabb and his sister are the only survivors when their parents are brutally massacred by the viscous Pawnee tribe. The two are then founded by the Cheyenne tribe, a tribe that is known also, as the human beings. Caroline, Jacks sister refuses to trust the Indians and abandons her brother at night, leaving him alone to grow up with The Cheyenne. Shortly thereafter we meet Old lodge-skins, the leader of the tribe. He teaches young Jack many life lessons and in the process we also learn much from this great character. All is well until the white man begins to attack The Cheyenne land. This was around the time of Great Sioux war of 1886-1887 when the United States viscously attacked the Native Americans to obtain their land. While I noticed that most of the Cheyenne hated the white man for their brutality towards their native land I also noticed that that chief Old lodge-skins was not one of them. Old lodge-skins didn’t hate the white man he just misunderstood them, misunderstood them for what they were doing killing all of his people for no purpose other than land. During a battle with the white man, jack is captured by them and posses as a prisoner so as to spare his own life. We then are taken through the majority of this man’s life from spending a short amount of time with a religious couple, were he experiences his first sexual wants towards the wife who happens to have a massive sexual appetite, to selling snake oil with a strange fellow, going through a phase where he believes he is the best gun slinger in town when he is just as scared as he always, reuniting with the Cheyenne, and his role in the Battle at Little Big Horn, being the only white survivor.
I would like to refer to this film as being the Forrest Gump of westerns but to compare the two films would be impossible.
The film does a fine job of blending humor with tragedy. It’s excellent script is something that most films cannot match, it’s like a book coming to life on screen with pure beauty and grace.
A young Dustin Hoffman pulls off one of the best performances of his career as Jack Crabb, Little Big Man. Chief Dan George as Old lodge-skin is not acting in his performance but showing us what and how and Indian chief act and retaliate to his surroundings.
One of the main focuses of the film is that of the morality of the United States massacring the Native Americans and taking their land. I felt that the whole situation was immoral. How we without any thought as to what the Native Americans thought just brutally murdered their entire tribes without any remorse. It almost seems as though Arthur Penn wants to root for the Native Americans and near the end of the film we find ourselves doing just that.
Little big man is quite possibly one of the greatest stories ever told and it is a film that will stay with me forever and always.