Little Big Man

Recounting the outlandish adventures of Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman), a 121-year-old veteran of the Indian wars, Penn's adaptation of Thomas Berger's 1964 novel debunks the founding myths of the great expansion westward. Raised by Cheyenne as a young child, Crabb barely survives U.S. cavalry massacres, the harsh hand of the church, and the general cruelties of western settlement. Passing fitfully between cultures, he reinvents himself Candide-like, being variously a preacher's ward, a snake-oil salesman, a muleskinner, a gunfighter, and an Indian scout. But it is only with the Cheyenne, those who call themselves “the human beings,” and his adopted grandfather (played with ironic calm by Chief Dan George) that Crabb seems authentic. Little Big Man doesn't set the record straight about the slaughter of Native Americans; instead it swaps one absurdist fable for another. A savage satire that includes a buffoon-like General Custer (Richard Mulligan) leading his men to their demise, Penn's eagle-eyed epic was seen as an artful arrow aimed at U.S. foreign policy. Unfortunately, it was a moving target.

This page may by only partially complete. For additional information about this film, view the original entry on our archived site.