Home > Index > Comedy | History | Western > Movie Review

Plot Details: This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Jack of All Trades

Little Big Man

Plot Overview

A historian (William Hickey) interested in “the way of life of the Plains Indian” visits “the last of the old timers” 121-year-old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman heavily made up) the “sole White survivor of the Battle of Little Big Horn, Custer's Last Stand.” Jack isn't inter­ested in granting him an inter­view until the historian spouts his ignorance, and then he tells him to turn on his recorder.

What follows is a flashback, to Jack's raspy narrative, of his life as: a migrating pioneer, an honorary Cheyenne Indian, an acolyte of a frontier preacher, an assistant flim­flam artist, a bragging gun­slinger, a gullible general store owner, an Indian again, a mule skinner for Gen. George Armstrong Custer (Richard Mulligan), the Dead­wood town drunk, an untrusted scout for Custer, and back to the present an advocate for the Indian (“Well, that's the story of this old Indian fighter.”) The historian is soundly put in his place (“Mr Crabb, I didn't know”), and while the film isn't cor­rob­or­ated history it's not the mere “tall tales of adventure” the historian had at first put it down to, either. It offers a different take on the myths of the West, at least as they'd been portrayed for us by Hollywood.


The year this movie came out, 1970, puts it in the timeframe of the My Lai massacre trial, the Nixon presidency, and the Vietnam War. It served to put those contro­versial episodes in perspective, and even today various of its vignettes speak clearly to our times. I saw “Little Big Man” as part of a movie class at the local university. The day prior to seeing it, I listened to a discussion on the radio of the issue of sexual assault at that same university. The female speaker tried to goad the administration into action by quoting statistics.

In the movie Jack's older sister Caroline (Carole Androsky) gets captured along with him by the Indians. From her remark that she knows what they want, we are given to under­stand that she enter­tains fantasies of being raped. The radio show told us that we have no problem acknow­ledging rape by a stranger, and while that may technic­ally be true, I wouldn't feel all that much sympathy for Caroline should she get her wish (“She never did have good luck with men.”)

The radio show went on to tell us that how a woman dresses has nothing to do with whether she'll be raped. Caroline wearing men's duds was accepted as the older brother, causing her to remark, “They didn't know I was a woman. That explains why they didn't rape me right off.” Coincident­ally, while I was waiting for the bus home from the movie I over­heard some people talking about adolescent girls they knew who matured before the rest of their class. To hide their embar­rass­ment of developing breasts, they wore loose fitting clothing or a sports bra over a regular bra. As a side benefit, I would think that would also reduce their chances of being raped.

The statistic cited on the radio program was that from surveys of our co-eds, they answered questions describing sexual assaults on 10% of them, but in 20% of respondents they knew friends who had been assaulted. The conclusion was that rape is prevalent and even more troubling, half the rape victims were in personal denial. Of course, that would assume that the co-eds each had only one friend, and that she wasn't reading more into the friend's incident than was there. In “Little Big Man” the growing boy observes the preacher's wife's sexual liaison in town (of a well-planned continuing nature): amidst a tangle of legs and cries of ecstasy, “She was calling him a devil and moaning for help, but I didn't get no idea she wanted to be rescued.” If given such a survey questionnaire, her self-respect would have compelled her to mark it down as a sexual assault, but the man would have been under a different impression, who wasn't consulted in the survey.

What's even more enlightening is that while married to the preacher, she felt, “We must all resist temptation,” although she didn't always succeed. Once she became a widow, Mrs. Louise Pendrake (Faye Dunaway) changed her name to Lulu and joined a brothel. In the former situation she would “avert my eyes at the appropriate time” when Jack was being readied for his bath. At the brothel she told him how she'd gaze at him at night wanting to wake him and ravish him. Conversation at a place where “Purity is its own reward” is much more restrained than the brazen­ness at a brothel. Unfortu­nately for Christians and people of conser­vative values, the universities are becoming more like the latter, and their attempted micro-managing of students' social/sexual behavior likely to conflict at times with ones of a more reserved speech.

Jack's marriage to Swedish woman Olga (Kelly Jean Peters) demonstrated good marital relations when Olga would insistently pat the bed telling Jack he was tired, to come join her, when he was wanting to do the books. Once in bed, though, he began to unbutton her garment, and she smiled. This is consistent with Paul's instruction to give in to one's mate (1 Cor. 7:4), but at odds with the survey that listed as assault any­thing that the other didn't particularly want in the first place. These principles should be scaled back, of course, for the unmarried desiring to keep their virtue.

I'm a single guy leery of a degenerate university environment with its policies that make sense to them but not to me. As a matter of prudence, if I take a girl to the U. class movies, I like to break up the sequence by going with her to other activities as well, in order to avoid the U. thinking it has jurisdiction over our social­izing. And I go for the traditional cautions of chaperones and curfews, in this case saying our fare­wells in some semi-private space, and leaving with our respective rides/buses directly after class discussion. And it doesn't hurt to be on cordial terms with the university in general. And there's this movie of theirs to refer to.

Another contemporary issue was touched upon when Little Horse (Robert Little Star) developed into an Indian homo­sexual. Jack tells us in his narrative, “He had become a ‘heemanee’ for which there ain't no English word. And he was a good one, too. The [Cheyennes] thought a lot of him.” There are English words for homos, lots of them, but they universally lack a show of respect that the Cheyenne word had. Even the word of choice today, gay, comes from its meaning of dissipated or immoral, or we might just mean stupid as the movie “Love Is Strange” explained in the expression, “That's so gay!” The issue today is that with the legalization by fiat of homo­sexual marriage, importing the most used gay into a dyad to make gay marriage would cause a conflict with the biblical gay marriage, as spoken to a man to: (Eccl. 9:9) “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy life … .” When gay worked its way into our vocabulary to mean homo, a same-sex marriage was not even thought of. Now with it suddenly on our plate, we have to re-evaluate that dyad, and I uphold the word of God by keeping "gay marriage" as an alternate expression to "happy marriage." Since there is in English no res­pect­ful informal term for homo, the gays will have to live with what­ever is used, and in this case be content with a different term in a dyad with -marriage, that is if they want to avoid irritating conser­vatives any more than they already have.

There are lots of vignettes in “Little Big Man” that can by applied as myth-busters; I've just mentioned some of current relevance.

Production Values

Little Big Man” (1970) was directed by Arthur Penn. Its screenplay was written by Calder Willingham, based on Thomas Berger's novel Little Big Man. It stars Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, and Chief Dan George. The acting was superb, and kudos go to Dustin Hoffman for carrying the film from beginning to end. The narrative was sequential once it started, and it was shot in a straight­forward manner, no Dutch angles. Hoffman was a relatively unknown when he made this one. He'd already done “The Graduate” but it hadn't come out yet.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I found “Little Big Man” funny, although it was sad how the Indians' treatment by the invasive White man was captured. It reminded me of the Vietnam War era, when it came out, but it also seemed still relevant to our times. I think it's a great movie, right up there with the best of them, and it deserves viewing once and again.

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Well done action flick. Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years. Special effects: Average special effects. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Five stars out of five.