"A supremely entertaining collection of Western fable-making."
Sort of a compendium of delciously droll old-time Western Tall Tales, "Little Big Man" rambles amiably on for well over two hours, presenting Dustin Hoffman in a variety of effective poses as he bounces off a colorful array of endearing characters.Imagine a collection of satisfying ‘bedtime story’-type tales from the Old West, anecdotes constantly being crosscut and intersected with one another. And like any good bedtime tale, you simply won’t want Little Big Man to come to a close.
Hoffman is (as the film opens) an 121-year-old man named Jack Crabb. As Jack sits and slowly withers away, he spins a series of yarns to one interested party - and the viewer gets to go along for one sprawling and resoundingly entertaining ride. Orphaned on the plains by a tribe of vicious Native American warriors, Jack is ‘adopted’ by the Cheyenne Indian tribe. (In this tale, the Cheyenne are the benevolent and kindly natives; the Pawnee are the murderous brutes.) After a childhood spent among the peaceful natives, Jack finds himself back in the White Man’s world.
Back and forth Jack roams, alternating between life in town and time spent on the old reservation, all the while trying his hand at a gaggle of varied professions. Jack of all trades, master of not much, Jack dabbles in piety, gunsmanship, gambling, alcohol, straight business, and a whole host of others. He survives scrape after scrape, battle after battle - by Little Big Man’s third act it’s plainly evident that (through director Arthur Penn’s masterful direction) we’re witness to tale after tale of bona-fide bullshit.
But such enjoyable bullshit it is! By the time the flick begins to wrap up with the swan song of General George Custer (Richard Mulligan, stealing scenes whole), it’s clear we’re knee-deep in sensationalistic silliness, yet the way Jack’s omnipresent narration tells it - everything we’re seeing is true! Whether or not Jack Crabb is telling even one small nugget of truth is not really important in any way; what matters is that Little Big Man is one of the most entertaining (and presently overlooked) Westerns of the early 1970s. Bar a few quick moments here and there, this one’s also perfectly suitable for family movie night - and you could do a hell of a lot worse than introduce this colorfully entertaining collection of tall tales to your family.As for Hoffman? One of his best performances to date. Undoubtedly.