Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

The Tales of Hoffman out West

Cleveland Press February 19, 1971

"Little Big Man" is playing at local theaters. Comedy western. adults, older teens. In the cast are Dustin Hoffman, Chief Dan George, Martin Balsam, Faye Dunaway, Richard Mulligan. Running time: 135 minutes.

"Little Big Man" is a mixture of comedy, satire, black humor, epic western and message movie. If it had tried less for a message the other elements would have worked better and the message would have emerged on its own.

As it is "Little Big Man" works beautifully for about the first hour of its more than two hour length; after that it is overly single-minded in its preachment on the horrors of Indian genocide.

But during that early part of the film "Little Big Man" is a raucously funny work as bit by irreverent bit it deflates the western legend as expounded in hundreds of western movies.

IT IS A TALL tale told by 121-year-old Jack Crabb (Dustin Hoffman) who claims to be the only white survivor of Custer's last stand.

The tale is not only tall but long-winded starting back when Jack and his sister are the lone survivors of a wagon-train massacre. He is adopted by the Cheyenne (who call themselves the human beings) and raised by an adopted grandfather played by Chief Dan George.

"There is an endless supply of white men and only a limited number of human beings," his grandfather explains which pretty well sums up the message of the movie.

CHIEF DAN GEORGE combines the authenticity and whimsy which director Arthur Penn seemed to be striving for in this film

He is an Everyman ethnic poppa as he greets Hoffman with "My heart soars like an eagle -- let's eat."

Hoffman keeps jumping back and forth between the worlds of human beings and white men, the latter being without exception either despicable or ridiculous.

Rescued by the cavalry he is placed in a minister's home for upbringing, the minister having a nymphomaniac wife (Faye Dunaway). There is a period with a medicine man, Martin Balsam, who keeps losing parts of his anatomy through misadventures.

THERE IS ANOTHER period as a gunslinger, the Soda Pop Kid who can't bring himself to kill anyone once he has seen Wild Bill Hickock gun down a man for no reason.

In between are more periods with the Indian tribe, ahippie squaw, several massacres in which women and children are murdered by white soldiers.

After one raid by General Custer (Richard Mulligan) Hoffman vows to kill Custer but cannot.

BUT IN A LATER episode as a scout for Custer he unwittingly leads him to the Little Big Horn. He advises him not to go there, bu Custer distrusts him and does the opposite.

That Custer was less than noble is true but the depiction is typical of where Director Penn and his writers went wrong. He is made an insane clown and the result is excesses of "Soldier Blue" with laughs mixed with all that blood.