There are some films that know what kind of films they are, whether they be niche films, or they simply know their demographic and tailor-make themselves to fit it. Then there’s the films that try to be a little bit of everything, and usually end up failing at most of it. I wouldn’t say this fails at most of it, but neither is it the overwhelming epic of the silver screen it is trying desperately to be. Arthur Penn’s Little Big Man, I guess, could be considered a western, and it is in the genre listing of the Book. But really, the film is many, many things, and tries to be even more of them. Filmed like an epic, shot like a western, and dutifully performed like the life study it is, Little Big Man may be a bit of an anomaly on the list, but don’t tell that to the film; it is too convinced that it is bigger than life itself.
There’s a lot of similarities to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, and by a lot, I mean a LOT; the film is basically a series of vignettes that tell the story of the life of a single man, in this case Jack Crabb, played by Dustin Hoffman. It starts out with the 10-year-old Crabb getting taken in by a Cheyenne tribe, after the massacre of his parents by a rival Indian people. After this happened, I assumed the film would be a case study of Crabb as he grows up with the Cheyenne, and the cultural clash when he is inevitably reintroduced into the world of the white man, and indeed the film went down this path. For about fifteen minutes, before dropping it for the next slice of the story. Each segment of the film could’ve been a film in its own right, but instead it is merely condensed and added to the line of stories that make up this man’s life. What this means, though, is that while there’s an awful lot that happens in this film, not very much of it is important or merits significant thought, since it is so easily discarded for whatever is coming up next. Hoffman, though, does a good job of keeping everything together, and another acting highlight is Chief Dan George as the leader of the Cheyenne tribe that takes Crabb in. Hoffman also pulls off a downright Benjamin-Button-esque performance as the 121-year-old version of Crabb; apparently, he would yell at the top of his lungs for an hour in his dressing room to get the “old man” voice of the character, which shows just how method he really is. One more thing that should be noted is the time period the film was made in, right in the heart of the Vietnam War. Thus, it is rather telling of the mindset of the times that the American military in the film are basically the villains, with a fierce hatred for Indians and a penchant to go out of their way to slaughter as many women and children as they can.
This being so similar to Colonel Blimp, it ends up falling into the same pitfalls. Because so much happens so fast, we pretty much don’t care about any of it, since none of it has any real relevance or importance. Also, it makes the mistake of assuming that just because the picture encompasses the entire life of a single man, that we will find that man important enough to warrant having an over two-hour-long picture about him. Well, he isn’t; this isn’t another T.E. Lawrence, he’s just another man that had a lot of improbable events happen to him in his life. Some people’s suspension of disbelief will be stretched razor-thin by this film, but I didn’t mind it much; after all, it is still a film, so there’s a license to be a little free-wheeling with the story to serve a better entertainment experience, and to that end, Little Big Man wasn’t too bad. I don’t really know why it’s on the list when Colonel Blimp is already there, but I wasn’t too disappointed with the time I spent on it, and given that it’s over two hours, that’s saying something.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10