Little Big Man (1970): Arthur Penn’s Revisionist Western

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Three years after the seminal “Bonnie and Clyde,” Arthur Penn made the epic and revisionist Western, Little Big Man.

Based on Thomas Berger’s picturesque novel, adapted to the screen by Calder Willingham, “Little Big Man” stars Dustin Hoffman as Jack Crabb, a man whose adventures take him back and forth between the Native American and white cultures. Crabb was a new kind of Western “hero,” one mostly interested in his own survival
Reflecting the times in which the movie was made–the anti-Vietnam war era–director Penn put white murderousness and racism at the center of his narrative. 
“Little Big Man” launched a cycle of films that were highly critical of the White civilization. Politically speaking, the atrocities against the Native Americans were meant to signify those against Vietnam at the time.
For most of the film, the tone is comic and even satirical: All kinds of colorful characters turn up, disappear, and turn up again. They include: Faye Dunaway as a preacher’s wife, Jeff Corey as Wild Bill Hickock, Martin Balsam as a swindler getting cheerfully dismantled limb by limb, and Chief Dan George as an Indian chief.  
The film’s frequent shifts in tone, from farce to comedy to drama and tragedy upset many critics and viewers, who were not used to such a strategy.
Oscar Alert
 
Oscar Nominations: 1
Supporting Actor: Chief Dan George
Oscar Awards: None
 
Oscar Context:
 
The winner of the Supporting Actor Oscar was John Mills for Ryan’s Daughter, directed by David Lean.
About Arthur Penn
Born in l922, in Philadelphia, Arthur Penn studied at BlackMountainCollege and later at the Actor’s Studio. He began his career as floor manager at NBC and TV writer and director (“Philco Playhouse,” “Playhouse 90”). He made his feature film debut with the Western The Left Handed Gun (l958), starring Paul Newman, followed by “The Miracle Worker” (1962), for which Anne Bancroft received a Best Actress Oscar Award. His best-known film, however, is Bonnie and Clyde (1967), starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, a film that revolutionized the American cinema.
           
Running Time: 150 Minutes