HTF REVIEW: "Little Big Man" (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED) (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ronald Epstein, Apr 17, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein

    Little Big Man

    Studio: Paramount (via CBS DVD)
    Year: 1970
    Rated: PG-13
    Film Length: 139 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
    Subtitles: English

    "I think it's a good day to die"

    I must have been in my teens the first time I saw
    Little Big Man on television. At the time,
    I was too naive to catch all the black humor of the
    film, but there was something about its characters
    and story that really touched my inner strings --
    so much so that it stands amongst my top favorite
    films of all time.

    I am especially proud that the members of HTF and
    I had an important role in getting this film released
    to DVD, something I never expected to happen. The
    film was originally released theatrically in 1970
    through National General Pictures and to the VHS
    format in the mid 80s through Twentieth Century Fox's
    Key Video label. By the mid 90s, the film
    saw its first letterboxed release to the laserdisc
    format. I had approached Fox over two years ago
    and pleaded with them to release this title. It
    was a little more than a year ago that I learned
    the rights to this film had switched over to Paramount.
    That had me worried. Could I convince that studio
    to release this title, and would they do justice to
    its transfer? I'll answer the second question in
    a moment, but tell you that I and a few members of
    this forum contacted Martin Blythe at Paramount and
    put the idea of this film's release into his head.
    Within a year, it was on their release schedule.

    In Arthur Penn's adaptation of Thomas Berger's novel,
    Little Big Man is the story of of Jack Crabb
    (Dustin Hoffman), a 120+ year old man who claims to
    have been a witness to the slaughter of the Indian
    tribes at the hands of the U.S. Troops, led by
    General Custer. As the film opens in the mid 1900s,
    we witness the decrepit, wrinkled, yet still
    energetic ultra senior citizen (a remarkable make-up
    job on Hoffman) being interviewed by a historian
    who isn't buying the outlandish tall-tale claims
    being made by this ancient man who can't even handle
    the smoking cigarette in his hand.


    When the historian accuses Crabb of being a man who
    couldn't possibly care about the Indians and how they
    were basically wiped off the face of the earth, we
    see Crabb's face turn to pain and anguish. As Crabb
    points to the audio tape recorder he quips, "Turn
    that thing on and shut up! Now you just set there
    and you'll learn something. One hundred, and eleven
    years ago, when I was ten years old, my family in
    crossin' the Great Plains, was wiped out by a band
    of wild Indians.....".


    So begins one of the wildest yarns ever brought
    to the screen. As a character almost reminiscent
    of Forrest Gump (without being a simpleton), we
    witness Jack Crab's accidental adventures through
    American History. The story begins during Jack's
    childhood where we find that his entire family have
    been attacked and killed by the Pawnee Indians. He
    is rescued by the more peaceful Cheyenne Indians who
    adopt him as a "human being," bringing him up as
    one of their own and teaching him the Indian ways.
    The chief Old Lodge Skin (Chief Dan George) becomes
    his grandfather and through him Jack learns of the
    atrocities of the white man who kill the Indians.
    Later, after Jack makes a daring rescue of his Indian
    brother Younger Bear, he is given the name of
    "Little Big Man."


    As Jack nears adulthood the Calvary start to attack
    the Cheyenne. During a battle Jack is found out to be
    a white man by a solder. He is sent to the Reverend
    and Mrs. Pendrake (Fay Dunaway), to have the Indian
    beat out of him and a fine Christian lifestyle shown
    to him. Mrs. Pendrake is a beautiful lady dripping
    with sexuality. This sends Jack away from the Lord
    and into the hooks of a snake oil salesman (Martin


    There's so much that happens in this film that I
    could spend pages talking about it. I'll summarize
    the rest of this story and say that after Jack
    dabbles in religion and the snake oil business, he
    becomes a gunfighter and meets Wild Bill Hickok
    (Jeff Corey) and even the infamous General Custer
    (Richard Mulligan).

    While many westerns prior to Little Big Man
    glorified our victories over the seemingly savage
    Indians, this was the first western to deal with
    the reality of the encounters between whites and
    native Americans. Director Arthur Penn (Bonnie
    and Clyde) carefully balances the film's comedy with
    a strong underlying message that makes us take a hard
    look at the real victims before, during and after
    Custer's Last Stand. It's a very poignant moment
    in the film when the elderly Indian grandfather
    exclaims, "We won this battle today; we will not
    win tomorrow”


    Of all the films that Dustin Hoffman has done in
    his career, none come this close to his performance
    here. Hoffman carries the entire weight of this
    film on his shoulders. It was absolutely essential
    that we believe every moment of his character that
    ranges from a 121 year old man to a 15 year old kid.
    Had we not had faith in one moment of Jack Crabb's
    struggle, the movie would have certainly fallen
    apart. Suffice to say, the young Hoffman (just
    coming off of THE GRADUATE and MIDNIGHT COWBOY)
    succeeds in showing his dynamic acting range in
    such a huge role.


    Though Dustin Hoffman is the focal point of this
    film, the one actor that manages to steal this
    film is Chief Dan George who plays Chief Lodge
    Skins. His performance fills this movie with
    heart-pulling emotion as he talks about the plight
    of his people. Still to this day, I can't help
    but be emotionally touched whenever I see that
    smile on his face as he exclaims, "My Heart Soars
    Like a Hawk"
    . Chief Dan George's performance
    garnered a New York Film Critics Circle prize and
    an Oscar nomination. He ultimately lost the Oscar
    to John Mills (Ryan's Daughter). Nevertheless, this
    is an Indian that will never disappear from your

    It's interesting to learn that Arthur Penn had
    wanted to make this film immediately after Bonnie
    and Clyde
    , but there was a big prejudice at that
    point amongst studios over a film that was sympathetic
    toward the Indians. Very sad.

    How is the transfer?

    I have to admit, I wasn't as nervous about the
    care Paramount would put into this transfer over
    what the studio would be able to do with original
    film elements that might have been in vastly
    deteriorated condition. I was absolutely certain
    that this transfer would let me down in one way
    or another. How could it possibly live up to my

    Little did I know that when I pushed the PLAY
    button on my remote, I was in for the shock of
    a lifetime...

    I am extremely proud to report that the transfer
    of Little Big Man is so incredible, that it
    managed to exceed all my expectations. You can
    imagine not only the thrill of watching this
    Panavision film for the first time in a letterboxing
    ratio of 2.35:1, but watching it with clarity and
    detail that has never been seen before.

    I dare say that Little Big Man almost could
    pass as a brand-new film. This films looks as
    fresh as anything I have recently viewed, with images
    that are remarkably crisp, sharp and extremely
    well detailed. Though this is not a very
    colorful film, the color rendering is excellent.
    Even more surprising is how deep the black levels
    are represented here. What most stands out about
    this transfer is the immaculate condition of the
    print itself. I was just astounded by how pristine
    this film looks after all these years, with the
    nearly complete absence of any noticeable amount
    of film blemish. Perhaps the only negative thing
    I could say about this transfer is that sky shots
    exhibit a small amount of noise (which I find to
    be normal). Also, while overall contrast and
    brightness are excellent, many of the dark scenes
    (such as a surprise attack by a Pawnee Indian 15
    minutes into the film) is a bit too dark for my
    tastes. But, really, to talk negatively about this
    transfer in any way should be considered blasphemous.


    Now if you thought my description of the visual
    quality of this DVD was exciting, wait till you hear
    what I thought of the sonic quality....

    I had to do some research on exactly what audio
    format this film was originally released on. To
    the best of my knowledge, Little Big Man
    has always been a mono film. This is important
    to realize when considering that Paramount has
    released this film as a brand-new 5.1 surround
    presentation (along with a standard stereo surround
    and French mono track).

    It defies all plausibility that this film was
    originally recorded mono. I have to be wrong about
    this, because what Paramount has succeeded in doing
    is taking these tracks and producing a 5.1 track
    that while not perfect, is pretty damn amazing.

    The audio quality is pretty good, though the
    dynamic range is somewhat limited due to the
    age of the film. Dialogue is prominent mostly in
    the center channel, though it does bleed across
    the fronts.

    I must have found the perfect sweet spot on my
    couch. From my listening position, I heard a
    depth of audio that is very difficult for me to
    to explain other than saying it was stereo unlike
    anything I have heard before from a film of this
    period. Not only did the film sport outstanding
    stereo separation, but it seemed sound was constantly
    moving across the front three channels. Sitting
    in the sweet spot, I really sensed a great deal
    of directionality within the sound.

    Though this is certainly not an aggressive mix,
    I was quite startled to find that some effect sounds
    were cleverly diverted to the rear channels. From
    the moment the film opened I was surprised to hear
    the sound of background wind. Once in a while I
    found myself turning my head as I heard the sounds
    of a dog barking or even stray bullet fire. Even
    during a rain shower, the sound of rain can softly
    heard in the rear channels. Don't be surprised if
    you also occasionally hear John Hammond's blues
    background score reaching itself out to the rears --
    especially during the march of Custer's troops.

    Special Features

    I could waste a lot more space in this review by
    complaining about the total lack of extra material
    on this disc, including a simple film trailer.

    Let me only once again stress to Paramount that
    these classics hold a significant amount of value
    to those of us that view DVD product as historical
    material. While I can only hope that the studio
    changes its policy on the type of bonus content it
    provides for its classic genre, it seems to be a
    bit too late as the damage seems to be already
    dug too deep.

    Final Thoughts


    My heart has been so emotionally involved in this
    film since the day I first discovered it, that it
    becomes difficult for me to stand back and judge
    this film for a new generation who probably has
    never heard of or seen this film before.

    Will this film have the same impact in the 21st
    century as it did upon its release in the early
    1970s? I am confident that its performances and
    underlying message is still as strong today as it
    was back then. This is a film that will make you

    I need to end this review with personal thanks
    to Martin Blythe over at Paramount. You listened
    to our pleas and put this film into production.
    I also want to thank the restoration team for
    giving this film visual and sonic vibrance that
    has never before been seen on any previous format.

    Paramount is still listening....they have
    another HTF member requested catalog title in
    production that I cannot mention at this point.
    After seeing this transfer, I am very confident
    that this "musical" will receive the best care

    I urge everyone who reads this review to give
    this film the opportunity of a rental. Those
    who have already seen Little Big Man no
    doubt have it pre-ordered for purchase.

    To finally own this DVD causes my heart to soar
    like a hawk.

    Release Date: April 29, 2003

    All screen captures have been further compressed.
    They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
    represent actual picture quality
  2. Greg Krewet

    Greg Krewet Stunt Coordinator

    Dec 30, 1999
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    Ron, if you are correct in the running time being 139
    minites long, that would be considerably shorter then most
    versions that I have viewed. Please check to see if this
    is correct. Thanks to your review, I just added to my pre-orders. Outstanding review, sometimes, the magic works.
  3. dpippel

    dpippel HTF Premium Member

    Feb 24, 2000
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    Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems
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    Thanks for the review Ron! Little Big Man is one of those films that has stuck in my mind for over 25 years and I can't wait to see it in all of its Panavision glory. I'm very, very happy to hear that Paramount has taken it's time and done such a great job on the transfer! While extras would have been nice the studio has seemingly spent it's money where it matters most - video and audio quality of the feature presentation. To me, anything beyond that is gravy. Maybe at some point in the future they'll release a SE with all of the goodies you missed out on. Nah, they wouldn't do that!

    Would they? [​IMG]
  4. Scott Shanks

    Scott Shanks Second Unit

    Mar 10, 2001
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    Louisville, Ky
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    Scott Shanks
    "And that was the end of my religion period." [​IMG]

    I share your enthusiasm about this title. A no-brainer to pick up even without the extras. I didn't think too much of the cover art, though.

    Those screen shots do look very sharp! Thanks for the review, as always.
  5. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

    Apr 15, 2002
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    great review as usual and cannot wait to see this once again.

  6. Scott David

    Scott David Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 9, 2001
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    I know you can't reveal the "musical's" title yet, Ron...but I'm hoping it'll (finally) be "Scrooge"!
  7. Tomoko Noguchi

    Tomoko Noguchi Second Unit

    Nov 23, 2000
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    IMDB lists this at 147 minutes. I hope they didn't cut out anything.
  8. Greg_M

    Greg_M Screenwriter

    Mar 23, 2000
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    Martin mentioned he'd give us "Scrooge" in another thread about three weeks ago.
  9. Scott David

    Scott David Stunt Coordinator

    Oct 9, 2001
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  10. Steve K.H.

    Steve K.H. Supporting Actor

    Jan 11, 2002
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    Hot DAMN!!!!!! A must buy!

    This is fantastic news.

    I was in my early teens when I first saw this film. It is truly one of my 5 fav's of all time.

    Chief Dan George and Dustin Hoffman are absolutely incredible in this film. To hear that Paramount has...

    -Released in 2.35 to 1
    -Made the transfer look like a new film
    -Reworked the mono (this was in mono???) track to 5.1 even greater news!!! Not just for this film but also for setting the standard for other studios (and themselves) for the future.

    I can think of a few films that could benefit from a reworked re-release... can't you?
  11. Doug_B

    Doug_B Screenwriter

    Feb 11, 2001
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    Thanks for the review. One of my most anticipated DVDs as well.

    I'm curious as to how much horse hoofin' is directed into the surrounds, when appropriate.

    Today is a good day to die - sorry, not until after viewing this DVD!

  12. Martin Blythe

    Martin Blythe Second Unit

    Jan 18, 2001
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    Great review Ron. To be fair, CBS Video deserve much of the credit here because they oversaw this restoration, the creation of the 5.1 and so on. We are the distributor. I also want to say that this film hasn't had anything cut out of it - it is 139 minutes long and it always has been.
  13. Larry Geller

    Larry Geller Supporting Actor

    Jan 10, 2002
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  14. Gordon McMurphy

    Gordon McMurphy Producer

    Aug 3, 2002
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    Oh, man this is a great release. [​IMG]

    I am so glad that the transfer is beyond great! [​IMG]

    Shame that there are no extras though. [​IMG] I'd love to hear Hoffman's recollections. But the film stands on its own merits. It is one of the great American movies of the Seventies - there is no other film quite like it.

    Thanks, CBS & Paramount! [​IMG]

    And thanks to Ron, too! [​IMG]

  15. Ed St. Clair

    Ed St. Clair Producer

    May 7, 2001
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    Today is a good day to DVD!
    Thanks, salivating all over the keyboard.
    Great review to 'wake-up' too!
  16. Jordan_E

    Jordan_E Cinematographer

    Jan 3, 2002
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    Oh man! This has become my must-have of the week! I probably would have picked it up anyway, but Ron's description of the transfer and the sound has pushed me over the edge! Being an Indian (we never call ourselves Native American!), this has always been something of a touchstone movie for me ever since I saw it as a kid. Can't wait![​IMG]
  17. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Real Name:
    Ronald Epstein
  18. Matthew Watson

    Matthew Watson Stunt Coordinator

    Aug 11, 2001
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    Count me in as another very happy movie lover. I haven't seen this gem in about twenty years. I look forward to getting this wonderful film in all its widescreen glory (never seen it properly framed - can't wait).

    Thanks Paramount, CBS, and Mr. Blythe.
  19. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

    Oct 5, 1998
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    Boise, ID
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  20. Cees Alons

    Cees Alons Moderator

    Jul 31, 1997
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    Cees Alons
    It's one of my family's favorites (including myself), so I'm very glad to hear how good this version is.
    Pre-ordered it already, waiting for it to arrive!

    One of the most hilarious scenes (because we are led to believe in one of those stereotypes here) is, well, to avoid a spoiler, that uhm.. lonely scene with Hoffman and a terribly old and tired Chief Dan George together, after which....


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