Senior HTF Member
- Jul 3, 1997
- Real Name
- Ronald Epstein
Little Big Man
Studio: Paramount (via CBS DVD)
Film Length: 139 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (2.35:1)
"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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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