Despite the entrenched view of the cowboy in American culture, in 1970 a satire challenged the stereotype with the film Little Big Man.
Based on a humourous novel by Thomas Berger published in 1964, Little Big Man for the big screen was directed by Arthur Penn and adapted by Calder Willingham and Berger.
The storyline is about Jack Crabb (played by Dustin Hoffman), a white boy who grows up among the Cheyenne in the 19th century – and is recounted by his 121 year old self who remembers his parents’ murder by the Pawnee, his life among the Cheyenne, his recapture by the US Calvary and how his life goes back and forth between the white world and the Indian world.
Told with a sympathetic eye for the Native American, Little Big Man’s history touches on many important parts of American history – the settlement of the West, the displacement of the Native American tribes, the role of General Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, snake oil salesmen, trappers and survival.
Co-stars in the film included Faye Dunaway as Louise, Chief Dan George as Old Lodge Skins, Martin Balsam as Allardyce Meriweather the snakeoil salesman and Richard Mulligan as Gen.Custer.
Released in December 1970, the unique depiction of the west caught the critics attention with its epic adventure and constant humour of the extremes of history.
The film was nominated for several awards including a Best Supporting Oscar for Chief Dan George. With a budget of $15 million, box office receipts totalled $31 million, with Penn, Berger and Hoffman all earning praise for mixing humour with history’s realities.