A Little Big Tale

Little Big Man (Theaters – December 1970; Streaming – April 2003)  Rated: PG  —M Little 1970  Runtime: 139 minutes

Genre:  Adventure – Comedy – Satire – Western

els:  6.5/10

IMDB:  7.6/10

Amazon:  4.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 7.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore:  63/100

Metacritic User Score:  8.0/10

Awards: NA

Directed by:  Arthur Penn

Written by:  Calder Willingham (screenplay), Thomas Berger (book)

Music by:  John Hammond

Cast:  Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Chief Dan George, Richard Mulligan

Film Locations: Calgary, Morely, Alberta, Canada; Billings, Crow Indian Reservation, Hardin, Lame Deer, Little Big Horn Battlefield, Nevada City, Virginia City, Montana – Agoura Hills, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, California, US

Budget: $15,000,000

Worldwide Box Office: $31,600,000

An ancient and time-worn Jack Crabb (Hoffman), spending his final days in a nursing home, relates his incongruous life of farce and fate to an interested historian.  At the age of 10 a Pawnee raiding party attacks his family and kills his parents. Later a Cheyenne brave finds him and his sister hiding in their destroyed wagon and takes them back to his tribe.  The tribe’s chief, Old Lodge Skins (Chief Dan George) raises the boy and thus begins a series of improbable events that punctuate Jack’s long and full life. Indian on Indian battles, white on red battles, sexually repressed preacher’s wife battles, gunfighter playing, snake oil selling, drunken despondency; all  in a day in the life of a western meme.

Arthur Penn creates a movie of contrasts that is labeled revisionist history but is no more than a comedy situated in the late 19th century American west, incorporating events of historical interest but not necessarily accurate or correct. The contrasts are established through the lives of the story’s actors, their happenstance encounters and experiences highlighting life’s hypocrisy and charades. Jack as a natural gunfighter that cannot stomach killing, a preacher’s wife that seeks pleasure over salvation, a narcissistic general searching for fame through folly. A tragedy’s lessons told through tongue-in-cheek schtick. An effective delivery of farce that unfortunately passed as truth for millions of viewers.

Hoffman takes top billing as lead actor and he delivers a masterful performance both on-screen and as the voice-over narrator, but it is Chief Dan George who shines, turning an ok script into a wonderful exhibition of cheerful existence in the face of our inhumanity. George was nominated for an Academy Award but unfortunately lost out to John Mills in the totally forgettable Ryan’s Daughter. Richard Mulligan, as Custer, turns in a performance that is remarkable in its absurdity, an under-dog role elevated to a tour-de-force of parody. Faye Dunaway’s hilarious representation as a sexually needy whore and preacher’s wife sets the standard for urgency over love, a role reprised brilliantly by Madeline Kahn as Lili von Shtupp in the 1974 romp, Blazing Saddles.

Little Big Man is a fun chuckle of a movie that should not be confused for history but as a satire of the past. A movie encompassing a large swath of all western tales encapsulated into a few hours of humor and jest.

 

Friendship and Vengeance

The Ballad of Lefty Brown  (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 111 minutesM Lefty 2017

Genre: Action-Drama-Mystery-Thriller-Western

els – 7.5/10

IMDb – 6.3/10

Amazon – 4.0/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 6.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore – 63/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.5/10

Directed by: Jared Moshe

Written by: Jared Moshe

Music by: H. Scott Salinas

Cast: Bill Pullman, Peter Fonda, Joe Anderson, Tommy Flanagan

Film Locations:  Montana–cities of: Bannack, Virginia City, Nevada City and Harrison

Budget:  NA

Lefty Brown (Pullman), a hapless cowboy and life long partner and friend to his boss, the newly elected senator from Montana, Edward Johnson (Fonda), are riding the grassy hills, searching for horse thieves, when they are bushwhacked by a group of rascally devils in which Johnson is killed and Lefty is knocked silly but survives. As Lefty regains his senses, what little he ever had, he vows vengeance on the killers of his companion of 40 years. Thus begins the Lefty’s quest across the desolate and open lands of Montana, hunting for the killers of his one true friend; a hunt that tests his fortitude, his courage, and his loyalty, but it is the hunt for the truth that ultimately defines his essence as a man.

In 1955 Gunsmoke premiered on CBS television and ran for 20 years and 635 episodes, during which time it became quintessence of the western genre and likely, the most beloved. The core, twin pillars of the show included the just and honorable, but isolated, Marshall Dillon (James Arness) and his trusty but ornery sidekick: Fetus (Ken Curtis). The Ballad of Lefty Brown is the story of Fetus with Chester’s (Dennis Weaver) limp thrown in for good measure, out to avenge Matt’s death. Pullman plays Fetus aka Lefty to absolute perfection.  It is one of the greatest pieces of acting that I have seen in years. I hope they reserve one of the best actor awards for him. His acting is worth the price of admission, but watch it also for the supporting acting, the fervent story and the grand panoramic cinematography.

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