Director Arthur Penn and screenwriter Calder Willingham’s 1970 adaptation of Thomas Berger’s novel Little Big Man arrived toward the beginning of the 1970s revisionist western cycle, sporting a different tone from the western spoofs and comedies that had come before. Little Big Man is more in line with earlier Penn films like The Left Handed Gun, Mickey One, Bonnie And Clyde, and Alice’s Restaurant, in that even at its liveliest, it’s suffused with melancholy, and with the sense that this world is irreparably broken. Dustin Hoffman stars as a man who was raised by the Cheyenne after his parents were killed, and then returned to the white man’s world by the U.S. calvary as a teenager, with the result that he spends the rest of his long life bouncing around the old west, never quite at home anywhere. He and the movie both have an outsider’s perspective on all the bloodshed and callous cultural theft that dominated America in the 19th century. Little Big Man is an episodic film with a wry sense of humor, always setting the larger-than-life exploits of western heroes against the wreckage they left behind. It’s airing on Turner Classic Movies today at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, as part of a day of Faye Dunaway films (which also includes Bonnie And Clyde, Three Days Of The Condor, and Chinatown).
August 15, 2014 newsreel