Sunday, 11 August 2013

Tonto vs Little Big Man

In reviewing (more kindly than most) the new Lone Ranger film in today's Observer Phillip French evoked the memory of one of my favourite films. Simply the casting of Dustin Hoffman in a Western tells you that Little Big Man was going to be different. My Dad loved a good Western, the kind tha starred Gary Cooper, Alan Ladd or Randolphe Scott. But Little Big Man both embraced and mocked the 'mans gotta do what a mans gotta do' ethos. Hoffman plays a wide eyed innocent, Jack Crabb is kidnapped and raised by Indians before stumbling unsuspecting into the world. Crabb is more in the vein of Candide than Shane.

It's a comedy Western but one that has some punch. As French points out it names the treatment of Native Americans for what it was, Genocide. I saw it at an age when reassuring certainties were giving way to questioning doubt. I had seen plenty of films with brave Cavalry men in blue fought the savages. The scene when the troopers massacre the tribe in the snow had a huge impact. One detail that stayed with me was the image of a woman with a baby on her back is shot down. To obliterate any hope it is made clear in blood that both mother and child are dead. But the film retains an appetite for life as Crabb stumbles on through the history of the Wild West.