When Jack Crabb was ten, his family was killed by wild Indians, leaving him and his sister, Caroline. It was Pawnee that attacked them, but, it was a Cheyenne brave called Shadow That Comes In Sight who brought them to Old Lodge Skins — the Cheyenne Chief.
The Chief respectfully smokes with the oldest male survivor, passing the pipe to Caroline. Then, Caroline has her sex organs checked. Later, she sneaks off. The Cheyenne, or the Human Beings, weren’t actually a threat and adopted Jack.
Shadow taught Jack the bow and arrow and how to stalk game. Burns Red In The Sun showed Jack how to protect his skin from sunburn. The Chief taught Jack to read a trail, Cheyenne language and many other things.
Younger Bear tells Jack he can’t go on a war party because he’s little and weak. Jack punches Younger Bear in the face, then apologises. Indians never feel sorry about beating an enemy unless, having conquered his body, you want his spirit as well.
Younger Bear’s attacked by Pawnee and Jack saves his life. It was the final insult. The Chief proclaims Jack’s name is Little Big Man. Jack’s lifted off the ground and given gifts.
A camp has been torched, corpses indiscriminately strewn about. The Chief says they must teach the cowards a lesson. This meant “taking coup”, hitting the enemy with a little stick to humiliate them.
Jack sees Shadow fall and puts him onto a horse. With repeating rifles against arrows, Jack couldn’t understand how the whites could be so proud of winning.
Jack convinces a white soldier he himself is white and was sent to Reverend Silas Pendrake for a Christian upbringing. Silas’s wife, Mrs Pendrake, tells Jack he’s now enfolded in Christian love and safe from those awful savages.
It’s Mrs Pendrake’s Christian duty to give the boy an immediate, thorough bath. She shall avert her eyes, of course. She gives him a towel and makes him step out of the tub, noticing Jack’s rather well-grown.
Jack entered his religion period. At Mr Kane’s soda shop, Jack hears Mrs Pendrake calling someone a devil and moaning for help, but Jack didn’t think she wanted to be rescued. That was the end of Jack’s religion period.
After briefly starving, Jack met swindler, Allardyce T Meriweather. Initially, his left hand and left ear were gone. Then, he lost an eye after cheating at poker.
Caroline and her posse appears. Seven folks are half-dead because they were conned into drinking Meriweather’s snake heads-containing miracle potion. Afterwards, Caroline learns she’s tarred and feathered her own brother.
Caroline teaches Jack shooting. He should go snake-eyed, draw and shoot the bottle before touching the gun. He hits it first shot. Jack then successfully hits three bottles thrown in the air.
He was the Soda Pop Kid. In a saloon, Jack’s irritated by a putdown. He asks the stranger if there’s anything wrong. It’s Wild Bill Hickok, who suggests Jack sit with him.
After almost tilting off his chair, Jack settles for only one foot resting on the table next to Bill’s two. At the bar, Bill kills a stranger. Jack sees the corpse and sells his gunfighter outfit and gun.
Jack marries Swedish Olga but must close his business. General George Armstrong Custer arrives and suggests Jack head west, giving Custer’s personal guarantee that it’s safe.
Jack and Olga’s stagecoach is nonetheless attacked by Indians. Jack’s thrown into a stream and Olga’s carried off. Jack covered most of three states and hundreds of square miles looking for Olga. Finally, he went deeper into Cheyenne country.
Burns Red In The Sun wants to kill Jack. Jack says he’s Little Big Man, shouting that he once saved Shadow. Jack asks Dirt On The Nose if he still has the pony he gave him. Dirt On The Nose says the Pawnee stole it.
Jack meets the Chief, whose heart soars like a hawk, and gives the Chief his hat. Little Horse wraps Jack in a blanket and hugs him, now a heemaneh.
Younger Bear’s a contrary, the most dangerous of all Cheyenne warriors because the way they live drives them half-crazy. Except for battle, a contrary does everything backwards.
The Chief’s surprised to learn Jack’s white wife cooks and works hard. He’s impressed to learn she shows pleasant enthusiasm when Jack copulates with her.
Custer says Jack looks more like a mule skinner than a scout. He can tell a man’s occupation just by sight. When the soldiers brutally kill women and children, Jack battles the whites.
Shadow is shot by a soldier. An enemy had saved Jack’s life by the violent murder of one of his best friends. Jack discovers Shadow’s daughter Sunshine is about to silently give birth.
Jack discovers the Chief’s been blinded by the whites. Many more of Jack’s friends have also been rubbed out. The Chief asks if Jack admires the humanity of the scalp he flourishes. As a consequence, the man is bald on the other side.
Younger Bear’s married and invites Jack to eat, boasting that he has a wife and four horses. Olga appears and hits Younger Bear with a duck. He says she’s a good wife, because he’s a wonderful lover. Jack turns down the meal, further humiliating Younger Bear.
Sunshine’s pleased Jack slept with her three sisters and presents Jack with his newborn son. Jack sees white soldiers start killing Indians. The Chief calls it a good day to die.
Jack says the Chief didn’t see any soldiers in his premonition so they can’t see him. Maybe the soldiers thought they were prisoners or friendlies since the Chief was grinning at them like a raccoon. Many Cheyenne are massacred.
Custer’s told they have a renegade who doesn’t know his commanding officer. Custer says hang him. He’s Jack Crabb the mule skinner. Custer asks how Jack became a renegade. Jack was held prisoner by the Cheyenne and tortured with cactus thorns.
Jack brings Custer’s tea and inadvertently reveals his knife. Custer sees Jack’s murderous intentions and says Jack’s no Cheyenne brave. Jack was a total failure as an Indian, but Custer wouldn’t hang him. Jack’s miserable life isn’t worth the reversal of a Custer decision. Jack has no remaining self-respect.
Wild Bill Hickok gives Jack $20, saying Jack should get gloriously drunk. But first, he should go to the barber, have a bath, buy some clothes, then come and meet Bill in the saloon.
A widow Bill knows needs a train ticket out of town. Bill’s new, beautiful wife is violently jealous and the widow’s name’s Lulu Kane. Then, Bill’s shot and killed.
Mrs Pendrake answers the door, giving her name as Lulu. Jack says she’s Louise Pendrake. He’s Jack Crabb. She says she’s a fallen flower. Her life’s wicked and sinful, but not even any fun. In fact, it’s boring. Jack says it was Wild Bill’s last wish that she go and live with her maiden aunt in Washington.
Jack goes deep in the wilderness. He burns down his cabin and, at the top of a cliff, he hears the music of Custer. The time had come to look the devil in the eye and send him to hell where he belongs.
Custer says Jack will be a perfect reverse barometer. Custer’s hatred for the Indians and his ambition had combined on him. He figured he needed one more dramatic victory over the Indians to be nominated for President of the United States.
The major says if the hostiles come in behind them and If they’re waiting for them below, they’ll never make it. He suggests sending a squad down Medicine Tail Coulee.
Custer says the hostiles don’t know Custer intends to attack without mercy. Custer asks Jack if he should go down there or withdraw. Jack tells Custer he should go down there. Custer says Jack’s saying he should go into the coulee.
Jack says there are thousands of Indians down there and when they get done with Custer, there won’t be anything left but a greasy spot. They’re Cheyenne brave and Sioux.
Custer thinks Jack’s still trying to outsmart him. Jack wants Custer to think that Jack doesn’t want Custer to go down there, but the subtle truth is Jack really doesn’t want Custer to go down there.
Soon, Custer’s surrounded and thrown. The major’s killed. Jack insults Custer. Just as Custer’s about to shoot Jack, Custer’s shot and Jack is carried away by Indians.
Younger Bear has paid Jack the life he owed. He whoops with delight. Jack’s glad to see the Chief, whose heart soars like a hawk. At a mountaintop, the Chief dances and sings. The Human Beings will soon walk a road that leads nowhere. He lies down on the ground waiting to die. After some silence, it starts to rain. Jack gets the Chief’s spear and helps him to his feet.
Starring Dustin Hoffman. Faye Dunaway. Chief Dan George. Rated 15. Dir Arthur Penn. Released in the UK 1970. Runtime 2hrs 19mins