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  • Lance Mannion
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Cleveland Bob

Hi Lance,

We rented a real film copy of LBM when I was in 7th grade and showed it 8 or so times in a two day span as part of a fundraiser for the Aurora Youth Theatre of which I was a very active member circa 1973.

I had just learned to run a projector and must've seen the movie at least 6 of those times during that weekend. It remains a very special movie to me not just because I was of an age that dug that genre of film, but because, as you've so eloquently put it, it's a very good film.

I may well have continued to enjoy acting because of Hoffman's hard work in this movie. I always ended up playing the old men and character roles once I got to University so who knows, maybe I soaked up more of his performance than I was actually aware of.

And you're right about Stranger Than Fiction. Dustin Hoffman had a blast with that role.


I can't really disagree with your well-argued point about how the movie treats Custer, but I really enjoyed Mulligan's portrayal. And I think there's something timeless about the blind arrogance of his leadership that transcends whatever Vietnam parallel Penn & Co. had in mind. Custer calling Crabb "a perfect reverse barometer" is mirrored in the way the wise men of the Bush administration (and the Washington Post, et al.) dismissed the DFH's who opposed the invasion of Iraq.

I also have to nitpick one thing, because this drives me crazy: "that fact didn’t jive with what he wanted and needed to think...." The word you want is JIBE, which means "agree with," not "jive," which means "deceive."

Finally, a dark horse nominee for a great, late-20th-c. novel, with an historical bent: Vonnegut's Jailbird, which has a great take on the Hiss case, 30s radicalism, and the military/industrial complex.

Ralph H.

I too enjoyed Little Big Man (the book more so than the movie, although the latter was pretty good). But knowing you for an open-minded, even-handed sort of guy, I think you might want to look at Larry Sklenar's _To Hell With Honor: Custer and the Little Bighorn_. He was not quite the vainglorious blowhard so often portrayed, but a generally competent officer who made a critical error at the wrong place & the wrong time, an error compounded by duplicitous and incompetent subordinates. What really killed him and so many others was the fact that nobody in the 7th Cavalry had a clue about how many damn indians were in that valley. They expected to be outnumbered by maybe two to one, but the actual odds were at least four to one, according to the best estimates. But anyway, I think a little revisionism won't kill you.

Michael Bartley

Well, you hit my western obsession (land, history, wildlife and people), so I'm going to jump in with a couple comments. Little Big Man is one of my favorite novels and movies. As you suggest, they are two different creations. What are your thoughts on Berger's sequel The Return of Little Big Man?

As for Custer, while not completely disagreeing with Ralph, I would add that Custer’s failure to heed his Crow scouts warnings was an example of his failure as a commander. A failure, perhaps understandable due to the unique circumstances of plains warfare i.e. the fear that the people would flee and disappear into a sea of grass, however; as at Washita, Custer’s brashness got a lot of people killed and maimed. Anyway, I’ll stop rambling and add some to Ralph’s reading list. You and your readers may be interested in Evan Connell's Son of the Morning Star. It is an exceptional literary history stunning in its raw melding of history and storytelling. It is one of my favorite works on the American west. I cannot think of a truly great novel that deals with Custer and The Little Bighorn directly but Andrew Huebner's American by Blood and Dan O'Brien's The Contract Surgeon are both fine post-battle novels. Robert Utley is a respected western historian who has written two solid separate biographies on Custer and Sitting Bull. James Donovan's A Terrible Glory is a strong recent work on the battle itself. The literature on Custer and the Little Bighorn is voluminous and uneven and always interesting as a sort of cultural reflection.

Finally, you asked for suggestions on great novels. Staying in the same region and, at times, touching on similar themes, Jim Harrison's Dalva and its exceptional, maybe even better, sequel The Road Home are two of the finest novels I have ever read.

Ken Houghton

I've never heard anyone suggest Custer was a good commander--much more Jerome Corsi than John Kerry, as it were.

You were lucky to see LBM late. I saw it when it came out, and wasn't ready to see it. General reaction: It was long. (Which is often my reaction to Arthur Penn movies--always had the impression he would have done better during the days of the Studio System rather than a celebrated metteur en scene.)

Phil Nugent

I don't think you can overstress the Vietnam factor in discussing Penn's movie. I think that 1970 was the high-water mark in the war becoming the subtext of every American movie that came out then, to the point that something like "Love Story" and its success can best be understood as a self-conscious attempt to construct an alternate universe where the war didn't exist and was having no effect on the country. The MAD-magazine treatment of Custer comes less from either Western history or Berger's book than from "MacBird!" and all the other late-'60s caricatures of military figures as frothing lunatics. It's something it has in common with Mike Nichols's "Catch-22", another 1970 movie that's set in a different historical context and is based on a '60s novel that predates the shift of opinion on Vietnam. It also has it in common with the big Oscar-winning, Nixon-beloved "Patton", a movie that could be seen as preaching that the secret to winning a war is to have the guts to embrace your frothing-lunatic side.

Thomas Berger, who's some kind of wonder in terms of range as a novelist, has written a number of candidates for Great Underappreciated American Novel of the 20th Century: to name a few, "Crazy in Berlin", "Sneaky People", and "Neighbors", which got the kind of film treatment designed to make a starving writer say no to movie money for the rest of his days. Since you mentioned Charles Portis' "True Grit", I'll put in a good word for his "Dog of the South". James McCourt's "Mawrdew Czgowchwz" is my favorite work of art whose title I can't say. The there's everything by James Salter, ever.

Bill Altreuter

I'd put T.C. Boyle's "World's End" on that list. And "A Confederacy of Dunces".

Oliver Mannion

Dear Dad,
I already knew Custer grauated last in class.
Your son, Oliver


Alan Le May's "The Searchers," Lance, for a novel that was better than the movie. Which is saying a lot.

Altho his novel "The Unforgiven," was not as good as the movie, but then I've always loved Burt Lancaster.


I thought the movie version of "Catcher in the Rye" was much more vapid, empty, and less nuanced than the novel.

I can barely remember anything I saw or think of an actor who was in it.


Dear Oliver, I can't keep up anymore with what you and your brother know. Stop learning so much! And by the way, why aren't you in class? Love, Dad.

Gary Farber

"Other than that, Hoffman is at his most likeable and he’s doing something I can’t recall seeing him do again until Tootsie and then not again until Stranger Than Fiction, having fun playing the part."

Wag The Dog? And dare I suggest: Ishtar?

"What besides the usual suspects would be on your list?"

Dahlgren. Possibly Geoff Ryman's The Child Garden and/or Was.


Errrr, uhhhhh, Dutch?

"Catcher" has never been made into a movie. After Uncle Wiggly was made into a horrendous movie in the 40s, he categorically refused all offers to make any of his works into movies, despite numerous attempts by boatloads of big names like Brando and Jerry Lewis.

Unless you count the art-absurd 2008 version, but then that was 80 minutes of nothing but a blue screen.


Ohh, Dahlgren. Gaddis: The Recognitions & JR (whatever I reread last is the best).

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