Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson
|Buffalo Bill and the Indians|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Robert Altman|
|Produced by||Robert Altman|
|Written by||Alan Rudolph
Allan F. Nicholls
|Distributed by||United Artists (USA)
Dino De Laurentiis Productions (overseas)
|Running time||123 minutes|
Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson is a 1976 revisionist Western directed by Robert Altman and based on the play Indians by Arthur Kopit. It stars Paul Newman as William F. Cody, alias Buffalo Bill, along with Geraldine Chaplin, Will Sampson, Joel Grey, Harvey Keitel and Burt Lancaster as Bill's biographer, Ned Buntline.
As in his earlier film MASH, Altman skewers an American historical myth of heroism, in this case the notion that noble white men fighting bloodthirsty savages won the West. However, the film was poorly received at the time of its release, as the country was celebrating its bicentennial.
The story begins in 1885 with the arrival of an important new guest star in Buffalo Bill Cody's grand illusion, Chief Sitting Bull of Little Big Horn fame. Much to Cody's annoyance, Sitting Bull proves not to be a murdering savage but a genuine embodiment of what the whites believe about their own history out west. He is quietly heroic and morally pure.
Sitting Bull also refuses to portray Custer's Last Stand as a cowardly sneak attack. Instead, he asks Cody to act out the massacre of a peaceful Sioux village by marauding bluecoats. An enraged Cody fires him but is forced to relent when star attraction Annie Oakley takes Sitting Bull's side.
- Paul Newman as Buffalo Bill
- Geraldine Chaplin as Annie Oakley
- Burt Lancaster as Ned Buntline
- Kevin McCarthy as Major Burke
- Joel Gray as Nate Salisbury
- Harvey Keitel as Ed Goodman
- John Considine as Frank E. Butler
- Frank Kaquitts as Sitting Bull
- Will Sampson as Halsey
- Pat McCormick as President Grover Cleveland
- Shelley Duvall as Mrs. Grover Cleveland
- Allan F. Nicholls as Prentiss Ingraham
- Robert DoQui as Oswald Dart
- Evelyn Lear as Nina Cavallini
- Mike Kaplan as Jules Keen
- Bert Remsen as Crutch
- Bonnie Leaders as The Mezzo-Contralto
- Noelle Rogers as Lucille DuCharme
- Denver Pyle as McLaughlin
- Ken Krossa as Johnny Baker
- Fred N. Larsen as Buck Taylor
- Jerri Duce as The Cowboy Trick Rider
- Joy Duce as The Cowboy Trick Rider
- Alex Green as The Mexican Whip and Fast Draw Act
- Gary MacKenzie as The Mexican Whip and Fast Draw Act
- Humphrey Gratz as The Old Soldier
- Dennis Corrie as Rancher
- Patrick Reynolds as President Cleveland's Aide
Like many of Altman's films, Buffalo Bill and the Indians is an ensemble piece with an episodic structure. It follows the day to day performances and behind-the-scenes intrigues of Buffalo Bill Cody's famous "Wild West Show", a hugely popular 1880s entertainment spectacular that starred the former Indian fighter, scout and buffalo hunter. Altman uses the setting to criticize Old West motifs, presenting the eponymous western hero as a show-biz creation who can no longer separate his invented image from reality.
Altman's Cody is a loud-mouthed buffoon, a man who claims to be one with the Wild West but lives in luxury, play-acting daily in a western circus of his own making. Cody's long hair is a wig, he can't shoot straight any more or track an Indian, and all his staged battles with ruffians and savages are rigged in his favor. However, this does not keep him from acting as if his triumphs are real, or plaguing his patient entourage of yes-men with endless monologues about himself.
Most of the film was shot on location in Alberta, Canada, mostly on the Stoney Indian Reserve. Frank "Sitting Wind" Kaquitts, who played Sitting Bull, had been elected the first ever chief of Alberta's Nakoda (Stoney) First Nation, after three bands had amalgamated the year before.
Despite a lackluster reception at the time of its release, the film has since been regarded more favorably, with a "fresh" 82% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote "It's a sometimes self-indulgent, confused, ambitious movie that is often very funny and always fascinating."
- Brenner, Marie (July 1976). "Buffaloed Bill". Texas Monthly: 69.
- "Kainai News, 23 May 1975". Digitallibrary.uleth.ca. Retrieved 2013-08-19.
- Warren Harbeck, One last mountain journey with Sitting Wind, Cochrane Eagle, November 27, 2002
- Sitting Wind, Rocky Mountain Nakoda
- "Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2013-08-19.
- "Berlinale 1976: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. Retrieved 2010-07-16.
- Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson at the Internet Movie Database
- Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson at Rotten Tomatoes