Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull's History Lesson (1976)

PG  |   |  Comedy, Western  |  24 June 1976 (USA)
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A cynical Buffalo Bill hires Sitting Bull to exploit him and add his credibility to the distorted view of history presented in his Wild West Show.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
The Star (William 'Buffalo Bill' Cody)
The Producer (Nate Salisbury)
The Publicist (Maj. John Burke)
The Relative (Ed Goodman)
The Journalist (Prentiss Ingraham) (as Allan Nicholls)
The Sure Shot's Manager (Frank Butler)
The Wrangler (Oswald Dart) (as Robert Doqui)
Mike Kaplan ...
The Treasurer (Jules Keen)
The Bartender (Crutch)
Bonnie Leaders ...
The Mezzo-Contralto (Margaret)
Noelle Rogers ...
The Lyric-Coloratura (Lucille DuCharme)
The Lyric-Soprano (Nina Cavallini)
The Indian Agent (McLaughlin)
Frank Kaquitts ...
The Indian (Sitting Bull)


Buffalo Bill plans to put on his own Wild West sideshow, and Chief Sitting Bull has agreed to appear in it. However, Sitting Bull has his own hidden agenda, involving the President and General Custer. Written by Jonathan Broxton <j.w.broxton@sheffield.ac.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Comedy | Western


PG | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:





Release Date:

24 June 1976 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Buffalo Bill and the Indians  »

Box Office


$6,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (1979) | (video release)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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Did You Know?


This started out as a project re-teaming Paul Newman and director George Roy Hill after Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Although Hill dropped out of the mix in the intervening years, Newman remained on board. See more »


There is a flag on the flagpole. All 3 flags have 48 stars on them. The flag with 48 stars didn't come about until 1912. See more »


Crutch: Come here, Mr. Buntline! Come over here and look at Sitting Bull! The son-of-a-bitch must be seven feet tall!
Ned Buntline: He's getting smaller every year.
See more »

Crazy Credits

Robert Altman's Absolutely Unique and Heroic Enterprise of Inimitable Lustrel See more »


Referenced in The Directors: The Films of Robert Altman (2001) See more »

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User Reviews

another Altman de-mythological exploration mixed with show-biz satire, but it's very underrated with a great Newman performance
14 October 2008 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

A lot of reviews on this site keep this down as something of a misfire from director Robert Altman, that it might have been too easy a target or that it's being too cynical. Can there be enough cynicism in looking at the history of Old-West Americans and American Indians? After so many years of Westerns showing things as black and white- of John Wayne Vs. Tonto and the like- there needed to be a good dose of reality, but not just by any run of the mill filmmaker. Altman is able to sympathize with the Indians while at the same time adding a certain mystery to them (how they cross the river, come back from the mountains). On top of this he makes a very strong, funny comment on celebrity and mythology in a somewhat typical de-mythological style. It's not entirely an anti-centennial statement (his real centennial movie is Nashville), but one that criticizes things while still staying true as a semi-serious comedy.

In fact, this has a few of the funniest scenes in any Altman picture. Take when Annie Oakley (Geraldine Chaplin) is performing her 'stunt' with her partner, and throughout the picture it's been a dicey and tense act with it never being as clear-cut as it should be; Annie is always talking to herself in mid-shot, asking to try it again if she misses. Then when it comes time to do the 'stunt' in front of President Cleveland, she shoots her partner right through the shoulder, with it (mostly) being passed off like nothing happened. Little asides like this that build up- or, for example, a hatred for birds that inexplicably Bill has against the cheery German singer who owns it, leading up to a frantic shoot-em-up against the bird's cage until it escapes. Sometimes it's simply "funny ho-ho" humor, the kind that one might have a quick chuckle and then see back to what's going on. But it's brilliant "funny ho-ho" comedy, where manners are tested to the extremes in the face of Buffalo Bill's troupe and the unmovable Sitting Bull and his 'voice' played by Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

There is actually something of a firmer story for Altman than usual, though that goes without saying it's like a belt thrown on once in a while with a pair of pants. Buffalo Bill is riding on his reputation, and hosts a big-time show that is a good lot like the circus only real physical prowess and weirdness replaced usually by good-old-fashioned American storytelling, which is, basically, that Indians killed a lot of people and then Buffalo Bill struck back. When Sitting Bull actually comes to the act to be apart of it, he has some conditions to be in it, *many* conditions, some easy (i.e. setting up camp across the river), some that test Bill's patience (i.e. changing the whole story of Sitting Bull to show Bill killing masses of Indians). Meanwhile, President Cleveland is coming for a special visit, Bill's drinking gets bigger, and he loses the thread of his own presumed skills like when he can't bring back Sitting Bull and his group when the "escape" to the mountains.

This all leads up to a conclusion that has a double-side to it. On the one hand the very end should feel kind of conventional, where Buffalo Bill faces off against Sitting Bull (or rather another actor playing him), and 'wins' in front of the cheering audience. On the other hand this is preceded by a tragic note, and a very strange, near perfect dream scene where Buffalo Bill confronts and constantly shifting-position Sitting Bull, confronting him as well as his own ego and reputation. At the end of it all, Altman isn't saying outright America is evil or anything; it's that there are some serious wounds caused not simply by the obvious Americans vs Indians but by over a century of holding up icons to the sky without the slightest gray area or real humanization past superhero status. And in the midst of all this, in the work of Altman's usual good ensemble (Keitel, Joel Grey, Chaplin are very good, Lancaster good if in a superfluous mouth-piece role), Paul Newmna shines incredibly in a role that requires him to be star-like but to also get into the shallowness and inner demons of the character. It might even be one of the best performances he gave in his career: he's magnetic in personality, naturally comic, and haunted to a degree. A-

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