I really enjoyed some of Buffalo Bill and the Indians. The first half hour of the film is Altman doing what he does best, the camera wanders around a fully-realized world built from the ground up and peopled by Altman. The overlapping dialogue is great and the casting looks perfect. I think the film peaks with the scene where Bill and Annie Oakley are target practicing - Altman weaves together firearms, sex, showbusiness and relationships into a pretty funny scene.
Then the Indians show up. Sitting Bull and William Halsey are portrayed as noble, mysterious and aloof. The movie spirals into a series of events where they confound the smarmy Bill Cody over and over. The last hour of the movie requires Newman to act more and more flustered by Sitting Bull until he has a really cringeworthy breakdown in front of a ghostly Sitting Bull. Maybe there was more fresh drama in watching a white profiteer abase himself before noble Injuns in 1976. It's hard for me believe that anyone but the most hardcore sentimentalist will find the drama between Cody and Bull interesting.
Anyway, there's stuff for hardcore Altman fans to watch for. Newman is initially impressive in his role and then sputters. The pageants and attention to details that Altman excels at are well done. Ultimately the themes of showbiz and history wilt before the rambling blah of the noble savage.
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