Altman's name isn't readily associated with Westerns and, in fact, the film's genre classification is tenuous at best: like LITTLE BIG MAN (1970), it pokes fun at Western myths - but, while the former was given an epic perspective, this one's a talkfest (it originated as a stage play) which barely strays outside of the titular character's sideshow setting!
This was star Paul Newman's fourth(!) stab at a Western 'hero', following Billy The Kid, Butch Cassidy and Judge Roy Bean; he is alternately dashing and amusing in the role but, like the Custer of Arthur Penn's film (mentioned above), he goes mad towards the end. He later collaborated again with Altman on QUINTET (1979) which, being a science-fiction film, was equally unlikely territory for the director to dabble in! Still, as is typical of Altman, he has assembled a wonderful - and eclectic - cast: Burt Lancaster (as the man behind the legend of Buffalo Bill), an unrecognizable Joel Grey and Kevin McCarthy (as Bill's side-kicks), Harvey Keitel (as Newman's nephew!), Geraldine Chaplin (as Annie Oakley) and Will Sampson (as Sitting Bull's 'interpreter').
Ultimately, while not particularly compelling (there is very little plot to speak of), the film remains consistently interesting throughout and it actually emerged the winner of the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival! Unfortunately, however, the Italian-dubbed print I watched was cut - as the film only ran for about 100 minutes, whereas its complete running time is officially given as 123!
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