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.
The full-length portrait of Buffalo Bill astride his horse, that appears several times in the film, is based closely on a similar portrait by the French artist Rosa Bonheur, which hangs in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming.
The opening credits declare that the film is "Robert Altman's Absoloutely Unique and Heroic Enterprise of Inimitable Lustre!"
Paul Newman has claimed this to be one of his favorite films of his own. The others include 'The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean' and 'Slapshot.' Incidentally, Newman failed to be Oscar-nominated for any of the three despite seven subsequent nominations.
In a style reminiscent of Wild West Show theater programs, in addition to the film's "Players" list, which also similarly had previously been published on the picture's pre-production publicity sheet, the film's opening credits declared: "The Deadwood Stage, hundreds of Brave Cowboys, fierce Indians, wild Buffalo, bucking Broncs, and Original Show Music by Richard Baskin played by Buffalo Bill's Cowboy Band, &c.!"
Although set in Wyoming, the movie was made mostly in Alberta, Canada. The production crew bulldozed a remote field and constructed a full-sized copy of William F. Cody's outdoor theater complex.
The film was entered into competition at the 26th Berlin International Film Festival in 1976, and won the top prize, the festival's Golden Bear. However, Robert Altman declined the award in protest over the re-cutting of the film at the hands of Executive Producer Dino De Laurentiis.
As the film came out in 1976, film critics and others felt that this scathing indictment of Americana was made as a countermeasure to the celebratory atmosphere of the American Bicentennial, but Robert Altman claimed in interviews that he did not intend for this to be a commentary on the Bicentennial at all.
"Ragtime" author E.L. Doctorow has an unbilled cameo as an advisor to President Grover Cleveland (Pat McCormick). Robert Altman was set to direct the film adaptation of Doctorow's book, but Producer Dino De Laurentiis and Altman had a falling out, and Milos Forman took over the "Ragtime" project.
The nickname of William Frederick Cody (Paul Newman) was "Buffalo Bill". The character though, is billed as "The Star" in the opening credits, and under his abbreviated real name, "William F. Cody", in the closing credits.
Paul Newman originally bought the rights to the Arthur Kopit play "Indians" in August 1970 for five hundred thousand dollars.
First of two films that Paul Newman made with Director Robert Altman. The second being Quintet (1979).
The film's closing credits declare that the picture was "Filmed entirely on the Stoney Indian Reserve, Alberta, Canada".
Robert Altman talked to Marlon Brando by phone to offer him the lead role, "because of his interest in the Indian thing." He lost him by adding he wanted a major star "as stardom is part of the story."
Second and final of two westerns directed by Robert Altman. The first being McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971).
Screenwriter Alan Rudolph only used a few lines for film dialogue from Arthur Kopit's source stage play.
Harvey Keitel's only performance for Altman although Keitel did appear in 'Welcome to L.A.' which Altman produced. The film was directed by Alan Rudolph.
One of seven films that Shelley Duvall made with Robert Altman. The others being Popeye (1980), Nashville (1975), 3 Women (1977), Brewster McCloud (1970), Thieves Like Us (1974), and McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971).
Final western of Paul Newman. This was Newman's second western of the 1970s, his first had been The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), it also having a long title, as did his previous to that, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).
The major cast's characters on the pre-publicity press sheet and opening credits were billed in the style of some old theater programs i.e. by their titles/professions rather than by their names. These here were: The Star, The Producer, The Publicist, The Relative, The Journalist, The Sure Shot, The Sure Shot's Manager, The Wrangler, The Treasurer, The Bartender, The Mezzo-Contralto, The Lyric-Coloratura, The Lyric-Soprano, The Indian Agent, The Indian, The Interpreter, The Arenic Director, The King of the Cowboys, The Cowboy Trick Rider, The Mexican Whip and Fast Draw Act, The Old Soldier, The President of the United States, The First Lady, and The Legend Maker.
The horse that Buffalo Bill (Paul Newman) rides in the movie is a Lipizzaner stallion named Pluto Calcedona. Calcedona appeared in the movie courtesy of Raflyn Farms (E. L. Dreitzler) of Snohomish, Washington.
At one point the Star Spangled Banner is played and an announcement is made saying that Buffalo Bill thinks it should be the new national anthem (it wasn't officially adopted as such until the 1930s). In Robert Altman's previous film Nashville, the politician Hal Phillip Walker is heard to criticize the song and says that it should be replaced.
Academy Award winner Burt Lancaster ('Elmer Gantry') plays real-life publisher Ned Buntline in the film. The role had been played previously by another Academy Award winner, Thomas Mitchell ('Stagecoach'), in the 1944 film 'Buffalo Bill."
The movie was released in 1976 during the American Bicentennial Anniversary celebrations.
Paul Newman was a real joker during the shooting of the film. Especially with the director Altman, whose he made his life hell by, among many things, fill Altman's trailer with 200 lived chickens, or hiring a helicopter dropping invitations to a party at Altman's rent home. Or arranging for a local radio DJ to record a false news report saying that the company needed 2500 extras for the next day shoot; extras supposed to be paid 155 $ instead of the 17,50$ usually paid.
The fifth Altman movie of seven in which Bert Remsen appeared. The others were 'Brewster McCloud,' 'McCabe & Mrs. Miller,' 'California Split' 'Theives Like Us,' 'Nashville.' and 'A Wedding.'
The film was released seven years after its source play "Indians" by Arthur Kopit had been first performed in 1969. The play's title was incorporated into the movie's short title, with the name of the central character, "Buffalo Bill", thereby producing the movie title of "Buffalo Bill and the Indians".