Billy Jack - A Seriously Late Movie Review

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The other night, while looking over my DVDs, I stumbled onto one that I totally forgot I had; a low-budget movie originally released in 1971 called Billy Jack. Not having saw it since I was about ten years old (which was about six years after it first was shown), I immediately and enthusiastically popped it into the DVD player, and looked forward to watching it again after so many years, it being so old it was new. What I wound up watching was one of the funniest unintentionally funny movies I've seen since Rambo: First Blood, Part 2.

 

The title character, played by a man named Tom Laughlin, who also wrote and produced it under various pseudonyms, is a half-breed Native American/Cracker who seems to be an early prototype for Rambo; a quiet, intense loner, a Vietnam Vet, and essentially a one-man army who is highly skilled at armed and unarmed combat. This character's debut was actually in a 1968 movie called Born Losers, which I vaguely remember seeing sometime in the 80's, and was yet another of those movies that indicates outlaw biker gangs like the aptly-named Born Losers are every mother's nightmare, unless she is a biker momma herself.

 

The movie, being made at the pony-tailed end of the Hippie Era, is overwhelmingly anti-White and anti-White Establishment, and could be interpreted as Tom Laughlin's version of The Jew Suess. There are very few melanin-deficient good guys in this flick, for sure. Funny part is, most of the people in the movie are as white as a sheet, and Tom Laughlin himself looks about as Native American as Tom Arnold. The movie has three main elements, all of which interact in a small desert town, apparently somewhere in Bum Fuck, Arizona: A bunch of greedy and vicious White assholes who comprise the conservative, corrupt, racist, and rapacious White Establishment; a school for fucked-up counterculture teenage runaways ran by an excessively peaceful Hippie woman named Jean (played by Laughlin's real-life wife)whose commitment to pacifism borders on masochism; and, of course, Billy Jack, protector of the oppressed and all-around Good Guy.

 

The film starts with Billy Jack preventing the usual assholes from stealing horses from the Indian Reservation to sell for dog food at six cents a pound; some things never change, and you can always count on gangs of horseback-riding, gun-toting White assholes to steal your shit. Billy Jack makes an enemy of the local political boss, who tells Billy Jack, "You've made a mistake." Billy Jack replies, "I've made them before." I would have added "motherfucker" to that statement, but that's just me. The evil White man in the form of a Sheriff's deputy gets some payback of sorts, after being informed by his teenage daughter that she's pregnant, and the father could be "White, Indian, Mexican, or Black." Talk about promoting diversity! Deputy Mean Dad doesn't take kindly to this news, and gives her a brutal beating, as if we expected anything else.

 

The film pretty much continues to follow the trials and tribulations of the usual oppressed victims at the hands of the usual oppressive pricks. The first good fight happens when the kids are denied service at an ice cream parlor because they aren't White enough, and the son of the political boss, "Bernard Posner" (sounds like a Jewish name to me) makes an effective racist statement, rendering a couple of the kids "White" by pouring flour over their heads and faces after beating up an Indian boy named Martin and doing the same thing to him. Billy Jack shows up, and enraged, knocks Posner out and throws a huge goon through a window. Billy Jack, anticipating more thugs to trash, shows us what an incomparable badass he is by taking his boots OFF to fight. After kicking more cracker ass in a nearby park, the honkies finally get the upper hand on Billy Jack, but the timely intervention of the Sheriff, one of the few "good" Whites in the movie, saves Billy's ass.

 

The conflict between the Hippies and the Squares continues to escalate. The teenage girl who is fond of multiracial semen runs away (yet again) and falls in love with Martin, the recently beaten and humiliated frustrated ice cream eater. In the hospital after falling from a horse, the girl brings Martin a flower; better "flower" than "flour", eh Martin? The town's fascist elements make their dislike of the Hippie kids even more vocal and evident, and the Hippies respond in kind. Meanwhile, Billy Jack goes through a strange sado-masochistic ritual where he allows himself to be bitten by rattlesnakes, making him welcome to certain churches in Appalachia. Somehow unfazed by the hemotoxic venom, Billy Jack gives an impassioned speech that only a spiritual Injun would understand.

 

Bernard Posner, the savage, overprivileged (Jewish?) cocksucker who is the film's primary antagonist, begins to kick his sociopathy into high gear, swearing revenge on Billy Jack, and once again supervising the beating of Martin. None of these people apparently saw Easy Rider, and what happens to longhairs when they make the mistake of entering a small town populated by evil white hicks, as if there are any other kind. Martin would have been better off never leaving the reservation; had he waited, saved his money, and bided his time, he could have gotten in on the ground floor of a casino, and have the last laugh, watching drunken palefaces blow their money on his slot machines and roulette wheels.

 

Billy Jack continues to fuck with Posner, interrupting Posner's attempt at raping a girl at knifepoint and, taking Jean's unpacifistic advice, forcing him to drive his Corvette into a lake. This marks the point to where the violence in the movie sharply increases. A skinny-dipping Jean is tied up and raped by Posner and one of his asshole henchmen, making her question her belief in taking a pacifist approach to life, especially in a small hick town and surrounded by enemies.

 

It goes on and on; the promiscuous teenager is no longer pregnant, losing the baby after falling from a horse. The movies are good for that; if someone falls down a flight of stairs, they break their necks and die, or if the woman is pregnant, she loses the baby. The hapless and luckless would-be white teenage runaway bimbo-boning Martin is killed by that fucking bastard Posner. At least this time, Martin puts up a fight. Guns make an ever-increasing presence in the movie from this point on. Billy Jack, after being informed of Martin's murder and the rape of Jean by Posner, has finally had enough!

 

Billy Jack tracks Posner down and rudely interrupts him while he's in bed with a thirteen year-old girl. Posner has a gun handy, but in the worst marksmanship in cinematic history, misses Billy Jack while shooting at point-blank range - twice! Billy Jack finally kills that fucking asshole with the good-old, tried-and-true judo chop to the larnyx. Billy Jack holes up in a crude church, of all places, and after a lengthy shootout, finally gives up. He's led away by the cops, and presumably gets a fair trial from an impartial jury. What did I get from this movie? The world is full of savage and vicious assholes, and people fuck with you less when you aren't a pacifist.

Comments

Michael B. Added Jul 15, 2017 - 8:16pm
Leroy, I thought it was a good one - regardless of one's personal politics, it is essentially a story of good versus evil. However, the message that the story is trying to send is somewhat confusing; it seems to be, violence only creates more violence. I enjoyed Billy Jack finally killing Posner, as he personified sociopathic and psychopathic rich kids who think they can get away with murder, and often do. As Billy Jack found out though, the Establishment always wins in the end.
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Jul 15, 2017 - 8:27pm
While this movie is way before my time, I saw it only a couple months ago, thank to a free, over the air network called "Grit" that is partial to these kinds of movies and shows. Lots of westerns, old action films, and of course your nightly dose of Walker Texas Ranger. I actually saw not only Billy Jack but also the sequel Billy Jack goes to Washington or whatever it was called, where Billy Jack becomes a Senator and runs into a heap of Washington corruption. Probably not as good as the original, but worth a look if you are a Billy Jack fan. 
Michael B. Added Jul 15, 2017 - 8:45pm
Jenifer, I never saw any of the sequels to Billy Jack, which is probably a good thing, lol, although I'm eager to watch Born Losers, which is the original "Billy Jack" movie. From what I understand, Tom Laughlin was very similar to his character in that he took on the Establishment and usually lost. I always have a soft spot for rebels and others who want to buck the system.
Phil Greenough Added Jul 16, 2017 - 6:25am
“The world is full of savage and vicious assholes, and people fuck with you less when you aren't a pacifist.”
 
“the message that the story is trying to send is somewhat confusing; it seems to be, violence only creates more violence”
 
Now I’m the one that’s confused.  Is the message from this movie to be a pacifist or not be a pacifist?  Does a movie with so much gratuitous violence really have a bigger message?  Sometimes we go to the movies simply to be entertained and this one seems like that type of movie.  So do you recommend seeing it or not?
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 9:18am
I thought it was obvious that I liked the movie.
Rusty Smith Added Jul 16, 2017 - 12:28pm
I liked the movie for it's classic good vs bad and it was one of the first that I remember where the hero clearly acknowledges the fact that being the good guy and doing what's "right", is not always the smart thing to do.
 
Oh yea it's set at a time full of hippie values, but the essence of the plot is not the setting, and I like to see movies where the entertainment industry tries to inspire people to do good things.
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 3:12pm
being the good guy and doing what's "right", is not always the smart thing to do.
 
Rusty, you're so right about that! Also, Hippie movies and TV shows with Hippie elements usually crack me up, lol.
Patrick Writes Added Jul 16, 2017 - 3:43pm
Saw this when I was 13 in 1991 (Father used to rent us "good" movies he had a hazy memory of). My younger brother at 11 claims it's the first time he saw female nudity from the waist up. Trying to be a good brother I fast forwarded through as much of the questionable parts as possible. 
 
All I say was, it's an awful, awful movie. I think it's one of those, 'you had to be there' sort of movies. If you missed the 60's and early 70's, you're not going to get it. Baby Boomers will claim it was awesome. 
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Jul 16, 2017 - 3:57pm
It was only "awful" because you fast forwarded through the good parts Patrick! That's just messed up. 
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 4:31pm
Hmmm...I don't recall seeing any explicit nudity in the movie; the asshole villain Posner cuts a woman's bra off with a knife while sitting in his Corvette, but no exposed areolas or nipples were shown on what appeared to be a healthy set of knockers. Jean's back side is briefly shown from a distance, but that's about it, at least what was on my DVD.
 
Funny, my brother would have taken the opposite approach; he would have played the naughty scenes over and over again and ignore the rest of the movie, lol.
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Jul 16, 2017 - 4:55pm
I don't remember any nudity either Michael but then again I saw it on "Grit" which is an over the air broadcast channel, so I'm sure they are beholden to FCC rules on that kind of thing. Of course not being Christian I'm not obsessed with how evil human nudity is supposed to be and I don't really pay much attention to it. I watch Game of Thrones all the time which is full of nudity and to me it's just like, so what. But some people will obsess over the strangest things. 
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 5:06pm
Funny, when a movie with nudity and violence is shown on American TV, they'll edit out the nudity and retain the violence, but in Europe they do the complete opposite. That puritan streak refuses to go away, lol.
John Minehan Added Jul 16, 2017 - 5:40pm
Don't worry, Billy Jack was released in '71, but only started to make money in 1974, so late is appropriate in its case (although 43 years might be a bit much).
Leroy Added Jul 16, 2017 - 6:13pm
Just watched a few clips on Youtube.  I saw the one where he tells Posner that he is going to take his right foot and wop him upside the head and theire was nothing you could do about it.  And, then, the ice cream shop scene, followed by the bus scene.  Billy to the Rescue.
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 6:18pm
John M., I didn't know it was first released in 1971 until a couple of days ago; I first saw it at the drive-in (when they still had them) in 1977, when I was ten years old. The combination of Bruce Lee and Billy Jack fueled a martial arts craze in my neighborhood, and I still remember many kids (myself included) partially or completely knocking themselves out with nunchucks, lol.
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 6:22pm
Leroy, he had some moves, didn't he? Much of that is no joke. For example, about twelve years ago, while smoking in front of a particularly scummy dive bar, I saw a dude and his woman exit a liquor store across the street, and they were accosted by three drunken assholes; the guy was obviously an accomplished martial artist, as he fucked up all three of them in about ten seconds. Bruce and Billy would have been proud, lol.
John Minehan Added Jul 16, 2017 - 6:39pm
Tom Loughlin played one of the PBY Pilots in South Pacific.  Gee what a great idea, a movie musical about Operational Reconnaissance!
John Minehan Added Jul 16, 2017 - 6:47pm
"I thought it was obvious that I liked the movie."
 
I may be in the minority here, but I often like movies that I would never recommend to other people.
 
I recommended Empire of the Sun, which I thought was great, to some people who are big movie buffs, really like good movies.  They said it was a good recommendation as both needed to get caught up on their sleep.
 
At that point, I began to see that I might be an outlier in terms of my artistic tastes.   
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 6:53pm
I read something a pilot said about the PBY; "It was the only plane I ever flew that took off, flew, and landed at the same speed."
 
Funny, they make movies from the most unlikely material, huh? Just like what Joe Gillis said in Sunset Boulevard:

"Last one I wrote was about Okies in the Dust Bowl. You'd never know because when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat."
Leroy Added Jul 16, 2017 - 7:00pm
"John M., I didn't know it was first released in 1971 until a couple of days ago..."
 
I was just watching some of the history.  Warner Bros. screwed him in 1971, making little effort to promote the film.  He sued Warner Bros. and settled out of court.  He received all rights from the film and enough money to re-released in in 1974.   He paid theater up front, something that hadn't been done before.
 
I didn't realize that he ran for president.
John Minehan Added Jul 16, 2017 - 7:16pm
"Funny, they make movies from the most unlikely material, huh? Just like what Joe Gillis said in Sunset Boulevard:"
 
Watching it now, the first thing you are jarred by is Jack Webb playing the hipster.  It is more jarring in The Men, where Webb plays a proto-Beatnik with a goatee opposite Marlon Brando as the straight arrow main character . . . .
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 7:22pm
Yeah Leroy, it appears that Laughlin had to be a badass both on and off screen to get his movies made. Him and Orson Welles could have been friends, lol.
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 7:24pm
John, I know what you mean about Jack Webb! I also couldn't get over the character he played in Sunset Boulevard. It was almost like Arnold Schwarzeneggar playing a Care Bear.
John Minehan Added Jul 16, 2017 - 7:38pm
"Billy Jack finally kills that fucking asshole with the good-old, tried-and-true judo chop to the larnyx."
 
Hey!  There is no chopping in Judo!
 
As opposed to Jujutsu and Aikido, both of which have (at least some)  chopping as well as throwing and tripping.
 
I just learned the lack of chopping in Judo is because it was less effective on an armored opponent than the tripping and throwing.  
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 7:52pm
Shows you how much I know about martial arts, huh! That's right, judo is more about wrestling than anything else; getting opponents into holds and slipping out of holds opponents are trying to get on you.
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Jul 16, 2017 - 8:18pm
Billy Jack's chop to the larynx was impressive, but not as impressive as Patrick Swayze's eagle death claw in Road House. 
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 8:49pm
I never saw Road House, but as I was never much of a Patrick Swayze fan, that's not surprising; however, I liked his part in the original 1991 Point Break. That was a good one; in addition to Keanu Reeve's usual wooden acting, we had Gary Busey at the height of his cocaine addiction, Anthony Kiedis at the height of his opioid addiction, and Tom Sizemore playing a narc who had 2 lbs of crystal meth in his possession, which normally would have lasted him about three days in real life, lol. Enter the Dragon will probably remain my favorite martial arts movie of all time.
Lady Sekhmetnakt Added Jul 16, 2017 - 8:55pm
Road House is one of those movies that is so bad it's good. Like Flash Gordon or Big Trouble in Little China. 
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 9:19pm
I'll have to check it out then, it has two people that I've met in person; John Doe from the band X, and Kathleen Wilhoite, who is primarily an actress, but she's also a singer and musician, and put out two very good albums, Pitch Like a Girl in 1997, and Shiva in 2002. After doing a sound check before playing a gig, I asked her to sign my copy of her first album, which she gladly did, and then bummed a cigarette from me; she took two puffs when her eyes suddenly got wide, and tossed the cigarette from the balcony; her husband had just walked in, and obviously didn't want her smoking, lol.
Patrick Writes Added Jul 16, 2017 - 9:24pm
Just so you know I'm not making it up, I can recall 2 scenes to this day of female nudity in the version I saw. And I fast forwarded the rape scene. 

I don't think female nudity is evil, but men are very visual. The sight of female nudity in many healthy, red blooded men causes very obvious changes, that are even visible (and often humorous if it's not you). Once in that state...it can take a while to get back out of that state. It's like loading a weapon but with no target, you just have to unload it again. So I avoid watching female nudity on T.V. and prefer to see it in real life with my spouse. 
 
Women often just understand. And they mock in ignorance of realities they think shouldn't exist (female nudity shouldn't cause that in men....okay....except it does to a lot of guys).
 
That's why most strippers double as prostitutes and many masseuses often do more than just rub a guy's shoulders (wink wink, and nobody knows, it's a big secret). 
Patrick Writes Added Jul 16, 2017 - 9:30pm
Empire of the Sun was interesting but too long in retrospect. What's with, near the end, where he's doing CPR on the Japanese boy and it's flashes to him doing CPR on a younger version of himself?
 
I always thought there was more to the movie but never "got it". 
 
But I still think it's Christian Bale's best acting ever. It strives to be more than a simple prison camp movie, but that's ultimately what it is. 
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 9:51pm
Patrick, I'm not doubting you, it's not unusual for little bits and pieces of movies to be cut out for various reasons.
John Minehan Added Jul 16, 2017 - 10:02pm
"Tom Sizemore playing a narc who had 2 lbs of crystal meth in his possession, which normally would have lasted him about three days in real life, lol."
 
But for that, he would have been the William Bendix of our time . . . .
John Minehan Added Jul 16, 2017 - 10:11pm
Big Trouble in Little China . . . I liked it.  To cool for its own good by half, but a lot of fun.
 
Yet another occasion where Kim Cattrall just did not catch on.  That gal waited 20 years for her 15 minutes of fame . . . . 
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 10:21pm
William Bendix; I remember him from Wake Island, Guadalcanal Diary, and The Blue Dahlia. In the latter, he hated "monkey music" at least as much as he hated "coppers":
 
"Got a match, copper."
 
"Yes I do...and don't call me copper."
 
"Thanks...COPPER!"
 
Yeah, Sizemore pretty much blew it; no wonder "Devil Dust" is one of several names that crystal meth goes by.
John Minehan Added Jul 16, 2017 - 10:27pm
He actually was credible as T/Sgt Horvath in Saving Private Ryan and as the M/Sgt in Pearl Harbor.
Michael B. Added Jul 16, 2017 - 10:45pm
Agreed - I thought he did a good job playing T/Sgt Horvath. That movie's casting was very well done overall, except for Vin Diesel; although he played his part well, I don't think mulattos were allowed into white units at that time, but I could be wrong.
John Minehan Added Jul 16, 2017 - 10:58pm
People did it. 
 
The famous character actor/stuntman, Woody Strode, served as a Marine (if I'm not mistaken, as an officer) in WW II, by telling the Recruiters he was Mexican and Native American (which was true, although incomplete).  That had to be hard on a proud man, but he was someone who had commitment to his country. 
 
After Pearl Harbor, Francis Ford, who played old men and drunks in his brother John (who he had introduced into the Film Business) tried to enlist.  He was turned down for being too old, although he lied about his age.  Francis Ford tried to do the same thing in the Spanish-American War, when he was rejected for being too young.
 
Right or wrong people believed in the country then, even people like Strode , who had reason not to.
Michael B. Added Jul 17, 2017 - 7:53pm
Interesting. They certainly don't make them like they used to, huh!