|Copyright 1971 National Student Film Corporation.
| Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 9 May 2001.
- Billy Jack - Judo master, medicine man, and crack shot who loves to wear denim.
- Jean - Pacifist founder of a revolutionary school where kids go to explore their creative talents.
- Sheriff Cole - A pox upon this worthless creature. Why does he even bother getting out of bed in the morning?
- Barbara - Hateful young woman with no self-respect or common sense.
- Martin - Young man who is always in the wrong place at the wrong time and usually gets punched in the stomach for his trouble. At long last somebody doesn't punch him in the stomach, they shoot him four times in the head.
- Mike - Deputy that acts as a toad for the evil bigwig. He is also doing a fantastic job of raising an abrasive and unhappy daughter, until she runs away and Billy Jack shoots him.
- Mr. Posner - Evil bigwig who calls the shots in this small desert town. I don't know why he is the bigwig, especially after seeing the car he drives, but that's the deal.
- Bernard - He is the bigwig's son and a complete wuss for the most part. Finds just enough courage to annoy Billy Jack and get his throat crushed.
|I've had an epiphany: I really don't understand my parents' generation at all.
All things considered, I wanted to like the movie a whole lot more than I did. Our hero is a soft-spoken man who honestly tries to get along with people, until they do something stupid (usually stupid = racist); then he completely knocks their block off. It's a philosophy to live by.
You also have to understand that Billy Jack will be repeatedly referred to as an "Injun," usually with the adjective "damn" preceding. Tom Laughlin does not look like a Native American to me - at all. Except for the hat, one has to admit that the hat looks like something you'd find in a store selling leather products and Native American crafts. So, just to prevent any confusion for first time viewers, if somebody is called an "Indian" (or nasty derivative) then they are probably referring to the Caucasian guy in the denim jacket and black hat.
After being discharged from the Army, the protagonist has taken up residence among Pueblo ruins near a small southwestern town. There he protects the land, wild horses, and Jean's "Freedom School" from evil white men. Mr. Posner is the leader behind the EWMA (Evil White Man Association) and, just to let you know how much of a bigwig he is, the EWMA spends half a day rounding up horses on the reservation. They plan to slaughter them and sell the meat to dog food companies for six cents per pound. They rounded up about two dozen horses and we will say that each weighed twelve-hundred pounds (healthy). Now, let's also say that they garnered eight hundred pounds of usable dog chow from every horse. After dividing the profit between six men you end up with about two hundred dollars each; probably an appreciable amount of money for your average evil redneck, but if this is how Posner amassed his fortune then it's no wonder why he is driving that station wagon.
The day does not turn out profitable for Posner and his men though; Billy Jack rides up and lays down the law, 30-30 style. Thoroughly cowed, the bad guys drop their rifles and leave the reservation with phantom tails tucked between their legs. Enmity between Posner and Billy Jack now established, we can now learn why Mike sucks as a father.
Barbara is supposed to be a character we see grow and mature. At least that is my hypothesis. In reality she is easy to despise. When we are first introduced to the character she has just been returned home (having run away some time ago) and is encouraging Mike's domestic abuse theology. "I'm back, I hate you, I'm also pregnant and, since I've had sex with every guy between here and there, I don't know who the father is. Oh yeah, it's your fault too dad." Now, the jerk might very well be a grand turd in the hopper of parenthood; it is still hard to feel sorry for his daughter. She actually seems to work at proving herself a selfish and hateful witch. Every time her character appeared I had to scowl.
After yet another thumping Barbara runs away and is found unconscious in a field. Sheriff Cole has to do something about the situation, so he elects to hide her at the Freedom School. What the HELL? Half of this town's problems are the result of the Sheriff turning a blind eye to actions that are plainly wrong. How about blaming the man with the badge? Innocent people die during this film and not one person gets mad at Cole. Heck, everybody is happy to be his buddy.
We have mentioned the Freedom School several times now. It is a commune started by Jean to rescue runaways and turn their energy to creative work. One of the saving graces is an impromptu stage group led by Howard Hesseman, because other than that almost everything that happens at the school is agony. What do you think happens in a commune full of hippies? Darn right, they sing songs. They sing a lot of songs. Somebody stop the 70's, I want to get off.
Things start going downhill when the school enters the picture in all its horrible glory, but one of the best scenes in the film results when a busload of students take a trip into town. The kids know that they make the citizens nervous, so what do they do? Drive through town chanting, singing, hanging out the windows, and flashing peace signs at all the squares. Maybe not causing a scene would have been a good idea. Yah think? It was like ringing the dinner bell for Bernard and Dinosaur (an aptly named friend). They come running and bully the kids around until Billy Jack arrives. He sets them straight, but Mr. Posner and a large group of EWMA members have been waiting for a chance like this. Things look glum for Billy, but he calmly removes his boots (butt kicking is best done with bare feet) and does as much damage as possible.
Time to discuss Bernard briefly (let's just waste an entire paragraph). He refuses to shoot the cute horsey for his father's dog food franchise, but loves beating up people and later on rapes Jean. He even murders Martin! I understand that Billy has to have some good reason for killing the young man; it's just that we are all over the board with our villains. Is it a statement about him valuing the life of an animal more than an Indian's? Who knows?
Eventually the situation, that Sheriff Cole failed to defuse, breaks down and people start getting hurt. Billy Jack avenges Martin's death and then holes up in an adobe fortress when the law arrives. Barbara is with him at first too, largely on account that her father was indiscriminately throwing lead at the pair (doing a much better job of fatherhood now, Mike!). Will the hero surrender to the white man's law? A law he has no reason to trust? Um, there are two more movies in the series and the next starts with "The Trial of." What do you think?
Kudos on some points, but the film quickly goes downhill around the middle. Even some explanations of the strange crossbreed religion the good guys subscribe to only succeeded in confusing me further. Just imagine a mix of Native American spiritualism with Flower Child ideals and adding a healthy dose of Christianity. Jean starts explaining about Jesus talking to a medicine man at one point while Billy Jack is preparing to become a "brother to the snake." The latter involves taunting a very large rattlesnake until it bites the heck out of you. Just in case you were wondering.
I agree with the general themes, but there were far too many songs sung by girls with long hair (straight of course) and guitars.
|Things I Learned From This Movie:|| |
- Wild horses and mountain goats are distant cousins. Key word being "distant."
- Hitting a woman in the face once will cause her to miscarry.
- Racial tension is easily fixed with a liberal application of bleached flour.
- The naked eye can discern facial features at a quarter mile.
- Interactive theater is great training for law enforcement officers.
- Corvettes do not float.
- Learning how to ride a horse while you are pregnant is not advised.
- When selecting a building (for your last stand) try to avoid ones made from mud and pine.
- 4 mins - Yelling loud enough to be understood over a herd of stampeding horses; now that's vocal power.
- 6 mins - "Hey Earl, did you hear the theme music change?"
- 20 mins - She really is playing that guitar...
- 22 mins - Notice how Jean's hair keeps changing; it just depends on what camera angle we are at.
- 27 mins - I'm confused. Is he holding the flour scoop at waist level or what?
- 47 mins - Somebody please stop this scene!
- 65 mins - A suitcase full of yogurt?
- 67 mins - RANDOM ACT OF VIOLENCE AGAINST A BRA!
- 74 mins - That is most certainly not Jean...
- 91 mins - Billy guessed that? Just off the top of his head? Is this man Sherlock Holmes reincarnated or something?
- 107 mins - So, you castrate him in your mind about twelve times (rounding up) every second?
- Angry Girl: "Damn your pacifism! I am not going to let that sick animal get away with this!"
| ||Audio clips in wav format||SOUNDS||Starving actors speak out|| |
||Posner: "We got the law here Billy Jack." |
Billy Jack: "When policemen break the law then there isn't any law. Just a fight for survival."
||Barbara: "In other words concerned father: I got balled by so many guys I don't know if the father's going to be white, Indian, Mexican, or black."
||A "rainbow, made of children?"
||Barbara: "What is the snake ceremony?" |
Jean: "The ceremony where Billy becomes a brother to the snake."
Barbara: "How does he do that?"
Jean: "By going on the mountain and being bitten by the snake, over and over."
|Theme Song|| Listen to a clip from the soundtrack. |
| ||Click for a larger image||IMAGES||Scenes from the movie|| |
| ||Watch a scene||VIDEO||MPEG video files|| |
|Here is the scene with Billy Jack surrounded by a crowd of Posner's goons. They are definitely going to put a hurting on him, but the warrior intends to met out some justice before that happens.
| ||Leave a comment||EXTRAS||Buy the movie|| |
Reply #1. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:49 PM by
I saw Billy Jack when I was 12 years old--it was back to back with 'The Wild Bunch'. We sat thru both movies twice in one afternoon. Billy Jack was the coolest thing to hit the screen. I had a poster of him in my bedroom--right next to my David Cassidy poster. The next day it seemed like David and Billy were replaced with Alice Cooper and Queen (I'm telling my age.) What a great time and great memories. C'mon guys--it's classic entertainment from another time--the Wonder Years.
Reply #2. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:10:12 PM by Canadaphile
You know a movie's really bad when you smoke the rough equivalent of British Columbia's yearly cannibis output before watching it and you're still saying, "Oh, GOD, this sucks!" Not that I would know from personal experience, mind you. And I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought Steven Seagal was channeling this movie big time!
Reply #3. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:10:12 PM by Andrew
Disliking a movie is hardly the grounds for being a "racist." How in the heck do you come up with the idea that "us guys" are racist a**holes? Look, just because you have issues is no reason to throw an emotional tantrum. And it is a tantrum.
None of us discount the fact that Billy Jack might well have a Native American heritage. What was pointed out is that, at least for myself and <U>every other person I have ever asked</U>, we cannot figure out how every racist in town sees him and immediately thinks "Indian."
Correction of fact: The two FBI agents were killed at Pine Ridge in 1975. The events that led to that (and the killing of many activists besides) is an ugly story. I would hope most of the parties involved are not proud of what transpired, though the end result does appear just.
"Billy Jack" dealt with the struggles of a soldier coming back from Vietnam about the same amount as "Snow White" did. The story deals with racism and social bigotry. If you are looking for Billy Jack to talk about Vietnam then watch "Born Losers." By the way, in that film the antagonist element is a motorcycle gang.
At no point can I find ANY hint of racism in either my review or the reader comments. One would hope you noticed that I pointed out Sheriff Cole's inaction was the main reason the situation developed into people shooting each other. In fact, the review agrees with most of what Tom Laughlin was trying to say - it is the movie's execution that didn't work for me.
Reply #4. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:10:12 PM by Al Carroll
Here's part of a paper I'm writing on depictions of Native veterans in fiction. Let me know what you think people.
OH, BTW, I think it likely that those two "Indians" who made comments earlier on were white New Agers. "Playing Indian" is pretty common, and Billy Jack was one of the most popular examples of that. So I wouldn't worry about what they think. Most Indians CANT STAND Billy Jack.
New Age Follies: Billy Jack and Star Trek: Voyager
John Pope AKA “Rolling Thunder” was a retired white railroad worker who spent the latter part of his life posing as an “intertribal medicine man.” Pope claimed he was part Cherokee and that was allegedly teaching Seneca beliefs. This he did, not among either the Cherokee or Seneca, but almost entirely among the white hippie counterculture. Pope proselytized among hippies for the remainder of his life, telling them they were “Thunderpeople” who would change the world. According to Pope’s own family, his former followers have mercilessly exploited Pope’s name for money beyond all bounds of decency, creating a number of New Age cults in the process.
Pope played a central role in Billy Jack. The movie was very loosely based on what Pope claimed had happened in his own life, and Pope briefly appeared in the films as "Thunder Mountain." Where Pope claimed to have taken part in the Yaqui Wars in Mexico (the last Yaqui War ended in 1928, when he would have been from six to ten years old), Billy Jack was remade into a Vietnam veteran and ex-Green Beret. Where Pope claimed to be a part-Cherokee “intertribal medicine man” who taught allegedly Seneca beliefs to white hippies, Billy Jack was an “Indian half-breed” and medicine man-in-training of an unnamed Indian tribe who was taught by a young blonde white woman in the films what Indian beliefs “truly” were. Pope’s own beliefs were rather eccentric, to put it mildly. He claimed Cherokees came from Atlantis and that they once had technology far superior to anything in modern times. The “Indian” beliefs (again, no tribe is ever specified) in Billy Jack are a bizarre amalgam of hippie platitudes about pacifism and Christian fundamentalist Holy Roller snake handling.
Pope and the film’s author, director, and star Tom Laughlin were a perfect match for each other. Laughlin fancied himself a great spiritual thinker, and even today sells seminars in spirituality. Laughlin claims that his movie was preordained by what he believes were Indian prophecies and other supernatural events. (In less dramatic terms, he saw owls near the movie set.) Laughlin and Pope shared an apocalyptic and paranoid worldview. Laughlin attributed the spectacular failure of his two sequels to Billy Jack to nothing less than a conspiracy by “The Man,” the federal government. But what made the first one a success was its blatant attempt to capitalize on both martial arts and blaxploitation films like Shaft by giving the public a pseudo-Indian version of them, one played by a white eccentric and based on the life of a white imposter. In all likelihood, the later films flopped because of their preachiness, failure to include martial arts, and Native protests against the films.
Billy Jack’s status as a veteran tells us nothing about what Native veterans went through. Billy Jack (both the character and the film overall) pose as both Native and a veteran as merely convenient tropes for the film’s author and audience to invent a fantasy (often quite bizarre at that) of what they wish Indians were like, one which bears no reality at all to actual Native beliefs, cultures, or history. Billy Jack is easily one of the absolute worst films ever made about Natives, and quite possibly one of the worst films ever made. It fails on virtually every level, from its aesthetic to its technical aspects (see if you do not laugh when you see a smaller and darker Asian man clumsily inserted as the stunt double for Laughlin in martial arts scenes) to its utter lack of social responsibility towards Native sensibilities. Too offensive to even be camp, at best the film is a revealing look at the extremes a white filmmaker will go to in order to misrepresent Native cultures. It also is quite revealing of some truly troubling mindsets among some whites and the counterculture. Who would have expected allegedly peace-loving hippies and New Age people to wallow in as much gratuitous violence as there is in Billy Jack?
Reply #5. Posted on May 14, 2001, 03:35:43 PM by David Fullam
Reportedly, Master Bang Soo Hahn (Kentucky Fried Movie and Force Five) doubled for Laughlin in the fight scenes.
Reply #6. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:09:49 PM by Dr. Freex
You mean.... Billy Jack WASN'T an Indian?
I... I feel so disillusioned...
Reply #7. Posted on May 10, 2001, 05:04:56 AM by Fletch
This movie epitomised everything I despised about the whole 60s/70s hippy era. To be fair though I should point out I also thought Easy Rider had a happy ending
Reply #8. Posted on November 25, 2006, 04:10:12 PM by Greywizard
I thought that Billy Jack's character was supposed to be HALF-INDIAN, which would explain why he looks caucasian. Though it's been a long time since I've watched the movie. (And it might have been in the previous BJ movie, "Born Losers", where Billy Jack's background was explained.)
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