The Best Movie Critic + favorite

The Billy Jack Advocate

Now that the inmates are running the asylum, I’m going to take a look at one of my favorite movie series, and one of Ben’s least favorite, The Billy Jack Saga.

First off, here’s some background information. All of these movies were written, directed, and starring Tom Laughlin in the titular role. Billy Jack himself is a half-Native American, ex-green beret who has become disillusioned with America and spends his time as the champion of the downtrodden. He knows martial arts, Indian lore, and has an unusually high tolerance for annoying hippies.

Born Losers

Born Losers is Billy Jack’s first filmic outing, and my least favorite. In it, a weirdly homo-erotic motorcycle gang terrorizes a small town by raping all the women and generally being shocking. Billy becomes involved with one of the young women and single handedly takes them on. Frankly, the movie is boring and obnoxious, and uses rape too much as a plot device. The one interesting part is that this was one of Jane Russell’s last roles and she steals the show as the mother of one of the young women.

Billy Jack

The eponymous Billy Jack is what I consider to be the first official Billy Jack movie. In Born Losers, the Billy Jack character could be played by any generic do-gooder. In this one, Billy fight corrupt local law enforcement and racist town folk in a small town as he protects the children at the nearby Freedom School. The Freedom School is an alternative arts school for troubled youngsters. Throughout the movie, numerous Freedom School performances break up the action of the main show. There are songs about the war, a heartfelt love song to Billy Jack, and lots of counter-culture improve theater revolving around police hypocrisy. Honestly, it’s pretty annoying but serves to elevate the action scenes.

When Billy Jack fights someone, he takes his boots off. He also makes a lot of threats prior to actually fighting them. Here is my favorite sequence:

Oh yeah, there’s also a scene where Billy goes on a spirit quest which involves him getting bitten in the face by a rattle snake. After which, he shows the world a freedom dance he divined. This is all weirdly underlined by the fact that Tom Laughlin doesn’t look Native American in the slightest.

The whole thing leads up to a stand off where Billy Jack turns himself into the man to save the freedom school. This is “the best” Billy Jack movie, and definitely the place to start. This movie was a surprise art house hit when it was released, which goes to show what a weird place the early 70’s were in America.

The Trial of Billy Jack

The Trial of Billy Jack is an interesting and underrated entry in the series. I’ll be the first to admit that it is about an hour too long, way too preachy, and tries too hard to recapture the magic of the prior movie, but it has a lot of interesting bright spots as well. After watching regular Billy Jack, you may think that the “trial” in the title is some sort of court proceeding where Billy has to answer for all the cops he killed… you’d be wrong though. It actually refers to a spiritual journey Billy takes in this one that somehow manages to be more awesome than being bitten in the face repeatedly by a snake. He confronts Jesus Christ in a drug-fueled ritual and slaps him in order to take himself to the next level of consciousness.

This movie thankfully grapples with the big question that so many message-action movies have. How can the hero reconcile trying to be non-violent while he wanders through the movie wailing on all the rednecks he can find? It sort of answers the question, but tit still nags me It's like in Return of the Jedi where Luke kills about a hundred guys and then tries to redeem Vader... seems like a double standard to me.

At any rate, Billy fights corrupt local government and comments on excessive governmental stifling of freedom of speech and right to assemble. One scene near the end in particular is very similar to the Kent State massacre.

This movie contains far fewer song and improv numbers, but it does contain a lot more liberal whining and preaching about social ills. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very liberal person myself. There’s only so much freedom and love nonsense I can stomach.

Billy Jack Goes to Washington

This is a weird and completely singular movie. Simply put, this is a very faithful remake of Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with Billy Jack as Mr. Smith. The key difference is the obligatory fight scene between Billy and company and a bunch of young black street toughs. Billy makes sure to berate them first for working for the same man who oppresses them. The rest of the movie plays out as a updated version with Billy fighting to keep a nuclear plant from being built on some prime Indian land that he wants to use for the Freedom School. Laughlin even does a decent job in his version of Stewart’s famous filibuster scene.

There’s a few points worth mentioning here. One is the clear escalation in antagonist in the movies:

Biker Gang < Small Town Police < State Government < Federal Government/Classic Cinema

I find myself wondering out loud if there has already been a 5th Billy Jack where the antagonist is reality itself or this dimension?

Could Billy Jack insert himself into other Jimmy Stewart movies?

It’s a Wonderful Life Billy Jack, would probably just be Billy Jack kicking ass for two hours. In Harvey, instead of following around an invisible rabbit, Billy could follow around the peyote induced Jesus.

You owe it to yourself to watch some Billy Jack because you will never encounter another saga like his.



best, Blog, Critic, and more:

The Billy Jack Advocate + favorite