Review: Billy Jack (1971)


Starring Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, David Roya,

Fight Choreography by Bong Soo Han

Directed by Tom Laughlin

That time period between the end of the flower power days and the onset of the disco 70‘s was just a plain strange time in American society, but that’s not to say there wasn’t any interesting films, and one of the most interesting–and somewhat strange–is a socially conscious film about a half native American hapkido ex-Green Beret expert who kicks and shoots racism away from a small American town. (I’m talking about Billy Jack, not Steven Seagals’ On Deadly Ground. Wait a second…)

Tom Laughlin stars as Billy Jack, a brooding man who rides around the Indian reservation protecting the wildlife and people from the racist whites who live in the nearby small town. He lives in the hills, and also has ties to the Freedom School, a school on the reservation run by his secret love Jean (played by his real life wife Delores Taylor), and he has a friend in the kind-hearted Sheriff Cole. The school believes in freedom to learn whatever you want, and so the kids learn painting, horse riding, and acting.Things start to go wrong when the teenage daughter of a local police deputy runs away after being beaten up by him for getting pregnant, and is taken in by Billy Jack and the Freedom School. The deputy actually works for the town’s main bigwigs and resident douchebags the Posner family. A steady escalation in the conflict occurs until one of the teenagers at the Freedom School, a young Native American is murdered by Posner’s son Bernard (Roya) , and Billy Jack’s anger finally explodes and he takes his revenge against the Posner family…

Billy Jack is an odd film. One part western, one part Andy Griffith, and one part a Chuck Norris film, it tries to juggle all of it, and surpisingly enough succeeds. The is film is actually a sequel to another film, The Born Losers, but it’s not required for you to see it to get the story here. The premise is actually good, even though there are way too many scenes at the Freedom School that slows down the pace considerably. I don’t think is was necessary to take us through everything they do at the school. A brief overview would’ve been nice, and there are too many scenes where the filmmaker wears his heart on his sleeve so much so that the film nearly turns into a PSA commercial. Tom Laughlin does a fine job as Billy Jack, and plays him with a Native American spiritual slant with a dash of Charles Bronson badassness. His line delivery is well done, and even the preachier scenes he’s still cool to watch. Taylor starts off kind of bland as Jean at first, but she gets better as the film goes on, but the standout scene is where Bernard does something terrible to Jean, and her face, and acting throughout is just great. Bernard Posner, as played by Roya, reminded me of a douchier Christian Bale (they are actually remaking Billy Jack with Mark Wahlberg, which is kinda scary to think about, so maybe Bale would be good as Bernard…)

As for the martial arts, Billy Jack is a hapkido practitioner, and gets one big fight scene midway through the film, and while it is too short, Laughlin does a great job with the kicks (the handwork left something to be desired). The fight choreography is 70‘s style choreographed by Hapkido Master Bong Soo Han, and came out about the same time that Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss was unleashed on the world, but the fight stays within the style of the rest of the film, in other words not overly complex. What really killed me is the missed opportunity. David Roya was a Tae Kwon Do instructor and didn’t get a single fight scene! A real martial arts fight with Billy Jack may have sent this film into legend, but it wasn’t to be.

Billy Jack is a worthwhile film to seek out, if only for one of the most badass screen lines ever spoken:

“I’m gonna take this right foot, and I’m gonna whop you on that side of your face, and you know something? There isn’t a damn thing you can do about it.”–Billy Jack

Well said, Billy Jack. Well said.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY(4): There’s really only one real fight in the film, and it’s done well, if simple, but it does convey that Billy Jack is a badass, but the fight was far too short.

STUNTWORK: (5): The stunts are passable, especially one guy that looked as if Laughlin really DID kick his face in, and in fact this rating would be lower if not for that guy.

STAR POWER: (6) Tom Laughlin made several more Billy Jack films and had a prolific film career, and look out for 70‘s TV star Howard Hessman (WKRP in Cincinatti) as an instructor at the Freedom School.

FINAL GRADE: (7) The individual parts are weak, but as a whole it’s an enjoyable film whose slow pacing may have kept it from true greatness. Maybe the remake will clear that up?

NEXT: Aaron Kwok takes on Marc Dacascos and…Coolio?! China Strike Force!

Advertisements

5 Responses to “Review: Billy Jack (1971)”

  1. davebaxter Says:

    Dead on with BILLY JACK – that one fight scene is surprisingly well done for a film that really isn’t an MA film nor trying to be one. And the rest of the movie is very watchable, however overlong and half-asleep the pace may be.

    Can’t wait to see what you think about China Strike Force, too! I’m thinking you’ll rip it to shreds, but that flick holds a special place in my heart. Doesn’t do nearly enough with Dacascos, but what they do is pretty neat, and any movie that delivers lines like “Coolio killed my family!” and “We have to stop Coolio!” with utter sincerity deserves a round of applause.

    Like

  2. P J Italiano Says:

    As usual you are on target.

    Like

  3. Bong Soo Han did all the kicks in the park fight. Too obvious in some scenes.

    Like

  4. […] is sad to report on the death of Tom Laughlin a few days ago. Star of the Billy Jack films, Tom always did things his own way, even when it came to making a Hapkido martial arts film. A […]

    Like

  5. that movie gave a sense of myself i still try to follow his ways of love but sometimes you just got to dislocate an elbow now n then he was truley my hero the film should be made a preecusite for all humans

    Like

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: