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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Saturday, April 8, 2006
Billy Jack Serves Old Racist Ranchers
Coven's "One Tin Soldier" came up on iTunes, so I thought I'd check to see whether YouTube had any sweet BILLY JACK action. It does. Check out Billy Jack "wopping" this old dude right in the face:
And the bloody morning tin soldier rides awayyyyyy!

BILLY JACK was a seminal part of my childhood, as was, to a lesser extent, its immediate sequel, THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK, which I vividly recall seeing on network television. It was years before I was able to see the first in the series, THE BORN LOSERS, which is somewhat of an anomaly. The fourth movie, BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON, was never officially completed or released, and I didn't see it until its DVD debut in the late '90s.

Even though I've seen BILLY JACK a zillion times, it's a difficult film to recommend. It's crudely filmed and often tedious, particularly the scenes involving the improv group and the kids at the Freedom School. The action scenes aren't very polished. Some of the performances, including the female lead (played by BILLY JACK star/writer/producer/director Tom Laughlin's wife Delores Taylor), are amateurish. However, there's no question that BILLY JACK was an enormous box-office success and touched a real nerve with moviegoers in the heartland. I suspect that in terms of pure profit margin, BILLY JACK is still one of the most successful movies ever made.

There's a helluva lot more to say about Tom Laughlin and the BILLY JACK movies than I have time to relate now. Maybe that's for a future post. If you've never seen BILLY JACK, you probably should, for historical purposes if not for any other reason.

Basically, it stars Laughlin as the title character, a mystical half-breed Indian and ex-Green Beret who uses karate to preach his own brand of pacifism to the ignorant bigots of a small Southwestern town. Laughlin is excellent as one of the cinema's few liberal action heroes, but BILLY JACK ultimately sinks under the weight of its own pretentiousness. The film preaches about so many subjects (gun control, education, racism, the justice system, the generation gap) that it eventually becomes tedious. The action scenes are good though, and the opening title sequence involving the roundup of wild mustangs is beautifully shot by cinematographer Fred Koenekamp, getting the movie off to a good start.

It also has one absolute classic scene, in which some young toughs harass some children in an ice cream parlor by pouring flour over the head of a cute little girl. Billy Jack waltzes in and gives a long speech about how, when he sees such beautiful young angels mistreated by insensitive bigots, he...just...goes...BERSERK and then he freaks out and kicks the shit out of the hoods.

THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK may be the most unusual smash hit of all time, an existential, often dull three-hour epic that's hilariously awful and somehow earned a PG from the MPAA, despite its lengthy and surprisingly bloody sequence in which a bunch of children are shot and killed by National Guardsmen. Laughlin often has a dozen or more subplots running at the same time--a child-abuse victim who plays guitar with his hook hand, a snowy mountaintop rescue, run-ins with rednecks and trigger-happy cops, a greedy land magnate, a lot of folk singing and much, much more. Billy experiences hallucinations during a drug trip to explore his Native American side, is guided by a beautiful Indian girl, slaps a construction worker and a hippie protester, and eventually encounters his mystical, blue-painted double in the Cave of the Dead.

I also recall Paul Simon playing "Billy Paul" in a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch.

Posted by Marty at 1:06 AM CDT
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Sunday, April 9, 2006 - 2:15 PM CDT

Name: Hal Horn

CBS must have edited The Trial of Billy Jack when they aired it (hell, who wouldn't? :) because I remember a weeknight showing, in 1980 I believe, fit into the 7-10 CST slot. Given the commercials per hour at the time that would mean they lopped off about 20-22 minutes.

It's positively astounding that Laughlin pissed so many people off in so short a time. Not politically, necessarily, but I'm talking about all the lawsuits and countersuits and accusations and quotes like "The youth of America have only two heroes -- Ralph Nader and Billy Jack".

Less than one calendar year after "Trial" came out, "The Master Gunfighter" just absolutely bombed. This was before the "Washington" film. I haven't seen "The Master Gunfighter" yet; I don't even think I've ever seen it out on video.

Sunday, April 9, 2006 - 3:15 PM CDT

Name: Marty McKee

THE MASTER GUNFIGHTER was out on VHS and it's also out on a Special Edition DVD with commentary, etc. I've never watched it either.

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