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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Billy Jack Goes to Washington

May 4, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Billy Jack Goes to Washington

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #506: Billy Jack Goes to Washington

The Billy Jack Marathon: Week 4

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never been appointed to a high level government position because, well, who the hell would do that, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and six, the Billy Jack Marathon concludes with Billy Jack Goes to Washington, which was released, maybe, in 1977.

Billy Jack Goes to Washington

BillyJackGoestoWashingtonPoster

Billy Jack Goes to Washington is, sadly, the last movie in the Billy Jack franchise. Basically a tweaked remake of the Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Billy Jack Goes to Washington follows the same essential story from the original 1939 movie and includes quite a bit of that movie’s dialogue, but it does include enough of the stuff that makes the Billy Jack franchise so damn great to make it a true blue, full on Billy Jack movie. It’s a shame that the franchise and the character came to an end with this movie (there was going to be a fifth movie in the 1980’s, The Return of Billy Jack, and Laughlin and company started production on it, but the movie was never finished), but it makes a kind of sense that it would all end with the ex-Green Beret, sort of hippie half-Indian hapkido master taking on the Washington establishment in the belly of the beast.

So how the heck does Billy Jack end up in the United States Senate? Our hero is appointed to the Senate by his state’s governor (Governor Hubert Hoper, as played by Richard “Dick” Gautier) after the previous senator dies while in office. Appointing Billy Jack to the Senate seems absurd, especially to the governor’s “friend” and corrupt asshole businessman supporter/enabler James Bailey (Sam Wanamaker), but the governor insists it’s a good idea because Billy Jack will help inspire the youth vote. On top of that, Billy Jack will only be in office for a few months and, odds are, he won’t try to run for election on his own. The whole situation, to some, seems like a big win-win. At first, Billy Jack isn’t all that interested in the appointment because he doesn’t want to get involved in politics or the political machine because it’s all corrupt as hell. He eventually gets talked into it, though, and as soon as he gets to Washington he tries to make a difference in the world. He has no idea what he’s doing, but, dammit, he gives it a shot.

After getting a crash course in how the Senate and the government in general works from the previous Senator’s trusted aide Saunders (Lucie Arnaz) and a vote of confidence from fellow Senator and sort of family friend Joseph Paine (the great E.G. Marshall), Billy Jack attempts to do his job as a Senator by speaking on the Senate floor and introducing a bill of his own for consideration. Now, the bill Billy Jack proposes would create a children’s camp in his home state and then, maybe, a series of camps around the country. It’s a great bill. Unfortunately, the bill’s details put it in direct conflict with an already proposed bill that would allow a nuclear reactor to be built in the exact same area as the potential children’s camp. Billy Jack didn’t know anything about the proposed plant or the bill that would allow it to happen, and he’s kept in the dark about it all by Senator Paine because Paine is in cahoots, too, with Bailey and all of the other big deal rich asshole power brokers in the state. And Paine makes a concerted effort to keep Billy Jack out of the Senate when the nuclear power plant bill is finally put up for a vote (Paine sends Billy Jack to a meeting/conference where a bunch of hippie types tell Billy Jack about their plans to promote and propose a sort of national referendum on important issues).

Now, while all of that is going on, Saunders and her boyfriend Dan (I’m not sure who plays him) try to use secret information they have about the nuclear power plant and the nuclear power bill to their advantage. Dan thinks he has made a profitable deal and goes to a dark and secluded area to give up the secret information he has, but instead of being paid handsomely for the info Dan gets stabbed in the gut and is left to die. Saunders, as you would expect her to, loses her mind when she finds out what happens to Dan and, as a result, Billy Jack becomes super concerned about what happened to him. Why would someone want to kill Dan? What sort of information did he have? Saunders tells Billy Jack about the nuclear bill and quits her job and tells Billy Jack to do the same, as Washington is a dangerous place and, if he decides to make waves, could very well be the end of Billy Jack, too. Billy Jack and Jean refuse to accept defeat and plan to find out what happened to Dan and what the hell is really going on with this nuclear power plant thing. What happened to Dan? And why did Paine lie to Billy Jack?

So then some stuff happens, Billy Jack, Jean, and Carol begin looking into both Dan and the power plant, and Billy Jack goes to see Bailey. While meeting Bailey, Billy Jack finds out, up close, just how super corrupt the Senate and the government as a whole is. In short, Bailey makes Billy Jack an offer: if Billy Jack is willing to “play ball” and do as he’s told (vote for the stuff Bailey wants him to), Billy Jack will have a long and fruitful career as a U.S. Senator. If Billy Jack isn’t willing to play ball, Bailey and his minions in the Senate, in the business community, and in the media (Bailey owns newspapers and TV stations) will completely destroy Billy Jack and everything he has. Of course, Billy Jack isn’t willing to play ball with anyone, let alone a scumbag like Bailey, and he refuses all of Bailey’s help (Billy Jack also breaks a glass table with one punch before leaving the room).

And so the war begins.

Bailey sends a gang of thugs to attack Carol and Jean. Billy Jack shows up and beats up the gang (Jean helps, too. She isn’t as much of a pacifist anymore since she learned hapkido in the last movie). And then Paine turns on Billy Jack right on the Senate floor, claiming that Billy Jack is the corrupt one. This attack leads to a big hooha Senate ethics committee hearing where “evidence” is trotted out showing that Billy Jack is corrupt. It’s all bullshit, of course, but Billy Jack decides not to try to defend himself at the hearing and instead walks out without saying a word. How the hell can he fight everyone in the Senate and the government? Who are his allies? Does he have any allies? What can he do?

While going for a sort of midnight stroll through Washington D.C. and talking to the various landmarks (the Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial) he decides to give up and walk away from the whole thing. Billy Jack can’t see a way to fight back. Jean shows up, though, and tells Billy Jack not to give up. So Billy Jack decides to keep fighting, and since he’s still a U.S. Senator, he’s going to fight on the Senate floor by using the biggest weapon in a Senator’s arsenal.

The filibuster.

And so, with the help of Jean and a returning Saunders, Billy Jack stages a filibuster before the rest of his colleagues can vote him out of the Senate (because of that ethics committee thing). Billy Jack talks and talks and talks. Most of his colleagues leave the Senate chamber at the behest of Paine, disgusted that the “disgraced” Billy Jack would waste everyone’s time with this filibuster nonsense. But the Senators have to eventually return and listen. It’s in the rules, you know.

And then, just like the movie it’s riffing on, Billy Jack collapses after speaking too much, he’s carted away in an ambulance, and the world is a slightly better place as a result of Billy Jack’s determination. Bailey’s grip on the Senate and the government as a whole may not be as strong as it was before Billy Jack showed up. And that can only really be a good thing, right?

As I said at the beginning, it’s a damn shame that Billy Jack Goes to Washington is the final Billy Jack cinematic adventure because there were, no doubt, other entities and bad guys out there for Billy Jack to fight. Ending the franchise in a remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington just seems wrong. I mean, why the hell doesn’t Billy Jack beat up the whole U.S. Senate? That’s what the earlier Billy Jack likely would have done. I get that Billy Jack is meant to be naïve because he’s new to government and he trusts his friend Senator Paine, but why doesn’t he go apeshit and start kicking ass when he finds out that Paine is really a corrupt asshole? That’s what the earlier Billy Jack would have done. But then the ending, even if it’s essentially a copy of the original movie, it shows that past experience has finally taught Billy Jack that he can’t do all of his fighting with hapkido. Sometimes Billy Jack has to talk it out, be smart, and use the rules against the enemy. Kicking someone in the face would no doubt be satisfying, but then what happens after that? What’s accomplished? That’s what Jean has been trying to tell Billy Jack since Billy Jack. Billy Jack, to his credit, has finally figured it out.

But, yeah, it would have been awesome to see Billy Jack wipe the floor with a good chunk of the Senate. That’s what I probably would have done if Billy Jack Goes to Washington had been my movie. The filibuster, while it makes sense in the context of what Laughlin and company try to do with the movie, isn’t as spectacular as it should be for the finale of the movie. A good portion of the Billy Jack franchise is character dialogue concerning ideas and feelings and politics/social issues. Having Billy Jack as a Senator talking about a corrupt government, the influence of big business, and the dangers of nuclear power all fit into what Billy Jack would likely talk about anyway, so, again, what Laughlin does with the movie makes sense. Should he have done that, though? Should he have copied as much of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as he did? I’m not sure. I can see why, though, people might not dig the way the movie ends. It doesn’t seem like much of an ending for such a badass, kickass character.

The look of the movie is quite good, as it appears that Laughlin was able to actually film in Washington D.C. The Senate set doesn’t look like the Senate that I’ve seen on C-SPAN 2 over the years, but then C-SPAN 2 broadcasts from a different angle. Laughlin shot this from on the floor of the Senate, up close, so it was always going to look different. Billy Jack’s office is pretty nice.

The movie’s big action scene, where Billy Jack and Jean protect Carol from a gang of thugs is both awesome and slapdash. There’s terrific spectacle in the scene, with Billy Jack and Jean flying through the air and kicking ass and whatnot. There’s a great looking glass breaking sequence that’s insane looking. At the same time, the whole things happens too quickly. The Billy Jack movies aren’t known for drawn out action sequences anyway, but dialing it all down a half-turn probably would have been a good idea. And what’s the deal with the terrible stunt doubles, especially the Billy Jack one? The great Hal Needham is listed in the credits as the movie’s, which sort of explains the frenzied tone of the big fight. The “Billy Jack in shadow” sequence is top notch as hell.

My favorite aspect of the movie? How naïve Billy Jack and Jean are when they come to Washington and how they really want to do a good job and change the world despite not knowing the first thing about actually working in the Senate. Billy Jack and Jean also bring along some of their hippie kids from the Freedom School to work in their office. Of course that’s something Billy Jack and Jean would do. I do wish, though, that Billy Jack wore his Billy Jack hat and his usual denim outfit while on the Senate floor. Fuck the dress code. I mean, he didn’t have a suit and tie on during the ethics committee hearing. Why not have him wear the “usual” Billy Jack outfit while on the Senate floor?

Now, there seems to be some confusion about whether or not Billy Jack Goes to Washington was ever actually released to theatres. Laughlin claimed over the years that the movie was never released and was deliberately held back by nefarious forces because of its attack on nuclear power. In fact, a Democratic Senator allegedly went to a screening of the movie and announced to the assembled that the movie would never see the light of day because it was “dangerous.” I don’t know if I necessarily buy that. I’ve also read on various websites that the movie did get a small release in a few cities back in 1977 but it never went anywhere after that because of lukewarm reviews and distribution issues. That story seems more plausible. Laughlin had pioneered the wide release strategy, releasing a movie in multiple areas of the country on the same day, and as far as I can tell that was the plan for Billy Jack Goes to Washington. But, even with a still popular character, movie theaters just didn’t want to get involved with Laughlin again. That seems more likely. I do know that the movie wasn’t widely available to the general public until it hit DVD as the movie doesn’t have a rating. Would movie theatres back in the day shown Billy Jack Goes to Washington if it didn’t have a rating?

Laughlin is, once again, terrific as Billy Jack. He’s so totally Billy Jack that it’s hard to see Tom Laughlin as Tom Laughlin. He really is Billy Jack here. He shows in every scene just how good a man Billy Jack is. Laughlin also does a great job showing Billy Jack in a new, “foreign” environment like the U.S. Senate. He’s nervous, confused, not entirely sure about what he can do as a Senator, but he sticks with it. Yes, he has a moment of weakness during the whole ethics committee hearing sequence, but he comes around and makes the right decision in the end. There should have been more Billy Jack adventures.

Delores Taylor is awesome as Jean this time around, mostly because of the fight scene she gets to participate in. Who the hell would have thought that the super pacifist Jean would ever take her shoes off and kick ass via hapkido alongside Billy Jack? I know I didn’t. She’s also a little more forceful this time around with telling Billy Jack to cut the shit and not be violent all of the time.

E.G. Marshall is, as always, superb as Senator Paine. You can tell that he’s conflicted about his position in the world. He’s been in the Senate for decades, he knows how the game is played, but he also sees himself as a good guy. He’s corrupt, but he doesn’t see himself as corrupt as some of his colleagues. When he goes against Billy Jack and takes the side of Bailey you can see it on Paine’s face that he doesn’t want to do it but he feels that he has to. I think you’ll applaud him on the choice he makes at the very end of the movie.

Sam Wanamaker is such a dick as rich asshole James Bailey. He’s super confident and knows that he has the world by the ass because he has the money and resources to buy and sell people at will. He’s just so despicable that you want to see Billy Jack kick him in the face or dislocate his shoulder or something. It doesn’t happen, but at least he doesn’t win in the end. I think it’s interesting that, ten years later, Wanamaker would play a piece of shit rich guy who buys the Daily Planet in Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (he was also the top mobster piece of shit in the Ahnold Schwarzenegger flick Raw Deal). The man clearly excelled at this kind of character.

And Lucie Arnaz, is outstanding in her big screen debut as Saunders, the super cynical Senate aide that ends up helping out Billy Jack in the end. She’s got spunk and the kind of natural charisma that sets herself apart from just about everyone else. Her big “Will you cut out the decency crap!” speech is a thing to behold.

Billy Jack Goes to Washington shouldn’t have been the last Billy Jack adventure. There should have been more. There weren’t, though, and our hero’s trip to the nation’s capital is the last one. It’s a great movie. It may not be as awesome and exciting as The Born Losers or Billy Jack or as weird as The Trial of Billy Jack, but Billy Jack Goes to Washington is very watchable and heartfelt as hell. If only Billy Jack had destroyed a few senators on the senate floor by taking off his shoes and kicking ass.

Still, see Billy Jack Goes to Washington. Complete the Billy Jack quadrilogy and see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 2

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: An opening narration about individuals who fight for what’s right despite overwhelming odds, talk of nuclear power and nuclear weapons, an attack on big business and government corruption, a press conference, heart attack, a long ass ambulance ride, people playing tennis, more big business and government corruption, racism, an Indian praying in the mountains, an official announcement, a big train ride, people learning how the government really works, talk of bribery, talk of creating a national referendum, a secret meeting at night, gut stabbing, a full on meltdown, attempted bribery and intimidation, glass table destruction, attempted gang attack, beating up an old man, a full on hapkido brawl, some of the most obvious stunt doubles in movie history, serious glass window destruction, a framing, a sham senate ethics committee hearing, a big party held by a rich asshole, the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, filibuster hooey, a deliberate media blackout, off screen TV station destruction, gigantic bags of mail, and a sudden collapse.

Kim Richards?: Attempted. Sort of.

Gratuitous: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, people talking about nuclear power, E.G. Marshall, Sam Wanamaker, talk of “harmony,” Tom Laughlin, soaring overhead shots, Billy Jack in a tuxedo, talk of a roll top desk, Billy Jack and Jean looking incredibly out of place in Washington D.C., Arlington National Cemetery, naivety, people laughing at Billy Jack on the Senate floor, talk of “the people,” a disheveled hippie guy, attempted bribery, switchblades, a gang of black guys who are possibly CIA agents, multiple hand writing experts, Billy Jack reading the inscription on the Jefferson Memorial, Billy Jack at the Lincoln Memorial, Billy Jack initiating the filibuster, Billy Jack using the Senate’s rules to fuck over his Senate colleagues, an “emergency,” various Senators asleep on the Senate floor, letter reading, Billy Jack throwing giant bags of mail around, and a sudden collapse.

Best lines: “I don’t even understand the question,” “Dan, are you crazy?,” “Billy Jack? A half-breed Indian nut?,” “That’s real American middle-of-the-road stuff,” “You play dangerous games, Dan. I’m not playing games, Jerry,” “He always said the only causes worth fighting for were the lost ones,” “Well, when do we start? What?,” “Sit tight, fellas, the show is about to begin,” “You may speak louder, Senator,” “You were a fool, Dan,” “Oh, will you two come down of your decency crap?,” “Why don’t you just go home? Go home before they kill you!,” “Billy, you’re jousting with windmills,” ‘Count me out,” “You know, a lot of people told me that you were dumb,” “Now that is what I think of your threat, Mr. Bailey,” “What the hell is going on out there?,” “Who’s idea was it to use black agents?,” “I’m sorry, I don’t feel much like sitting down, sir,” “You know, I didn’t think he was guilty until this very moment,” “Who’s the enemy? I don’t know who I’m supposed to be fighting!,” “Maybe you’re right. Maybe the only solution you have to crucial problems is to take your boots off and kick people in the head,” “Well, we got a full house today. They all show up for the executions,” “Saunders, are you behind all of these shenanigans? What shenanigans?,” “Let him speak!,” “The chair recognizes Senator Jack!,” “I stand guilty as framed!,” “Mr. President, do I have the floor?,” “Filibuster!,” “Filibuster! Billy Jack is filibustering the Senate!,” “Go on back to the Senate, Joe. Go on,” “And that’s what you call freedom of the press, right?,” “Well, I guess this looks like another lost cause,” “Can I please have a drink of water?,” and “You did it, so no matter what they do to you, you did it. And for once you didn’t have to take of your boots.”

Rating: /10.0

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Things to Watch Out For

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Dragged Across Concrete: This is the latest movie from writer/director S. Craig Zahler and, man, has it generated some serious controversy amongst the internets movie critic world. Some people loved it, some people hated it, and some people think the movie is dangerous for its alleged “world view.” I have no idea how good or bad the movie is since I haven’t seen it yet, but I enjoyed Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 and Vince Vaughn is in both of them so why not give it a shot? I’m a little iffy on the 2 –and-a-half hour running time, but then it seems that’s one of Zahler’s things, movies that are way too long. Mel Gibson and Michael Jai White are in this, too. A definite must see. Anyone out there see this on Video on Demand or maybe in an actual movie theatre? Anyone at all? Are the critics right?

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The Brain: This comes to us from the fine folks at Shout! Factory/Scream Factory and, based on the movie’s page at the Shout! Factory website this Blu-ray is loaded with special features. This was in tons of video stores I frequented back in the day, but for whatever reason I never rented it. I should have, though. It looks amazing and, based on its cult movie reputation, it is amazing. Why the hell was this movie never released on DVD? Why is this Blu-ray the first home video release since its VHS release? This is a definite must own Blu-ray, and, man, I think I need to review this movie at some point. Any The Brain fans out there?

And why the hell doesn’t this movie have a trailer?

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Grace is Gone: This is apparently some sort of low budget post-apocalyptic movie about a man trying to protect his family from the usual whatnot in a post-apocalyptic land: disease, gangs, shit like that. The big bad guy in the movie is MMA and pro wrestling legend Ken Shamrock, which is interesting because he hasn’t been in that many movies. He should be a low budget action movie star at this point in time, as he has the look, the background, etc., for that kind of thing, but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened. Maybe this movie will get Shamrock the notice he needs to move on to bigger action movies? We’ll see, I guess.

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

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Billy Jack Goes to Washington

Tom Laughlin– Billy Jack
Delores Taylor– Jean Roberts
E.G. Marshall– Senator Paine
Teresa Laughlin– Carol
Sam Wanamaker– James Bailey
Richard Gautier– Governor Hubert Hoper
Lucie Arnaz– Saunders

(check out the rest of the cast here)

Directed by Tom Laughlin (as T.C. Frank)
Screenplay by Tom Laughlin and Delores Roberts (credited as Frank Christina and Teresa Christina), based on a screenplay by Sidney Buchman and a story by Lewis R. Foster

Distributed by Taylor-Laughlin, Billy Jack Rights, and Shout! Factory

Not Rated
Runtime– 113 minutes

Buy it here