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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Billy Jack

April 18, 2019 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Billy Jack

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #504: Billy Jack

The Billy Jack Marathon: Week 2

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that thinks it would be best for everyone in the world to just leave the rattlesnakes alone (despite what you may think they’re not bothering you so just go somewhere else), The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and four, The Billy Jack Marathon continues with the second movie in the franchise, Billy Jack, which hit movie screens in 1971 and then again in 1973.

Billy Jack

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Billy Jack, directed by and starring Tom Laughlin (he once again directed under the name “T.C. Frank.” Laughlin also co-wrote the screenplay with wife and co-star Delores Taylor), is probably the movie most people think of /remember when they think of the character Billy Jack, the ex-Green Beret, sort of hippie, half-Indian Hapkido master who kicks ass in the name of peace. Billy Jack is weird as hell but, at the same time, incredibly heart felt and supremely watchable. It’s not quite the slam bang action flick that it’s sometimes made out to be, but it’s got enough action in it to warrant the action flick label. It’s also chock full of epically badass moments (and moments that are just so weird it’s hard to believe they’re in such a badass movie). In the end, the ultimate takeaway from Billy Jack is that Billy Jack the character is just so damn awesome. He really is someone the youth of America can look up to.

Billy Jack has Laughlin’s Billy Jack living on Indian land and out in the wilderness, “appearing when he’s needed.” We first see him breaking up a wild horse wrangling operation run by the sleazy scumbag local rich guy Stuart Poser (Bert Freed). Poser and his posse of equally sleazy fellow scumbags, including the ass kissing sheriff’s deputy Mike (played by Ken Tobey), planned on killing the wild horses and then selling the carcasses to a dog food operation, which is incredibly illegal on multiple counts (doing it in the first place, and doing it on Indian land are just two of the counts). Despite being vastly outnumbered, Billy Jack manages to convince Posner and his group to leave the horses alone and run away. Posner figures that Billy Jack’s day will eventually come and besides, the whole horse wrangling scheme was a bust because Posner’s son Bernard (David Roya) is skittish on the idea of shooting a horse dead. Bernard’s a relentless piece of shit just like his father, but he has issues with killing things. It’s just not in him (not much of a man if you don’t want to kill things according to big man Posner). After Billy Jack sets the wild horses free, we find out that when he isn’t out in the wilderness being the mysterious ex-Green Beret, sort of hippie, half-Indian hapkido master he’s hanging out at the Freedom School, run by his sort of love interest Jean (Delores Taylor). He protects the kids and the school in general from the outside world, as the outside world just wants to destroy the school and what it’s all about.

So, what, exactly, is the Freedom School all about? Basically, it’s a school where kids can become steeped in various hippie values like peace, love, and expressing oneself through art and shit. If you’re a student there you can’t do drugs and you can’t be an asshole. You have to be supportive of your fellow students while there, regardless of the art choices everyone makes. For the most part, the place is filled with singers, fine artists, and theater people (there’s a super intensive improv outfit there run by a young Howard Hesseman). There’s also a horse riding/rodeo curriculum that, I’m assuming, is part of the school’s “we love Indian culture” initiative. I’d guess that, although we don’t actually see any of this, Billy Jack helps with these classes since he’s also an expert horse breaker (we learned that in the first movie, The Born Losers, and Billy Jack still has a pair of yellow rodeo gloves in his back pocket at all times. I don’t think he’d have them on his person if he didn’t use them in his everyday life. Teaching people stuff is an everyday activity). It’s a place that most arts people would like to go because, well, the school is really into art. Art is cool.

Now, the plot of the movie gets going when Deputy Mike’s troubled teen daughter Barbara (Julie Webb) announces to her father that she’s pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is. Mike, hearing the news and, being the asshole that he is, smacks Barbara across the face. As you would expect, Barbara runs away from that bullshit and ends up at the Freedom School, where she has friends. Mike suspects that that’s where Barbara is and tries to enlist the help of old man Posner and the sheriff, Sheriff Cole (Clark Howat). Posner is all about sending people to the Freedom School and dragging Barbara back home. Sheriff Cole, though, isn’t too keen on that and tries to let cooler heads prevail. Sheriff Cole would much rather talk things out. Cole also isn’t as afraid of old man Posner as everyone else seems to be, so he doesn’t immediately jump when Posner says jump.

While all of that is going on, some of the Freedom School kids head to town on a bus to go shopping and get some ice cream and whatnot. The kids are immediately accosted by Bernard and his buddies. After Bernard pours flour on an Indian girl and beats up student Martin (Stan Rice), Billy Jack shows up and, in his own words, “goes berserk.” Billy Jack beats the shit out of Bernard and a few others, then he goes out onto the street where he’s surrounded by old man Posner and a small army of henchmen. Billy Jack then engages in the movie’s most badass moment (he wops old man Posner in the side of his face) and then kicks the crap out of several more people. Unfortunately for Billy Jack, he is eventually outnumbered and gets his ass kicked. The sheriff breaks up the brawl.

So then some stuff happens, old man Posner and Deputy Mike manage to get a search warrant for the Freedom School, and the authorities descend on the school to find Barbara. Barbara isn’t there, though. Billy Jack has Barbara stashed out in the woods, far away from her father and Posner. And it’s at this point that Jean and the Freedom School have to go to a big hooha city council meeting to explain to the city what they’re all about. The meeting is a raucous affair that goes on seemingly forever and accomplishes very little, at least until the end when the council agrees to go to the school to actually see the school in its own environment. This particular meeting goes better, and the council seems to actually endorse what the school does. Old man Posner still isn’t cool with the school (he’s on the council, too), but everyone is now fine with the place.

So then some more stuff happens, Billy Jack endures some sort of Indian ceremony where he fucks around with a super poisonous snake and gets bitten several times (he survives the ceremony, which is a big deal), and the school performs more improv in town. Bernard pops back into the story, taking one of the female Freedom School students to a nearby lake in his new, sweet, gold Corvette to do you know what. Then Billy Jack shows up at the lake along with Jean and threatens Bernard, forcing the little punk to drive his sweet Corvette into the lake or get a dislocated elbow. This incident leads to Bernard being berated by his father and, at that moment, hatching a big revenge scheme, a scheme that probably looked like a great idea in his head. In the real world, though, it was just the latest biggest fucking mistake in Bernard’s life at that moment.

Bernard then goes on to make several more gigantic mistakes that lead to a final confrontation with Billy Jack (Bernard never stood a chance). And after that, Billy Jack has one more confrontation with Deputy Mike, which doesn’t go well for Mike, either. The movie itself ends on what can be described as a quiet moment of triumph, where the kids of the world show they’re still defiant and still willing to fight for freedom, or at least the freedom afforded to them at the Freedom School.

When Billy Jack is in action movie mode, it shows you just how awesome the Billy Jack character is and how totally committed star Laughlin is to the Billy Jack persona. Laughlin just exudes endless stoic charisma here and you believe he really is the character he is playing. From the hat to the jean jacket to the boots (that he takes off for some reason when he wants to hapkido a punk. Perhaps he can kick faster without them?), he is the real deal. And it’s this natural badassness that makes his speechifying easier to take and listen to because you know he really believes this stuff and isn’t just saying lines from a script in order to move along the story. Laughlin really was onto something with this character in this movie.

Now, when the movie focuses on the kids in the school and we are forced to experience seemingly endless improv sessions, the story loses its momentum and it doesn’t pick up again until Billy Jack shows up. These improv scenes and other “this is what the school believes in and teaches” interludes are interesting, but they’re not as interesting or as engrossing as the Billy Jack sections. The singing sequences, the theatre workshops, and even the town council meetings should have been cut down/streamlined or completely re-thought so they don’t drag the movie down. The only improv scene I really liked is the “mugger” performance that involved the sheriff. It was the only improv scene that I thought was laugh out loud funny. And that town council meeting, which I love on its own, is one of the least productive things I’ve ever seen. I like it as an example of people not listening to one another, not getting along, and the inefficiencies of government, but it, too, could have and should have been streamlined. Although, now that I think about it, I bet there was an even longer town council meeting scene before it was cut down to the length it is now. I bet it went on for like an hour.

Still, with all of the high mindedness and heartfelt political stances, Billy Jack is, at its core, a full on exploitation action movie and doesn’t try to be any more than that. Director Laughlin clearly understood that Billy Jack needed to be entertaining and watchable for general audiences to respond. Youth audiences back when the movie premiered likely enjoyed the movie more than their parents as the movie was made for them/advocated for what believed in at the time. Just like The Born Losers, Billy Jack revels in showing just how out of it “the old ways” are. Of course, the movie also revels in showing us the “old Indian ways,” which I’d suspect were “new” to most audiences when they first saw the movie. And there’s the whole “Indians getting shafted for decades” thing. No one respects the Indians except the kids at the Freedom School. That’s sad, and an indictment of society as a whole. At the same time, I do wish that Laughlin had found a way to sneak in a few more ass kicking scenes or a shootout or two.

Speaking of ass kicking scenes, I can’t stress enough how goddamn great the “Billy Jack up against old man Posner’s gang of assholes in the park” scene is. The explosive first kick to Posner’s face, followed by Billy Jack wiping the floor with several of Posner’s scumbags in quick and brutal fashion, it’s all expertly choreographed and shot. The movie needed more of this (most movies need more of this kind of thing). The build to that scene is also top notch, with the verbal standoff between Billy Jack and Posner. Posner was such a fucking douchebag. If only Billy Jack chopped him in the face, too.

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Laughlin, as I said, is just so damn good as Billy Jack. He so fully inhabits the character and you really believe he is Billy Jack. It’s a damn shame what happens to him at the end of the movie, though.

Delores Taylor does a decent job as Jean, the head of the Freedom School and Billy Jack’s love interest. She’s a little stiff at times, her voice can drone every now and then, but she’s always interesting and you can’t help but root for her and her kids. She also knows how to be a kind of voice of reason for Billy Jack. He may not follow her advice to a tee, but he knows that, in a way, she’s more right than wrong. And, yes, it’s odd for an action movie to have an undercurrent of peace and pacifism at its heart, but you can’t hate Jean for trying to tell Billy Jack that while it may be incredibly satisfying to chop a prick like Bernard square in the throat, it might not be the best way to solve the situation. Taylor should also be commended for enduring an absolutely harrowing rape sequence that will make your stomach turn. Jesus Christ, Tom, we all get why the scene is in the movie, but this is your wife here! What the hell?

Clark Howat is absolutely fascinating as Sheriff Cole. He’s always stuck in the middle of upholding the law and responding to the whims and needs of mega rich town asshole old man Posner and he somehow manages to keep a level head throughout it all. Cole just wants to keep the peace. You wish he was a little more proactive, like Billy Jack, but at the same time you see why he isn’t more proactive like Billy Jack (he can’t be the voice of reason from jail. Sure, he’d probably love to beat the shit out of Posner, his son Bernard, Deputy Mike, and the rest of the town’s ass kissers, but he can’t). I’d like to know how the hell the guy got elected sheriff in this town in the first place.

David Roya is also fascinating as Bernard Posner. He’s a piece of shit just like his father and you can’t stand him, but you feel for him just a bit every now and then because he’s struggling with who he is. He doesn’t want to kill the horses, he doesn’t necessarily want to be a violent person, but he does a lot of nasty shit anyway in order to gain his father’s acceptance. He isn’t always sure he should be looking for it, but he goes through with it more often than not. Why the hell can’t he just be his “true self,” or at least the person he sometimes wants to be, instead of the racist rapist asshole that he turns out to be? Bernard definitely deserves what happens to him (it’s too bad that Billy Jack only got to do it to him once).

Bert Freed is the epitome of old, rich, corrupt piece of shit douchebag assholes as Stuart Posner. You just take one look at him and you know he’s up to no good and likely a truly awful human being. And when you do get to know him you know that your suspicions were right, Stuart Posner is a truly awful human being. Why the heck didn’t he come back for the next movie, The Trial of Billy Jack?

And speaking of truly awful human beings, Ken Tobey as Deputy Mike may be a bigger scumbag than old man Posner. The way he treats his daughter Barbara is reprehensible, and the fact that he acts as a henchman for old man Posner while also being a sheriff’s deputy is truly despicable. Is it me or does this guy sweat a lot? I think you’ll love the way Billy Jack dispatches him (Billy Jack has a real knack for doing what he does to Deputy Mike).

Howard Hesseman is funny as one of the improv teachers at the school. I’d like to know why he appeared in the movie under a different name (Don Sturdy). Julie Webb is great as Barbara, Deputy Mike’s kid. She manages to straddle the line between an annoying kid and someone you feel sympathy for because of the family life she has.

Billy Jack is an amazing movie. It may seem “of its time,” but its ideas about freedom and sticking up for the oppressed are timeless. It’s also as badass as they come because of the Billy Jack character. Star Tom Laughlin just rocks in every scene. He is Billy Jack. And that’s cool. Damn cool.

See Billy Jack. See it, see it, goddamn see it!

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 4

Explosions: None.

Nudity?: Yes. Briefly.

Doobage: Wild horse hunting, toxic masculinity, absolutely horrible parenting, flagrant child abuse, singing, a bus ride, a bunch of redneck assholes, blatant racism, guy chopped through a window, vehicular sabotage, a full on fight in public, hapkido city, multiple kicks and chops, head smashed into a concrete wall, guy falls off a horse, search warrant hooey, more singing, a big city council meeting, a violation of the constitution (maybe), Indian ceremony, rifle scope hooey, paint buying, assault, switchblade hooey, a man is forced to drive his car into a lake, hay bales, skinny dipping, nude sunbathing, horse riding, lip biting, public rape, of screen fetus death, a roadblock, kidnapping, off screen murder, statutory rape, some of the worst shooting in movie history, chop to the throat, a bleeding wound, bullet to the head, a police shootout, a big hooha negotiation, and a power salute.

Kim Richards?: Attempted.

Gratuitous: Wild horse hunting, “One Tin Soldier,” toxic masculinity, Tom Laughlin emerging from the woods, Tom Laughlin cocking a Winchester pump one handed, hepatitis, flagrant child abuse, barrel racing, hippie bullshit, yoga, a hippie wearing a Disneyland shirt, a total lack of shoes, a discussion about whether or not a student’s child could be the new savior of the world, Black Power, singing, “Up yours,” white guy pouring white flour onto Indians to “make them white,” an attack of pacifism, hapkido, an obvious stunt double, a search warrant, a fucking annoying song about “rainbow children,” Howard Hesseman, a city council meeting that’s completely disorganized, the “Hitler law and order” speech, impromptu “Star Spangled Banner” via saxophone, seemingly endless improv, an Indian snake ceremony, Tom Laughlin talking about spirits and shit, street theater, public nudity, a brutal chop to the fucking throat, negotiation, and a powerful ending.

Best lines: “Would you like the first shot, Mr. Posner?,” “I knew he’d find us,” “You’re illegally on Indian land,” “When policemen break the law there isn’t any law. Just a fight for survival,” “You’re making a mistake. I’ve made them before,” “My first instinct is to beat the hell out of you, you know that?,” “Where’s the father? That’s funny, I don’t even know who the father is,” “I ain’t going to no damn school!,” “What’s her trip?,” “Most people think that’s a bunch of crap,” “What’s gonna happen tomorrow is gonna happen and all the worry in the world isn’t going to change that,” “Howdy! My name’s Bernard Posner,” “Could we have some ice cream, please?,” “Hey, guys, come on, there’s no need for all this violence,” “There! Everybody’s white!,” “Bernard, I want you to know that I try. When Jean and the kids at the school tell me that I’m supposed to control my violent temper, and be passive and nonviolent like they are, I try. I really try. Though, when I see this girl of such a beautiful spirit so degraded, and this boy, that I love, sprawled out by this big ape here, and this little girl, who is so special to us we call her ‘God’s little gift of sunshine,’ and I think of the number of years that she’s going to have to carry in her memory the savagery of this idiotic moment of yours I just go berserk!,” “Watch his feet. He can kill you with his feet,” “You really think those Green Beret karate tricks are gonna help you against all these boys? Well, it doesn’t look to me like I really have any choice now, does it? That’s right, you don’t. You know what I think I’m gonna do, then? Just for the hell of it? Tell me. I’m gonna take this right foot, and I’m gonna whop you on that side of your face. And you want to know something? There’s not a damn thing you’re gonna be able to do about it. Really? Really,” “Kill that Indian sonofabitch!,” “All right, let’s everybody go home and take a hot bath,” “Jean, I want to know where Billy is!,” “Mr. Johnson, when is the last time you cut your hair? When is the last time you brushed your teeth, sir?,” “Oh, man, this council sucks,” “I’ll give you the answer. Because you’re a filthy little girl,” “You are look weird when you’re acting normal,” “You hypocrite!,” “Hey, Bernard! Isn’t that Barbara?,” “What the hell do you think you’re doing?,” “I can’t believe… I really can’t believe this guy! Can you?,” “Why don’t you drive his car into this lake?,” “All right, Bernard, what is it going to be? Drive your car into the lake or get a dislocated elbow?,” “How come you never tried to lay me?,” “I pray Billy kills’em!,” “Damn your pacifism! I’m not going to let that sick animal get away with this!,” “Martin, do you know what mental toughness is? Well, mental toughness is the ability to accept the fact that you’re human and that you’re going to make mistakes, lots of them, all your life. And some of them are going to hurt people that you love very badly. But you have the guts to accept the fact that you ain’t perfect. And you don’t let your mistakes crush you and keep you from doing the very best that you can,” “Well, I’ll be damned! That injun is shooting back!,” “Where’s Martin? I said where’s Martin?,” “I’m itching to kill someone, might as well be you,” “Was he shot? Four times. In the head,” “I don’t suppose you care so much that you’re bleeding to death?,” “An Indian isn’t afraid to die. I don’t expect the white man to understand that,” Oh, you crazy nut!,” “Billy, that’s a bunch of crap!,” and “I love you, Billy!”

Rating: 10.0/10.0

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Things to Watch Out For

WeDieYoungDVD

We Die Young: This is the latest flick from modern action movie legend Jean-Claude Van Damme and, from early reviews I’ve read, it’s more of a drama than a full on action flick. That can be a good thing, as JCVD does have some acting chops and it’s always cool to see him stretch his persona a bit. At the same time, it’s also always cool to see JCVD kicking ass and taking names. I’m hoping that this is good, as the world doesn’t need a bad JCVD flick. I believe this received a minor theatrical release not that long ago (I wish I lived in an area where those minor theatrical releases happen because I would see the shit out of these movies). Anyone out there see this?

BlackSite

Black Site: This mega low budget sci-fi action horror flick, written and directed by Tom Patton, has generated some decent buzz in the last few months and some good reviews (the consensus seems to be that, despite its very low budget, it manages to be kind of cool and exciting). It’s been described as a kind of riff on John Carpenter, which is supreme praise as far as I’m concerned. I think it looks pretty awesome. I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch a movie about an elite military unit that has to deal with something called The Elder Gods? How has that story not been told a million times? A definite must see.

TheAmityvilleMurders

The Amityville Murders: I’ve never been a big fan of haunted house movies, any of the Amityville Horror movies, or the whole Amityville story. It’s all just so much bullshit. However, the great Daniel Farrands is the writer and director of this sort of remake of the second Amityville Horror movie, and that fact alone makes me interested in checking it out. This movie also has a terrific cast with Diane Franklin, Lainie Kazan, and the immortal Burt Young all involved (I believe Franklin and Young were in the second AVH). Anyone out there a fan of these kinds of movies?

MegaTimeSquad

Mega Time Squad: This is apparently some sort of low budget time travel comedy from New Zealand. How often do we see that kind of thing? I’d imagine it’s because time travel movies are so hard to pull off, comedy or not. I mean, when was the last time you saw a time travel movie that made a lick of sense? This is definitely worth a rental, just to see if it’s any good/funny/makes any sense. Anyone out there see this? Anyone at all? Maybe at a film festival or something? The trailer is funny.

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Check out my Widow’s Point set visit report!

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Read it here!

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Next Issue: The Billy Jack marathon continues with The Trial of Billy Jack!

(Sorry, this is a fan trailer. I couldn’t find a real trailer anywhere on YouTube)

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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

Tom Laughlin– Billy Jack
Delores Taylor– Jean Roberts
Clark Howat– Sheriff Cole
Bert Freed– Mr. Stuart Posner
Ken Tobey– Deputy Mike
David Roya– Bernard Posner
Julie Webb– Barbara
Stan Rice– Martin

(check out the entire cast here)

Directed by Tom Laughlin (as T.C. Frank)
Screenplay by Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor as Frank Christina and Teresa Christina

Distributed by Warner Bros., Warner Home Video, Billy Jack Rights, and Shout! Factory

Rated PG for violence, language, sexual situations, and brief nudity.
Runtime– 114 minutes

Buy it here