As the movie opens, Billy Jack interrupts the slaughter of wild mustangs and runs afoul of the rich-guy-who-actually-runs-the- town and his weak-willed, spoiled-rotten son, Bernard.
Billy Jack also protects the “freedom school” run by Jean Roberts (Laughlin’s real-life wife, Delores Taylor.) It is a school for troubled teens, dropouts, and others who do not fit into normal, polite (read “white”) society. Of course, being hippies, the good, decent (and racist) townsfolk do not like them, and are frightened by their liberal ways.
Billy Jack is very much a movie of its time. Released in 1971 when the Vietnam war was in full swing, the movie deals with pacifism, violence, hippie counter-culture, and social consciousness. Billy Jack is not a good film; the acting is sub-standard, it is overlong in spots, is preachy and its “peace through violence” message is incongruous. But it is a time capsule; a glimpse into a time of civil unrest and American involvement an unpopular war.
The one thing the movie does well is violence. After Billy Jack has beaten the crap out of Bernard Posner and his gigantic buddy, Dinosaur, Billy is confronted in the town park by Posner’s dad and a bunch of racist rednecks. Billy dispatches dad with a single kick and subsequently takes on the rest of the rednecks. At first Billy holds his own, but eventually is overcome by their sheer numbers. I find this to be very realistic. In most movies with martial arts sequences, the hero is usually untouchable, taking on wave after wave of villains and ultimately dispatching them all (although it would help their odds if the villains would attack more than one at a time, but I digress.) Not so in Billy Jack; Billy is no Superman, and although has expert fighting skill, he does succumb to superior numbers, especially after many attach him at once. Billy is saved only through the intervention of the town sheriff.
The fight scenes were choreographed by Bong Soo Han, a hapkido expert and Laughlin’s real-life martial arts teacher. Han even doubled for Laughlin in some of the fight scenes and can be spotted if you watch carefully enough.
Originally under-promoted by its initial distributor, Warner Studios, Tom Laughlin took matters into his own hands and distributed and promoted the film himself. It later became a cult hit due to its being shown on TV and subsequent VHS and DVD releases.
Click on the following link to place a hold:
Worth a look if you want a glimpse into the turbulent Vietnam era.
Skip it if you don’t like dated films or movies about dirty hippies.