Posts Tagged ‘David Roya’

Movie Reviews 371 – Billy Jack (1971)

November 30, 2018

Billy Jack was something of cult favorite film that was made by political activist and auteur Tom Laughlin after him seeing firsthand the treatment and plight of American First Nations. Made on a shoestring budget and bandied about across a number of studios over a lengthy production period, the film would eventually be released as an independent film by the writer, director and star Laughlin himself. While the film ended up being a great success from a return point of view, sadly the realities depicted by the subject matter in the film still hold true today.

The film has Billy Jack (Laughlin), a half indian, Vietnam veteran Green Beret as the self imposed defender of a progressive “Freedom School” being run by his girlfriend Jean (Delores Taylor, Laughlin’s real life wife) against redneck mustang poachers from the nearby town. The poachers are led by Stuart Posner, the town heavy who has most of the town council in his pockets but even worse than the elder Posner is his son Bernard (David Roya) who despises the natives even more than he hates his own father.

The troubles really begin when the free living daughter of a Sheriff’s deputy – a man working on the side for Posner – gets pregnant and, after a violent confrontation with her father, seeks refuge at the school. While the law and town council suspect the natives of harbouring the girl their searches prove fruitless. Meanwhile Billy, as protector of the school, has run-ins with Stuart, his henchmen, and son Bernard on several occasions.

But when Bernard crosses the line and commits atrocious crimes against a number of people connect with the school including Jean, Billy’s rage gets the best of him and he deals with Bernard such that he will never be a problem again. This leads to a standoff with Billy held at the school while surrounded by law officials. But Billy is not one to give up easily and as the minutes tick by he serious weighs the idea of going out in a final blaze of glory instead of being imprisoned for years to come at the hands of a corrupt system.

To be fair this movie is really rough around the edges which makes watching cringe worthy at times. The largely young cast provide mostly painful cardboard cutout acting. Several scenes are just the kids acting out nearly incomprehensible skits (including a very young Howard Hesseman) which are not only boring but excruciatingly long. While Laughlin himself is not that bad, even his character is remains fairly unidimensional. More troubling is the oft cited mixed messages dispensed by the film. Jean is the die-hard pacifist at odds with Billy whose good intentions are backed up by high flying kicks and the agility to take on mobs of assailants. One of the few respectable town residents is none other than the sheriff, who is indeed a laudable lawman, but in the end he too is forced stand against Billy. Even the detestable Bernard is first introduced as a gun wary boy who is one of the few willing to confront to his forceful father, only to become worse than him. While the film intends to side with the kids (the school in fact been portrayed as a hippie commune that were popular in the day), they sometimes come off as obnoxious and biased as the rednecks.

But there is plenty of good stuff to enjoy as well. The motorcycle riding Billy shows off some remarkable (if exaggerated) combat skills that captured audiences that had yet to be exposed to the martial arts films that would soon flood the market – mainly thanks to the talents of Bruce Lee – and give rise to the Kung Fu mania that followed. The scene where Billy confronts Stuart Posner – declaring “I’m going to take this right foot and I’m going to whup that side of your face. And you know something? There’s not a damn thing you can do about it.” – and then doing exactly what he said, is a pure classic. There is also a memorable scene when Billy takes some time out for a ritual which entails going head to head with a rattler and having to endure it’s bites in order to become ‘brother of the snake’.

Technically, this is a sequel to Laughlin’s film The Born Losers in which the Billy Jack character first appeared and the success of this one also led to the inferior The Trial of Billy Jack. It’s hard for me to say that this is still a must see film for either those interested counterculture media or martial arts devotees. But I certainly got a kick out of it. Many, many kicks to sure.

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