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Theatrical release poster.
|Directed by||Tom Laughlin as T. C. Frank|
|Produced by||Tom Laughlin as Mary Rose Solti|
|Written by||Tom Laughlin (as Frank Christina)
Delores Taylor (as Theresa Christina)
|Music by||Mundell Lowe, Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter|
John M. Stephens
|Editing by||Larry Heath
|Studio||National Student Film Corporation|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Release date(s)||USA May 1, 1971|
|Running time||114 min.|
Billy Jack is a 1971 action film. It is the second in a series of motion pictures centering on a character of the same name which started with the movie The Born Losers (1967), played by Tom Laughlin, who also directed and co-wrote the script. Filming began in Prescott, Arizona, in fall 1969, but the movie was not completed until 1971. American International Pictures pulled out of the production, halting filming. 20th Century-Fox came in and filming eventually resumed but when that studio refused to distribute the film, Warner Bros. took over.
The film lacked distribution, so Laughlin took it to theatres himself in 1971. The film died at the box office in its initial run but took in more than $40 million in its 1973 re-release, which was supervised by Laughlin.
Billy Jack is a "half-breed" American Navajo Indian, a Green Beret Vietnam War veteran, and a hapkido master. The character made his début in The Born Losers (1967), a "biker film" about a motorcycle gang terrorizing a California town. Billy Jack rises to the occasion to defeat the gang by defending a college student who has evidence against them for gang rapes.
This changes with the second film, Billy Jack, in which the hero must defend the hippie-themed Freedom School and its students from townspeople who do not understand or like the counterculture students. The school is organized by Jean Roberts (Delores Taylor).
In one scene, a group of Indian children from the school go into town for ice cream and are refused service and then abused and humiliated by Bernard Posner and his gang. This prompts a violent outburst by Billy. Later, Billy's girlfriend Jean is raped and one of the Indian students is murdered by Bernard (David Roya), the corrupt son of the county's political boss. (Bert Freed). Billy confronts Bernard and sustains a gunshot wound before killing him with a hand strike to the throat, after Bernard was having sex with a 13-year-old girl. After a climactic shootout with the police, and much pleading from Jean, he surrenders to the authorities and is arrested. As he is being driven away, a large crowd of supporters raise their fists into the air as a show of defiance and support. The plot continues in the sequel, The Trial of Billy Jack.
Box-office and critical reception
The film was re-released in 1973 and earned an estimated $8,275,000 in North American rentals.
In his Movie and Video Guide, film critic Leonard Maltin writes: "Seen today, its politics are highly questionable, and its 'message' of peace looks ridiculous, considering the amount of violence in the film."
Roger Ebert disagreed on what the message of the film was, saying "I'm also somewhat disturbed by the central theme of the movie. 'Billy Jack' seems to be saying the same thing as 'Born Losers,' that a gun is better than a constitution in the enforcement of justice."
|Soundtrack album by Mundell Lowe|
|Mundell Lowe chronology|
The Allmusic review states "a strange and striking combination of styles that somehow is effective... a listenable disc whose flaws only add to the warmth". The film's theme song, "One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)" by the band Coven, became a Top 40 hit in 1971, and featured the chorus:
Go ahead and hate your neighbor; go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven; you can justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowin' come the judgment day
On the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away
All compositions by Mundell Lowe except as indicated
- "One Tin Soldier" (Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter)—3:18
- "Hello Billy Jack"—0:45
- "Old and the New"—1:00
- "Johnnie" (Teresa Kelly)—2:35
- "Look, Look to the Mountain" (Kelly)—1:40
- "When Will Billy Love Me" (Lynn Baker)—3:24
- "Freedom Over Me" (Gwen Smith)—0:35
- "All Forked Tongue Talk Alike"—2:54
- "Rainbow Made of Children" (Baker)—3:50
- "Most Beautiful Day"—0:30
- "An Indian Dance"—1:15
- "Ceremonial Dance"—1:59
- "Flick of the Wrist"—2:15
- "It's All She Left Me"—1:56
- "You Shouldn't Do That"—3:21
- "Ring Song" (Katy Moffatt)—4:25
- "Thy Loving Hand"—1:35
- "Say Goodbye 'Cause You're Leavin'"—2:36
- "The Theme from Billy Jack"—2:21
- "One Tin Soldier (End Title)" (Lamber, Potter)—1:06
- Mundell Lowe: arranger, conductor
- Coven featuring Jinx Dawson (tracks 1 & 21), Teresa Kelly (tracks 4 & 5), Lynn Baker (tracks 6 & 10), Gwen Smith (track 7), Katy Moffatt (track 17): vocals
- Other unidentified musicians
Although marketed as an action film, the story focuses on the plight of Native Americans during the civil rights movement. It attained a cult following among younger audiences due to its youth-oriented, anti-authority message combined with the then-novel martial arts fight scenes which predate the Bruce Lee/kung fu movie trend that soon followed. The centerpiece of the film features Billy Jack, enraged over the mistreatment of his Indian friends, fighting a gang of racist thugs using various hapkido techniques.
Billy Jack's wardrobe (black T-shirt, blue denim jacket, blue jeans, and a black hat with a beadwork band) would become nearly as iconic as the character.
Billy Jack in popular culture
- In 1975, musician Curtis Mayfield recorded and released a song titled, "Billy Jack" on his album There's No Place Like America Today.
- In 1976 musician Paul Simon played "Billy Paul" (a parody of Billy Jack, unrelated to musician Billy Paul) in a sketch on the second season of the NBC comedy show Saturday Night Live, after the film Billy Jack aired earlier that same evening on NBC.
- In 1982, a professional wrestler, Billy Jack Haynes, debuted as "Billy Jack" while wearing a hat like Billy Jack. He changed his wrestling name from "Billy Jack" to "Billy Jack Haynes" after Tom Laughlin threatened to sue him.
- In the series Mystery Science Theater 3000, at least two episodes make reference to Billy Jack: on the episode Werewolf, after a fight breaks out between a racist dig supervisor and his Indian help, Tom Servo says, "This is where Billy Jack should come riding up."; on the episode Track of the Moon Beast, after the Native American professor finishes telling a story, Crow says, "Uh huh...do you know Billy Jack?"
- In an episode of The Simpsons ("Bart of War"), Bart joins a Boy Scouts of America-like group called the "Pre-Teen Braves", and they engage in a rivalry with "the Cavalry Kids". A montage of the two groups fighting each other is set to Coven's version of One Tin Soldier.
- Billy Jack is also referenced in an episode of Gilmore Girls ("Red Light on the Wedding Night") while Lorelai and Rory are watching the movie in their living room. At the line "Billy Jack, I'm gonna kill you if it's the last thing I do!", Lorelai responds, "Ugh, he so jinxed himself with that one." Rory replies, "Yeah, he should've said 'Billy Jack, I'm gonna kill you or buy myself a lovely chenille sweater.'"
- Upon first meeting serial killer Cary Stayner—then considered a possible material witness to a 1999 murder in Yosemite National Park—FBI Agent Jeff Rinek asked if Stayner had ever seen the movie Billy Jack, noting Stayner's close resemblance to the film's hero. Initially, Stayner denied ever seeing the movie. However, 90 minutes later, after building a rapport during the drive to the FBI headquarters in Sacramento from the nudist resort where he had been picked up, Stayner surprised Rinek by reciting several of Billy Jack's lines.
- In the motion picture Major Payne, Damon Wayans as the title character references the iconic fight scene quote "Now, what I'm goin' do is take this right foot and I'm 'a put it 'cross the left side your face."
- In season three of the television series Sabrina The Teenage Witch, the school principal Mr. Kraft reveals that Billy Jack is his favourite film.
- Billy Jack was referenced by Jim Carrey in Yes Man.
- Metal band Goblin Cock have a song entitled "Ode to Billy Jack" on their 2009 album Come With Me if You Want to Live, which is a tribute to him.
- In the movie Drillbit Taylor, actor Owen Wilson references Billy Jack by saying to another cast mate "I am gonna Billy Jack your ass."
- In the episode of the animated show Pinky and the Brain, titled "Brainy Jack," Brain assumes the role of the titular Brainy Jack to trick a commune of hippies into helping him take over the world. Brain's wardrobe is a direct reference to Billy Jack, especially the hat with a beaded hat-band. Likewise, the song that Pinky sings in the episode is a parody of "One Tin Soldier."
- British electro band Relaxed Muscle (fronted by Jarvis Cocker, from Pulp) released a song called "Billy Jack" on their one and only album A Heavy Nite With... in 2003. It was also released as a single with a music video that featured Cocker (as his alter ego, Darren Spooner) in Western garb reminiscent of Billy Jack's trademark outfit.
- In the book "The Berlin Blues", a play by Drew Hayden Taylor, the character named Trailer references Billy Jack when he says on page 92, "No Cirque du Billy Jack?" when the plan for Ojibway World which was supposed to be opening up on the reserve falls through.
- Bill Maher referenced Billy Jack in a July 2012 blog post about fundamentalist Mormons.
- Waxman, Sharon (June 20, 2005). "Billy Jack Is Ready to Fight the Good Fight Again". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
- "Big Rental Films of 1973", Variety, 9 January 1974 p 19
- Billy Jack - Rotten Tomatoes
- Billy Jack - Roger Ebert
- Mundell Lowe discography accessed August 23, 2012
- Viglione, J. Allmusic Review accessed August 23, 2012
- Stewart, Jocelyn Y. (January 14, 2007). "Bong Soo Han, 73; grand master of hapkido won film fans for martial arts". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-11-25.
- "The Story of Billy Paul". November 20, 1976. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
- Finz, Stacy (December 15, 2002). "The Case of a Lifetime, Part One (2002, December 15)". SFGate.com. Retrieved 2008-12-10.
- "The Case of a Lifetime, Part Two (2002, December 15)". SFGate.com. December 14, 2002. Retrieved 2008-12-10.
- Billy Jack, Laughlin's official Billy Jack web site
- Billy Jack Rights, LLC, Worldwide Rights Owner
- Billy Jack at the Internet Movie Database
- The Man Who Made Billy Jack Go Berserk: A Conversation with David Roya Interview with Billy Jack co-star David "Bernard Posner" Roya
- DVD review of the Billy Jack series and production history
- A vision of American multiplicity Village Voice review August 19, 1971