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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)
(as Theresa Christina)
|Music by||Mundell Lowe, Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter|
John M. Stephens
|Edited by||Larry Heath|
National Student Film Corporation
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$32.5 million (rentals)|
Billy Jack is a 1971 action/drama independent film, the second of four films centering on a character of the same name which began with the movie The Born Losers (1967), played by Tom Laughlin, who directed and co-wrote the script. Filming began in Prescott, Arizona, in the fall of 1969, but the movie was not completed until 1971. American International Pictures pulled out, halting filming. 20th Century-Fox came forward and filming eventually resumed but when that studio refused to distribute the film, Warner Bros. stepped forward.
Still, the film lacked distribution, so Laughlin booked it into theaters himself in 1971. The film grossed $10 million in its initial run, but eventually added close to $50 million in its re-release, with distribution supervised by Laughlin.
Jack defends the hippie-themed Freedom School (inspired by Prescott College) and students from townspeople who do not understand or like the counterculture students. The school is organized by its director Jean Roberts (Delores Taylor).
A group of children of various races from the school go to town for ice cream and are refused service and then abused and humiliated by Bernard Posner (David Roya), the son of the county's corrupt political boss (Bert Freed), and his gang. This prompts a violent outburst by Billy. Later, Jean is raped by Bernard, who also murders a Native American student. Billy confronts Bernard, whom he catches in bed with a 13-year-old girl, and sustains a gunshot wound before killing him with a hand strike to the throat. After a climactic shootout with the police and pleading with Jean, Billy Jack surrenders to the authorities in exchange for a decade-long guarantee that the school will be allowed to continue to run with Jean as its head. As Billy is driven away in handcuffs, a large crowd of supporters raise their fists as a show of defiance and support.
- Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack
- Delores Taylor as Jean Roberts
- Clark Howat as Sheriff Cole
- Victor Izay as Doctor
- Julie Webb as Barbara
- Debbie Schock as Kit
- Teresa Kelly as Carol
- Lynn Baker as Sarah
- Stan Rice as Martin
- David Roya as Bernard Posner
- John McClure as Dinosaur
- Susan Foster as Cindy
- Susan Sosa as Sunshine
- Bert Freed as Mr. Stuart Posner
- Kenneth Tobey as Deputy Mike
- Howard Hesseman as Howard (credited as Don Sturdy)
- Cisse Cameron as Miss False Eyelashes (credited as Cissie Colpitts)
Box-office and critical reception
In his Movie and Video Guide, film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4, writing: "Seen today, its politics are highly questionable, and its 'message' of peace looks ridiculous, considering the amount of violence in the film." Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and also saw the message of the film as self-contradictory, writing: "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." Howard Thompson of The New York Times agreed, calling the film "well-aimed but misguided" as he wrote, "For a picture that preaches pacifism, 'Billy Jack' seems fascinated by its violence, of which it is full." His review added that "some of the non-professional delivery of lines in the script by Mr. Frank and Teresa Christina is incredibly awful." Variety opined that "the action frequently drags" and at nearly two hours' running length, "The message is rammed down the spectators' throats and is sorely in need of considerable editing to tell a straightforward story." Gene Siskel gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, calling it "a film that tries to say too many things in too many ways within an adequate story line, but it has such freshness, original humor and compassion that one is frequently moved to genuine emotion." Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times also liked the film, praising its "searing tension that sustains it through careening unevenness to a smash finish. Crude and sensational yet urgent and pertinent, this provocative Warners release is in its unique, awkward way one of the year's important pictures." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post panned the film as "horrendously self-righteous and devious," explaining, "Every social issue is dramatized in terms of absolute, apolitical good and evil. The good guys ... are next to angelic, while the bad guys are, according to the needs of the moment, utter buffoons or utter devils. Anyone with the slightest trace of skepticism or sophistication would tend to reject the movie out of hand and with good reason, since this kind of simplification is dramatically and socially deceitful." David Wilson of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "If in the end Billy Jack is as much a sell-out as any glossier version of commercialised iconoclasm (Billy Jack is persuaded to accept guarantees which a hundred years of Indian history have repudiated), there is enough innocent sincerity in the film to demonstrate that Tom Laughlin at least has the courage of his convictions, even if those convictions are scarcely thought out."
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
|Soundtrack album by|
|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, a re-recording of "One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)" by Jinx Dawson with session musicians providing the backing, and credited to the band Coven, became a Top 40 hit in 1971.
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
- "Challenge" – 2:20
- "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)" (Lambert, 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
Marketed as an action film, the story focuses on the plight of Native Americans during the civil rights era. It attained a cult following among younger audiences due to its youth-oriented, anti-authority message and the then-novel martial arts fight scenes which predate the Bruce Lee/kung fu movie trend that followed. The centerpiece of the film features Billy Jack, enraged over the mistreatment of his Native American friends, fighting racist thugs using hapkido techniques.
In 2019, it was revealed that writer-director Quentin Tarantino and actor Brad Pitt used the film and Laughlin's performance as an influence while developing Pitt's character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood 
- Waxman, Sharon (June 20, 2005). "Billy Jack Is Ready to Fight the Good Fight Again". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-01-02.
- "Revival of the fittest a Hollywood tradition", Leonard Klady, Variety, 11 November 1996, pg 75.
- ICTMN Staff (December 17, 2013). "'Billy Jack' Star Tom Laughlin Dead at 82". Indian Country Today Media Network. Retrieved August 13, 2016.
- "Billy Jack". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 8, 2019.
- Maltin, Leonard, ed. (1995). Leonard Maltin's 1996 Movie & Video Guide. Signet. p. 116. ISBN 0-451-18505-6.
- Ebert, Roger (August 2, 1971). "Billy Jack". RogerEbert.com. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
- Thompson, Howard (July 29, 1971). "A Misguided 'Billy Jack'". The New York Times: 42.
- "Billy Jack". Variety: 22. May 5, 1971.
- Siskel, Gene (July 29, 1971). "Billy Jack". Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 14.
- Thomas, Kevin (August 13, 1971). "Loner Theme in 'Billy Jack'". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 10.
- Arnold, Gary (August 7, 1971). "Cowboys, Bigots, Kids and Indians". The Washington Post: B6.
- Wilson, David (September 1972). "Billy Jack". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 39 (464): 184.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-05.
- 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.
- Laughlin's official Billy Jack web site
- Billy Jack on IMDb
- Billy Jack at BLACK BELT TV The Martial Arts Network
- 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, The Village Voice review, August 19, 1971