Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) and Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977)

I saw the original "Billy Jack" in the theater in 1974. It had a weird cult following, partly due to its Native American mysticism, partly to it's (inexplicable) hit song "One Tin Soldier," partly due to it's being slightly sleazy and violent. I was 11 and wondering how anyone would come up with the "peace through violence" philosophy this espoused. I didn't know that it was the second film with the hero Billy Jack until the 1980's. It was an okay film, nothing more or less.

"Born Losers" (1967) was the first film with Tom Laughlin as Billy, a half-Native American veteran of Vietnam. It has him stopping members of a gang with his fists and feet, with plenty of bad acting and a surprise role for Jane Russell! This also happened to be the most entertaining film of the series, though not the most competently made.

The Trial of Billy Jack (1974)

How bad is it? God-awful preachy borefest.
Should you see it? No.

Stare at this photo for three hours - that's the film.

"Billy Jack" made a boatload of money, so Laughlin went on to make this film, which continues the saga by retelling it - slowly - in the form of a desiccated blond woman in the witness box of a trial telling you the plot of what would be a better film. For three hours! Until the box set of DVDs came out recently, the only release for this was a VHS discontinued about 1995, so it was generally seen on late night TV with an additional hour of ads. I fell asleep watching this countless times. You need not.

Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977)

How bad is it? Largely a ludicrous amalgam of unrelated shots.
Should you see it? Oddly, it's kind of a fun watch in 10 minute doses, so maybe.

This film seems to be shots of parades and football games and rallies, with almost no plot for much of it. Billy does take his crusade for peace (and fighting - no peace without mopping up the streets with someone, ya know) to Washington D.C. There's the usual mumbo-jumbo and pointless hero worship, but it's more than worn out its welcome by this time. The film is so loose and disjointed that you can sit back and laugh at it while wondering what they'll throw on the screen next. The pretension hits fever pitch as well.

There was another late installment of the saga "The Return of Billy Jack," but I don't know if it ever went beyond the planning stage. No version of it is available, at any rate.

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