Packaged in a five-disc set, the “Billy Jack 35th Anniversary Ultimate Collection” presents all four “Billy Jack” movies, as well as a fifth bonus disc.
Each film comes with the original release commentary. There’s also trivia quiz that covers the series, original TV ads, photo gallery, book excerpt, web site info, and footage that allows viewers to make their own fight scene and enter a contest at www.BillyJack.com.
In 1969, husband and wife team Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor made “Born Losers,” a biker action flick that introduced the character of Billy Jack. Modestly released by American International, it was followed by a more ambitious film, “Billy Jack,” in 1971, which became a sleeper hit, grossing $35 million at the box office.
The first of the Billy Jack films, “Born Losers,” is a genre item, a biker film. Billy Jack (Laughlin) is a half-breed Indian who comes to the aid of a woman (Elizabeth James) terrorized by a biker gang.
This film cast Laughlin’s wife Delores as the main character Jean Roberts, replacing Elizabeth James.
A pacifist-humanist teacher, Jean runs a progressive school on Billy Jack’s Indian reservation. But figures of the establishment hate the Indians and harass them.
Jean’s voice-over narration describes the school’s three rules: No drugs, everybody must carry his/her own weight, and everybody must do something creative.
The student body consists of hippies, runaways, and disturbed kids. The pregnant daughter of town’s deputy sheriff runs away to school, as a refuge from her brutal father.
At one point, Billy proclaims: “Being an Indian isn’t a matter of blood, but a way of life,” which translates into bogus mysticism and the notion that everything is allowed. The movie propagates a naïve, even childish view of interracial harmony and the American Indian’s way of life. Thus, the Native Americans stand for Nature, Wild Mustangs, Ecology, and Pacifism, and as such are posited against the redneck residents, who hunt the wild stallions on the Indian land, and bully the students.
What made the movie so popular?
As a protagonist, Billy Jack was a new type of (anti) hero, a half-white, half-Indian karate expert who protects a free school built on principles of pacifism by fighting rednecks. The difference and tension between Billy Jack’s aggressive way of doing things and the school’s founder’s pacifist philosophy are not really explored.
The movie contains graphic depiction of nasty violence (murders, rapes, beatings), but also counter culture (street theatre, psychodrama, interracial romance, quasi-civil rights demonstration)
“Billy Jack” was one of the first films to suggest in the depiction of rage, disillusion and disenchantment that all hadn’t gone well in Vietnam. Instead of coming home as a hero, the veteran returns alienated, angry, unsettled, and unable to adjust to civilian life. But somehow, Billy Jack converts rage and anger into positive activism and commitment to social causes.
Self-righteous to a fault, “Billy Jack” is a messy, crude, brutal movie that’s essentially exploitation fare. In its ideology, “Billy Jack” belongs to the same cycle of right-wing revenge movies, such as Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry,” which was released in the same year, and the Charles Bronson series “Death Wish,” which followed a few years later.
Trial of Billy Jack
The simplest and most propagandistic of the “Billy Jack” series, this movie centers on the trial of Billy Jack after being arrested. You may recall that “Billy Jack” ends with Billy surrendering to stand trial for murder, though only after the government agrees to investigate all the broken Indian treaties
Wearing its politics on its sleeves, the picture, made in the wake of Kent State, shows rebellious students, fighting corrupt politicians.
Billy Jack Goes to Washington
Going straight to video, the fourth chapter of the series, “Billy Jack Goes to Washington” is a wannabe political thriller. With a shameless nod to Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Billy Jack is brought into the Senate to help strengthen Indian relationship and to express his views of building a nuclear power plant.