• Kelly M. Hudson

Billy Jack Attack!

Jean (Dolores Taylor) runs an experimental school for troubled kids on the outskirts of a local Reservation. The town nearby doesn’t like the school at all. Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin), ex-Green Beret and part Native American, keeps an eye on the school and trouble at bay. He runs into conflict with the leading rich guy in town and his son, who are out stealing wild horses from the Reservation to slaughter and sell as dog food. The daughter of a deputy in town comes back from Berkeley pregnant and defiant, and she runs off to join the school, thus causing more friction between the town and the kids who live there. Tension boils over as some of the kids go to town to do some shopping and get ice cream. Billy Jack shows up to save their butts and to kick a few butts of his own. More conflict arises until eventually, things spill over into murder and revenge, with Jean and Billy Jack caught up in the middle. Can Billy Jack save the school, or will the rich old establishment run them out of business?

This one is an all-time classic. Made for cheap and wholly by Taylor and Laughlin, it became an unexpected hit around the country. For a while, it was the most successful independent film of all time and it’s easy to see why. Billy Jack is steeped in the culture of the time, with lots of hippy-dippy sentiments and talk of freedom and love and living in harmony with one another. At the same time, there is this friction between the old and the new, between the kids who want change and some of the adults who see the world as a place to be exploited and controlled. There’s the battle between violence and non-violence, with Billy Jack himself straddling the divide. Salient arguments are made by both sides, but in the end, the ugliness of racism and greed are simply too powerful to overcome without raising a fist into the air in defiance. This film really displays the dynamics of the time in which it was made, and indeed, it’s still relevant today in a lot of ways. The one thing that holds it back in a lot of people’s minds would be the amateurishness of some of the production and definitely of the acting. There are times the movie meanders in and out of moments that could and maybe should have been trimmed or edited out altogether. But for me, these moments work. There’s such raw honesty in these instances and the “bad acting” that makes everything feel more authentic. This gives the movie a sort of documentary quality, which only adds to the immediacy of it. Beyond all of that, there’s the ass-kicking feet of Billy Jack and the moments of action and violence are vivid and intense. This is a film that takes it’s time telling its story, but the forward momentum never slackens.

If you haven’t seen this one before, I recommend giving it a go. It will feel dated and sentimental, but the sheer heart of the story and the commitment of the creators will push all of that aside and make it meaningless. You’ll come to care for the kids and the characters in this and really root for the good guys to win. Billy Jack is a unique film, one that couldn’t have been made before and couldn’t be made now. And that alone makes it special and worthy of your time. It might also teach you a thing or two.


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