Billy Jack  (1971) from CK Roach and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"When police break the law, there is no law. Just a fight for survival."

Billy Jack

CK's notes in white:

This movie takes us back to the angry, "hate the establishment" days just following the sixties. Made on a shoestring budget by Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor, and an unexpected box office phenomenon, the movie has some serious hits and misses. It scores in some minor martial arts action, and a very strong statement about racism and corruption. It scores its biggest losses with the constant deluge of hateful, leftist clichés from the sixties. These clichés rise at their apex of sophistication to a level of adolescence.

It tells the story of a half-Indian, Vietnam War hero, Billy Jack. He is sort of an unofficial caretaker of an unnamed Indian reservation in Arizona. Located on this reservation is a sixties style hippie school run by Delores Taylor. The reservation is in constant danger from a powerful local bigot, his sociopathic son, and a crooked deputy sheriff. Increasing the danger to the hippie school is the fact that they are secretly harboring a runaway, who just happens to be the daughter of the crooked deputy.

The film is filled with hypocrisy.

  • The school also teaches that how guns are evil, although Billy shoots often at bad guys, and eventually mows down a couple of local law enforcement officers. As Roger Ebert said, the film demonstrates that, "A gun is better than a constitution in the enforcement of justice. Is democracy totally obsolete, then? Is our only hope that the good fascists defeat the bad fascists?"
  • In general, it embodies the entire mentality of "you must agree with my pacificism, or I'll kick the shit out of you."
  • The school tries to defend its existence with angry, moronic skits which demonstrate the importance of love in this world - by encouraging hate for the establishment and by demonstrating that Nixon was a reincarnation of Hitler.
  • Billy fights racism, although he is a racist who preaches that Indians understand the world better, presumably because the Indians have a ritual where the person lets a rattlesnake bite him. Apparently the shock induced by snake venom creates a hallucination which allows one to get in touch with reality better. Go figure.

Except for Billy Jack's trademark hat, the most vividly remembered element of the movie, the one thing which has held up across the generations, is its title song, "One Tin Soldier". Although that tune was originally done by a Canadian Christian group called "Original Caste", for the movie it was sung by a satanic rock group called "Coven". According to the story, the budget was so low that the film's producers overlooked paying for the musical rights to the original composer and artists. ("Those dirty establishment capitalists are standing in the way of our great movie by wanting to get paid for their music")

Scoop's notes in yellow:

I don't really remember that much about the hippie days, but I think that the general idea of the movement (of which I was a part) wasn't really about learning to replace hate with love, but about learning to hate the proper people. Irrespective of whether that was the real key to the counter-culture, it is certainly the point of Billy Jack.

It is not a good movie. Oh, hell, it is a terrible as a movie, not even worth a look for your film studies class, but it is a must-see for your cultural studies class. You can read all you want about the scrambled anti-establishment attitudes of the counter culture in "The Sixties", but there is no place where you can see it portrayed in all its earnest naiveté better than in Billy Jack. The children in the "freedom school" were real students from an experimental school called "Other Ways", and the teachers were played by a left-leaning San Francisco improv group called The Committee. Complete with its ludicrous Snidely Whiplash villains and its hypocritical attitudes toward hatred and violence, this film is the fairy tale that represents "the way we were," or at least the way we saw ourselves then. Billy Jack is the ultimate resource to understand the counter culture because it is not a documentarian's objective point of view, nor is it the establishment's view of the enemy, nor is it a fiction writer's retrospective attempt to encapsulate the era. No, this script is actually the counter-culture's view of itself, and its writing is contemporaneous with the events it portrays. Moreover, it is not simply portraying one man's skewed perspective. This film resonated with nearly everyone on the anti-establishment side of the cultural wars which took place from 1967 to 1974. Although made on a shoestring budget, this was the #1 or #2 film at the box office in 1971, a strong indicator that it exemplified the values of the counter-cultural portion of our generation. Let's face it. To understand "The Sixties" on a deep and visceral level, you must suffer through this film.



  • Single film (far left), or complete series of four films (left)



  •  Delores Taylor tied up being raped by Bernard and his pal.

  • An unknown girl has her bra cut off by Bernard.

  • Another unknown girl gets out of bed right before Billy kills Bernard.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their dollars: It may be the most profitable movie in history, if you adjust for inflation. Made for $800,000, it grossed $98 million domestically. (And that was 1971 dollars, before Carter-era inflation. To convert 1971 dollars to 2001 dollars you have to multiply times 4.4!)
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. Scoop says, "Let me explain that grade. This is a terrible film, but it is the ultimate sixties time capsule and was much loved at the time - an absolute phenomenon. Its powerful emotional appeal is demonstrated by the fact that it still has ardent admirers despite being a laughably bad film in nearly every respect. It was the ultimate cult film, and in some respects still is."

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