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Billy Jack - My First American Hero Crush - Half-breed Hottie with a Heart
Billy Jack was the first Hollywood hero I ever fell in love with.
When I was around 10 or 11 years old, my older cousins Brenda and Sandy had a sleepover to which I was invited. The planned activity of the night was watching Billy Jack.
I had no idea who that was. I just knew they were older and cool and were going to let me hang with them. I was so ready to watch whatever just to get to be with the nearly grownups.
Surprise, surprise for me, I fell head over heels in love that night for the first time ever.
The inside cover insert from Billy Jack
Billy Jack was hot!
He was brave, loyal, an all around hero archetype, though of course I had no idea what that word meant at the time. I just knew he lit up the screen like a strange combination of Bruce Lee and tall, dark and handsome, kind of like Rhett Butler goes redneck-native with mad karate skills.
Every year for several years after that, if Billy Jack was playing on TV, Sandy and I were there. It didn't matter what else was going on, fish fry, camping, we even turned down party invitations. Nothing outranked Billy Jack. Back in the day, there were only three channels and DVD had yet to be invented.
When Billy was around, so were we.
First released in 1971, Billy Jack was huge. It addressed many a civil rights issue that's still hot today, but was really the focus of the nation at that time. I think this movie is what sparked my interest in political matters, not a common thing for a southern girl back then.
It didn't just directly influence me. My cousins and I ended up going to the Choctaw Indian Fair, not once but twice as a direct result of an interest spawned by this movie. Billy's tribe was different but this fair was the closet one to us.
The stand alone DVD Billy Jack
Here's a little background on the Billy Jack character.
Born a half breed, Billy Jack was a loyal American who served his country in the war. Trained as a Green Barrett, his skills in martial arts played an essential part in the action of all four movies. After returning home from the war, he received less than a hero's welcome. Historically speaking, that was sadly very accurate for the time.
The common theme running in all four movies is one of the struggle for freedom from oppression. Billy becomes a champion for the native Americans on his reservation and a bunch of kids that society threw away. His love interest, Jean, runs the Freedom School for said rejected children.
Having seen the horrors of war and death up close, he truly values peace, but can't seem to find it within himself or his community. The skills imparted for war become his tools of fighting for the common man, the weak, the discarded.
Where ever there is oppression, there's Billy Jack.
The school children and native Americans find themselves at the mercy of the local, rich, white man and his evil to the core son. Posner, the truly detestable villain, owns most of the town, the law and a never ending supply of goons to do his dirty work. Not only does he hurt the kids, he kills horses for money and sport. Seriously, it doesn't take watching long to really start to hate this guy. His son is worse.
As conflicts and tensions rise, the action just keeps coming. The final climax however, typifies the "fight the power" peaceful type of protest born in the sixties that swept America. That final scene has become an iconic representation of a spirit of freedom that will never die.
All Four movies in the Billy Jack series typify the era of the late sixties and early seventies. From the fashion to the music, it's an immersion in a flower power decade where peace and love were the mantra of the day, but far from reality.
The trailer for Born Loosers (1967) The first movie showing the Billy Jack character
Billy Jack wasn't the first.
Actually, the movie Born Losers containing the same Billy Jack character played by Tom Laughlin came first. I didn't see that one until I was an adult. I'm glad. It brings the words sick and brutal to entirely new levels. In Born Losers, one of the original biker flicks, Billy saves a victimized young girl from a gang of blood thirsty, sex crazed, biking bad guys.
The third sequel, The Trial of Billy Jack examines the tipped scales of a supposedly blind Lady Justice in America. History buffs, fans of native American history and those still keeping count of all the treaties ever broken with the noble first Americans will appreciate this in a unique way.
Lastly came Billy Jack Goes to Washington. Honestly, it wasn't that good as compared to the others but for lovers of the prior movies, it's a must see. The dialogue Billy addresses to the snakes in Washington rings true to this day louder than the liberty bell ever did.
Tom Laughlin: One Tin Soldier Rides Away an interveiw by Adrian Lewis many years after the movies
There are some big names behind this film.
The series includes such names as Stan Rice, husband of famed author Anne Rice, Delores Taylor, Howard Hesseman and the late Tom Laughlin. Tom starred and directed. Not only did the cast rule, but the theme song "One Tin Soldier" was rocketed to instant gold status by fans.
Billy Jack was a gamble to make. The original backing studio abandoned the project before release, but thankfully another took it on. Studios were terrified to touch the independent film written by both Rice and Laughlin. Afraid it would offend "working Americans" most laughed it off as an unsalable flick. When finally released, it paid off in spades becoming the poster movie of a generation, one I have watched more times than I can count.
I love it but its not for children.
While I first watched this as a child, this movie is NOT appropriate for children. None of the four movies in the series are. Containing scenes of rape and graphic violence, the action and conflict make for a most believable plot that is not for the little ones.
Have you seen any of the Billy Jack films?
Billy Jack illustrates the birth of the protest movement in America.
This series typifies not only the times, but further and more importantly the political mindset of the youth of America at a time when everything traditional was being called into question. It speaks truthfully of a shameful American past while providing hope and inspiration for the future. Amid the high kicks, peace and love, moving music and historical drama runs a theme that has been integral to America since its inception, that of freedom and the price of it, blood.
Billy Jack (1971) Theatrical Trailer
The iconic One Tin Soldier song that birthed the era of protest
Pictures speak a thousand words and video tops that.
Check out some of the trailers.
Be sure to see the final closing scene of movie two, Billy Jack, with the inspirational "One Tin Soldier" scene.
The word powerful comes to mind when describing the scene.
It doesn't do it justice, when seen in context at the end. It's really a case of you have to be there to get it.
While I thought it was the worst of all four movies, check out what Billy Jack says to congress in part four. We sure could use someone like that in Washington now.
We lost Tom on December 12, 2013.
Actor, director, writer, innovator, political activist and champion of freedom, he will be greatly missed but never forgotten. God rest him.
Below you will find the theme song.
The song is one of the best recognized protest, folk songs of the civil rights movement. No one dreamed when it was made it would be adopted by a generation.
The lyrics give a message of love in the face of brutality and hate. To this day, I can't hear it without thinking about the final scene of this movie. For me, they are connected in a way that can never be undone.
© 2014 Rhonda Lytle