Welcome to today’s show, Billy Jack (1971), my name is John. As always you can subscribe to the show on iTunes or follow the links to social media in the podcast show notes. You can also go to classicmovierev.com to read notes, bios, and other random movie thoughts. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to iTunes and give me a review.
Today’s movie is the second in the Billy Jack series, the title character named Billy Jack (1971). This movie, though now dated, taps into the anti-establishment vibes of the late 60s and early 70s. Billy Jack was setup as the protector of the meek but in reality he was as cavalier with use of force as the people he railed against.
We have several actors that we have covered before and most of them were from Episode 72 – The Born Losers (1967). These include Tom Laughlin playing the lead role as Billy Jack, Delores Taylor as the head of the Indian School, Jean Roberts and Billy’s true love, Laughlin and Roberts daughter Teresa Kelly playing student Carol, and Susan Foster as student Cindy.
Kenneth Tobey who we discussed in Episode 59 – The Great Locomotive Chase (1956) playing Deputy Mike. Deputy Mike was an abusive, horse shooting, murdering, ahole.
On a lighter note, Howard Hesseman was in the role of a Drama Teacher. Hesseman was an improv performer and character actor until Billy Jack (1971) when he gained more attention. He is probably best known as Dr. Johnny Fever, the perpetually high, anti-disco DJ on the television show “WKRP in Cincinnati” 1978-1982.
Hesseman was in many cult movies including Silent Movie (1976) and This is Spinal Tap (1984). He took another TV series called “Head of the Class” 1986-1990 when he was replaced by comedian Billy Connolly. Following this show, he hit the television circuit.
Veteran character actor Bert Freed played old man Mr. Stuart Posner who ruled the town with money and power. In the 1950s and 60s Freed played all the tough roles, sheriffs, detectives, mean small towners, and gangsters. The sci-fi crowd may remember as the police chief in Invaders from Mars (1953). Freed has a tiny role in the Great War film Twelve O’Clock High (1949), another war movie with Halls of Montezuma (1951), in a film noir Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), a pain in the butt Sergeant in Take the High Ground! (1953), a sergeant in the anti-war Paths of Glory (1957), western Hang ‘Em High (1968), as a hen-pecked husband in the dystopian film Wild in the Streets (1968), a Rich townsman in Billy Jack (1971), and a Doctor in Evil Knievel (1971). Freed moved into television and retired in 1981. He died in 1994.
The movie begins with Sheriff Cole (Clark Howat) driving to Deputy Mike’s (Kenneth Tobey) house. Cole tells Mike that they have found his runaway daughter but Mike says he can’t go because Stuart Posner (Bert Freed) has requested him to go illegal hunt wild mustangs to sell to the dog food companies. So you see they are stinker’s right off.
The scene switches to the mounted men chasing a herd of horses until they are corralled. Mr. Posner orders his son Bernard (David Roya) to shoot the first horse. Bernard can’t do it much to the disgust of his father. As deputy Mike prepares to shoot, the wind changes and Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) rides up in his Uncle Joe hat and denim outfit complete with black tee-shirt and cow person boots.
Billy Jack tells them they are illegally hunting on Indian land. They have a John Wayne style standoff complete with the cocking on a Winchester rifle taken from Episode 61 – Stagecoach (1939). He shoots the stocks off a few guns as men reach for them. The men wisely drop their guns and leave.
Jean Roberts (Delores Taylor) narrates the story of Billy Jack, a half Indian Green Beret war hero that has turned his back on white civilization and returned to the reservation to study the old ways. Which was a lot of people’s goals in the early 1970s!
Cole brings Mike’s daughter Barbara (Julie Webb) back to the house. Barbara tells her father that she is pregnant and does know the race of the father. Mike eventually beats her senseless. It’s not clear if she ran away or if her father dumped her but Billy Jack finds the beaten girl laying by a lake the next morning. Billy has Sheriff Cole come to the doctor’s office where they hatch a plan to hide the girl at the Freedom Indian School.
The 15-year old Barbara is taken to the school by the sheriff and Billy Jack arrives in his trademark jeep. Jean narrates that the school is open to kids of any race as long as they who can come and go as they please with three rules; no drugs, carry your own load, and create something important to you or your culture.
Barbara is given a tour and ends up in the improv class. When she says she can’t participate because she is pregnant the others don’t judge and she is hooked. In the role they play, she is giving birth to the new messiah and they need a sign. The sign is the black power clenched fist.
The kids at the schools sing and perform during meals. During the singing an Indian boy Martin (Stan Rice) asks if he can be Billy’s assistant during the coming ceremony. After questioning him about his beliefs Billy accepts Martin.
Jean is concerned that when the students go into town there will be trouble with locals. You think! Jean says that the town’s fear of Billy protects the school. So in the morning the kids head off to the town in their Ken Kesey style party bus singing and clapping and drawing lots of attention. Some of the Indian kids go into an ice cream shop that doesn’t serve Indians. Bernard and his hulking friend Dinosaur (John McClure) follow them in and decide to make them white by pouring flour on their heads. I have never yet figured out why there was an open barrel of flower in an ice cream store. They also punch Martin sending him to the ground. Out in the square Billy Jack pulls up in his trusty jeep.
Bernard sends for his father. Bill checks on the Indian kids and then beats the men involved and throws Dinosaur out the window. A hand is shown removing the distributor cap off of Billy Jack’s jeep. Billy Jack takes off his boots and socks. When he walks into the park town men slowly surround him until he is in a circle of about 15 people. Mr. Posner shows up and tells Billy Jack he has made a mistake. At this part of the movie are a few of the greatest lines in cinema, right up there with “frankly my dead, I don’t give a damn.” These lines are watch his feet, he can kill you with his feet, you really think those green beret karate tricks are going to help you against all these boys, and I’m going to take this right foot and I’m gonna whop you on that side of your face and there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. The fight begins when Billy Jack throws a right leg outside crescent kick and hits Posner on the right check. This fight sequence is something that should be watched, and studied in slow motion. The extras take full kicks to the face and shoulder so there is that but is just so darn well choreographed. Eventually the group gets the advantage on Billy Jack and beat him senseless until Sheriff Cole arrives and stops them.
Martin falls from a horse and breaks his leg. Barbara and Martin are drawing closer together. Cole, Deputy Mike, and Posner come and search the Freedom School looking for Barbara. Billy Jack takes Barbara to the old cliff dwelling where he is living with a medicine man.
The city council has a meeting about limiting the number of kids that can come into town. The kids from the school riot and the meeting breaks down. Jean invites the council member to come to the school and see what they do. The Council members come to the school and are taken in by what is going on there.
Jean takes Barbara to Billy Jack’s snake ceremony. He lets a big rattler bite him multiple times. On the third day, Billy Jack rises at sunrise and gives some crazy rambling speech about the Indians traditions being what the young whites are looking for.
Bernard and Dinosaur are watching the ceremony through a gun site. The pair spot Barbara and Martin down by a stream. The next day they ambush Martin in the paint store. Deputy Mike hits him with a pipe but Jean and the girls come to the rescue.
The teachers from the school go to town and do some street theater and it almost goes badly wrong when the Sheriff shows up.
Bernard Posner takes one of the older girls from the school out to the lake where he cuts her bra off with a switch blade after she won’t tell where Barbara is hiding. They are sitting in his new convertible Corvette when Billy Jack and Jean show up. They get the girl out of the car and Billy Jack demands that Bernard drive the car into the lake. The actor David Roya actually drove the car into the lake instead of having a stunt man do it. Bert Freed chewed him out for doing the stunt and Roya though Freed was concerned for his safety but it turned out he was concerned that a stuntman should have been paid for the work.
Barbara is handing around Martin and she ask why he won’t have sex with her. He says she is an anybody’s and that he wants to love her for who she is and not sex. Bernard is ashamed and waiting to ambush Billy Jack. He sees Jean nude sunbathing and heads down and rapes her. Jean is saved by Cindy (Susan Foster) one of the students from the school. Jean makes Cindy promise that not to tell Billy Jack.
Back at the school Barbara falls from the horse and loses the baby. Billy Jack sees the glances and knows something is up. The doctor says the baby was white. They bury the child Indian style in the cliff dwellings.
Deputy Mike and Posner conform the doctor about the race of the baby. The kids put on another show at the school where they sing the Star Spangled Banner and beat a man for not standing up. Sheriff Cole blocks the road as Deputy Mike, Bernard, and several others try to attack the school. The group captures Martin and Cindy and want to exchange him for Barbara. Barbara agrees to go back and Cindy gets a gun to protect Martin. Cindy has Martin drive away but they get the gun from her and Bernard chases Martin down and eventually murders him.
At the same time, Billy Jack finds Cindy and Deputy Mike. They have a standoff and he takes Cindy back to the school. When Barbara sees Martin’s body she runs back to the school. The gold Corvette was seen leaving the lake so Sheriff Cole gives Posner 24-hours to bring in Bernard for the murder.
Back at the school, Billy jack gets the truth out of Jean about the rape. Billy Jack heads out to kill Bernard. He finds Bernard in a hotel with a 13-year old Indian girl. When Bernard shoots Billy Jack in the side, Billy Jack chops him in the throat and kills him.
Cole delivers the search warrants to the school as Billy Jack sneaks Barbara out. Deputy Mike gets the jump on Billy Jack and begins firing at him and Barbara. Billy Jack shots Deputy Mike with one well-placed shot to the forehead. Barbara and Billy Jack hold up in the old church. Jean is sent in to try and talk him out while they wait for Governors negotiator to arrive.
Billy Jack defends the church until Barbara is wounded by gunfire. He sends her out. Billy Jack finally agrees to surrender under three conditions; 1) Jean can run the Freedom School for the next 10 years, 2) Jean gets custody of Barbara, and 3) an annual press conference by the governor to report on the school’s progress.
The terms are Okayed by Washington and Billy Jack surrenders. Billy Jack is handcuffed and driven away in a patrol car. The students of the Freedom School raise their hands in the black power salute anointing Billy Jack as the new messiah.
World-Famous Short Summary – Mixed race couples have a hard time
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Beware the moors