The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

The Born Losers (1967) Classic Movie Review 72

The Born Losers (1967)

The Born Losers (1967)

Didn't they teach you to read at squaw school?

Today’s movie is in the badassery genera and 60-70 youthful rebellion. So let’s jump right in to the first of the three released Billy Jack movies, The Born Losers (1967). Tom Laughlin, who played the role of Billy Jack also co-wrote, and directed and produced under another name. I would say he was “invested.”

Tom Laughlin was born in Wisconsin in 1931. He played football in college and was later trained in Hapkido karate. Laughlin’s first movie role was as a beaten football player on a plane with James Cagney in the These Wilder Years (1956). He was a moderately successful actor appearing in such films as South Pacific (1958) and Gidget (1959). He really made a mark when he started producing his own movies in the Billy Jack series. The character, Billy Jack, was first introduced in The Born Losers (1967), and reappeared in Billy Jack (1971), The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977), and the never released The Return of Billy Jack (1986). He also made a movie about cowboys and karate in The Master Gunfighter (1975). Billy Jack (1971) cost $800,000 to produce and made well over $65 million. Laughlin also changed the way the movie distribution system operated.

Elizabeth James played Vicky Barrington, the spoiled little rich girl, that got into a mess and needed help. Elizabeth was on in three movies, The Born Losers (1967) which she helped write, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), and Love from a Stranger (1958). Since leaving film she has been writing non-fiction for youths, working the UCLA Extension Writers Program, and writing suspense novels under the pseudonym Beverly Hastings.

Jeremy Slate was in the role of head bad guy Danny Carmody. I didn’t expect much when I began researching Slate. Slate joined the Navy when he was 16 and was 18 when he found himself on a destroyer off Omaha Beach on D-Day June 6, 1944. Slate made a vow to himself on that ship that if he lived he would have an interesting life.

While at college, he was class president, on the football team, and a radio personality. After college, he became a DJ and sportscaster. He was a public relations exec. for six years then moved his family to Peru. This is where he began acting in theater. After a year in Peru, he got a long role on Broadway.

He was very popular in the beach boy set and was in over 20 movies. He was beaten up by Elvis in Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), Frankie Avalon smashed a guitar on him in I’ll Take Sweden (1965), he was punched by Van Johnson in Wives and Lovers (1963), was shot by John Wayne in True Grit (1969), died trying to save the Wayne in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), was shot between the eyes by Billy Jack in The Born Losers (1967) and went up in flames in The Lawnmower Man (1992). Slate wrote the screenplay for Hell’s Angels ’69 (1969). He was also a successful songwriter. Slate died in 2006, following surgery for esophageal cancer.

William Wellman Jr. played gang member the Child. William was the son of WWI fighter pilot and ace director William A. Wellman. He was around Hollywood types all of his life and even took small parts in his father’s film s such as Lafayette Escadrille (1958) and Darby’s Rangers (1958). He was able to find other work in lesser quality films like High School Confidential! (1958), and College Confidential (1960). He was a favorite of actor/director Tom Laughlin and was in Like Father, Like Son (1961) and The Born Losers (1967) and its sequels. He did a bit in the party movies such as A Swingin’ Affair (1963), Winter A-Go-Go (1965) and A Swingin’ Summer (1965). He also started in all of the big television shows of the time. Later he was present in a number of cult classics. In all, he had over 200 film and television appearances plus stage and commercial work.

Jack Starrett played the role of Deputy Fred. He beat a prisoner in this movie almost exactly as he would later beat Rambo in First Blood (1982). Starrett was born in 1936 in the mighty metropolis of Refugio, Texas. His first film, Like Father, Like Son (1961) was written and directed by Tom Laughlin. He followed this with another Laughlin project, The Born Losers (1967). He then played a cop in Hells Angels on Wheels (1967). He was in two other biker films Angels from Hell (1968) and Nam’s Angels (1970) which he directed. Nam’s Angels (1970) was the first of the “bring the boys back safe films” that was copied in Uncommon Valor (1983), the Missing in Action series, and the Rambo series.

After directing a couple of so-so films in the 1970s Starrett bounced back with Jim Brown and blaxploitation films such as Cleopatra Jones (1973).

The Born Losers (1967) Jeremy Slate and Jack Starrett

The Born Losers (1967) Jeremy Slate and Jack Starrett

However what is most important is that he played Gabby Johnson in Blazing Saddles (1974) and reminded us all about authentic frontier gibberish. His big directorial success was the wonderfully bad Devil worship/car chase/horror film Race with the Devil (1975). Starrett also worked the big television shows of the time. Sadly he died in 1989 at the age of 52 from kidney failure.

Robert Cleaves played Mr. Crawford. I wouldn’t mention him except he was convicted of second-degree murder after running over a man twice with his car in a road rage incident.

Robert Tessier was gang member Cueball although this is only movie I have seen where he did not have his head shaved. Tessier was reviewed in Episode 17 – Hard Time (1975).

Jeff Cooper played gang member Gangrene. A pretty boy he is not known for much except ruining the Circle of Iron (1978) in a part that was written for Steve McQueen and would have had Bruce Lee instead of David Carradine. He was a little redeemed in The Impossible Years (1968).

Susan Foster was a local the Tom Laughlin used in The Born Losers (1967) and Billy Jack (1971). She was also in The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973).

Jane Russell played the small role of Mrs. Shorn, the mother of one of the rape victims. Russell was born in Minnesota in 1921. Russell was interested in drama early on and joined in high school plays. After high school Russell worked as a receptionist and modeled on the side. When she saved up enough money she went to drama school and was eventually spotted by Howard Hughes. In 1941, she was cast in The Outlaw (1943). However the film wasn’t widely circulated until 1946 because of censorship related to how much cleavage was showing from Ms. Russell’s ample bosom. When The Outlaw (1943) was widely released it was a big hit.

Russell signed a seven-year contract with Hughes but he only wanted to use her in movies where she was scantily clad. Most of her earlier work like Young Widow (1946), His Kind of Woman (1951), and The Las Vegas Story (1952) did little to show her acting talent. Perhaps the high point of her career was in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) with Marilyn Monroe. Russell held her own in this comedy. She was given – and I’ll have to use an industry term here – crappy movie roles for the remainder of the 1950s. After another flop in 1957, Russell worked a little in television she returned to film for Fate Is the Hunter (1964). After that she could not find any roles and only made four films in the 1960s including The Born Losers (1967). Russell’s last film was Darker Than Amber (1970). During the rest of the 70s she was a spokesperson for Playtex bras ending her career the way she started it, showing her breast.

Russell died at the age of 89 in 2011.

Teresa Kelly is Laughlin’s Daughter and acted in the four released Billy jack films and the unreleased one. She was also in Breakin’ (1984)

Delores Taylor was Laughlin’s wife until he died. She was in the four released and one unreleased Billy Jack movie.


The movie begins with Delores Taylor telling that Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) is a ranger Green Beret back from the war, horse-breaker, and part Indian. He lives alone in the woods.

Billy Jack drives his trademark jeep into the seaside town of Big Rock. At a red light a young asshole in Volkswagen Beetle starts eye-raping the biker chicks on the back on the motorcycles in next lane. The biker gang is “The Born Losers” and they have the regular Christ, Nazi, and nude girl iconography. The VW driver is not paying attention and roles his car into the back of one of the bikes. The driver of the bike Danny (Jeremy Slate) is pretty cool all things considered. He tells the asshole that there is no harm and there won’t be any trouble. Then the asshole tells the biker that the trouble would be his. Danny as then told the guy was eying the girls. So the gang pulls the asshole out of the car and proceed to beat him to within an inch of his life. The asshole runs away and the gang slowly follows. Local car driver’s roll up their windows and look away. He tries to go into a diner where Billy Jack is enjoying a cool drink. At first the owner won’t let him in. Billy Jack insists and helps the asshole call the police. As all this is happening there is a family watching it from across the street. This is Laughlin’s family (Teresa Kelly and Deloris Taylor). The gang comes and get the kid out of the diner. Billy Jack steps in to keep it from turning into a murder. Billy Jack uses his trusty M1 and shoots one round into the hand of a gang member that has a broken bottle. About that time the police show-up and arrest the gang and Billy Jack.

They jump to the court room where the judge lectures Billy Jack for taking the law into his own hands and given a heavy fine of $1,000 for using the weapon. The gang members were fined $150 each for assault.

The scene switches to some northern college where rich girl Vicki is going on vacation with her father at Big Sur. When she gets to the airport she gets a message that her father is not coming. She gets all but hurt and goes on vacation by herself.

Back in Big Rock the Born Losers are racing up and down the street while young girls in bikinis watch.

Danny hears that his father is beating up his younger brother. He asks the younger brother to come with him. The father spits in Danny’s face and Danny wipes it off and licks his finger before the brother’s drive away.

Back on the main street Billy Jack’s jeep is parked by a bar. Gang member Cueball (Robert Tessier) puts a sign on it that says no Indians allowed. Ironic because Tessier is a real Indian. Danny comes back and it seems he and Billy Jack have a history. Billy Jack wants to leave with no trouble. One of the gang members cuts his tire. They give him ten minutes to clear out and he does.

Vicki rides her motorcycle into town wearing an all-white bikini. Deputy Fred goes into the bar and recovers some stole property. He calls Danny a faggot and challenges him to a fight in the jail.

After a swim Vicki sees a dead seal which I assume is a metaphor for the biker gang. The biker gangs starts a race and four town girls follow in a car. After the race the gang sees Vicki and they chase her down. She makes it to a gas station restroom and is saved for the moment. When she calls the police they are too busy to help.

The gang changes the road sign and trap Vicki on a dead-end road. She rams the motorcycle into gang member Speechless. Danny’s women gives her advice to play along. She goes back to the gang house.

It switches back to Billy Jack trying to get a loan extended by the man won’t help. He agrees to sell the jeep to Mr. Crawford (Robert Cleaves).

Vicki goes into the club house and it is the scene of debauchery. Vicki finds out that she has to have sex with all of the gang. About that time some of the four town girls that followed the race run out of the back room as they are being raped.

Vicki bluffs them out saying she has acid and amphetamines on her bike. The gang is afraid to try the drugs but she teases them into agreeing. She goes out to the bike with Crabs and Hazel. Crabs turns the gas off on her bike and Vicki knocks him out with a crowbar. Hazel lets her escape. When she runs out of gas Speechless and Danny’s brother Jerry run her down and rape her. Again the locals won’t help.

The police arrested six of the bikers for the rape of the three girls and Vicki. The bikers hatch a plan to intermediate the witness. Mrs. Shron (Jane Russell) is the mother of one of the girls. The mother has to go to work and the girl starts practicing stripping. The bikers sneak in to the house and scare the hell out of her. When the police and DA come Mrs. Shron says her daughter will not testify.

Vicki is in the hospital and the DA tries to convince her to testify. Mr Crawford comes and buys Billy Jack’s jeep. Crawford’s daughter is one of the rape victims and she is still in shock unable to speak.

They put Vicki in a hotel room for protection with Deputy Fred watching over her. The deputy leaves his post and goes to the diner and the gang steals his car. He fires at them and grabs a civilian’s car to give chase forgetting his mission. Billy Jack is watching the whole thing happen from the diner. The gang grabs Vicki but she breaks and runs to Billy Jack as he comes out of the diner. This is the first time in the movie where Billy Jack uses karate. Using her motorcycle Billy Jack takes Vicki to his place in the woods where she will be safe. Crawford brings the money and Vicki says she is not going to testify. Billy doesn’t judge. He hides the money in his trailer.

Danny visits his brother in jail and tells him he will make everything alright. Jerry breaks down because he is new to the gang life. Billy and Vicki go to a restaurant and they meet a strange man who gives them an astrology reading. Back at the jail Deputy Fred hits Danny with a Billy club just like he did to Rambo in the 80s. The astrologer calls Vicki and Billy nice kids but says the stars are against them.

The gang goes to Billy Jack’s trailer looking for Vicki. They find Billy’s money and steal it. When Billy finds that his trailer has been robbed he takes Vicki into the hills where she will be safe. When she goes to sleep Billy Jack goes down to the bar and demands his money back. Danny tells him that Gangrene took the money. Danny drops a cigar between their arms but Billy Jack ignores the pain. Billy says he wants the money by tomorrow.

The next day Billy Jack and Vicki are at a gas station when the whole gang shows up. Since Gangrene is the toughest and has Billy’s money he decides to fight Billy Jack. Billy Jack handles him quick and then pumps gas on him and holds a lighter over him. Bill takes one of the clubs trike’s until he can get his money.

The gang goes to the Crawford girl home, kidnap the girl, and take her back to the club house. In the morning the gang finds Vicki and Billy Jack and force them to go to the club house. Danny calls Mr. Crawford to come by and Billy and Vicki come in. Mr. Crawford shows up with a gun but the gang takes it from him. Billy makes a plan and tells Vicki to run when the fight starts.

Vicki runs out and they knock Billy Jack out with a crowbar. The gang beats Billy and catches Vicki before she can get far. Vicki agrees that she will do anything if they let Billy go free. Vicki gets them to free Crawford and the girl as well but Mr. Crawford agrees that his daughter will not testify. As soon as the others are gone Vicki backs out on her deal and the gang beats her to a pulp.

The cowardly sheriff refuses to arrest the gang without backup. The last girl, Linda (Susan Foster) admits she had been a willing partner and she hates her mother more than the gang. She even says she has been back at the club since the rape.

When Billy Jack finds out that Vicki is at the club house he leaves the hospital daring the police to come with them and saying the town deserves what it got. He goes to the club house and sets Danny’s bike on fire. When the gang runs outside Billy Jack sneaks in to the club. He has his rifle in hand. He finds Vicki nude and beaten on the floor. He covers her with a coat.

Billy Jack points the gun at Danny and says the gang will have to take Vicki to the hospital and have the doctor call to say she is safe. He gives Danny to the count of three. On three he shoots Danny between the eyes busting his white girl glasses. Billy then tells Child he is in charge and starts to count again. Child immediately sends Vicki to the hospital.

Billy Jack sends everyone outside but Child. The local police have surrounded the club house. Billy tries to escape out the back and he is shot by Deputy Fred who thinks he is a biker. Later they find the near dead Billy Jack by a lake. Vicki says she loves Billy. A helicopter comes and flies him away to a hospital.

World-Famous Short Summary – Two star-crossed lovers struggle to find peace

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Beware the moors

The Born Losers (1967)

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