Billy Jack

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Billy Jack
Billy Jack poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster.
Directed by Tom Laughlin
as T.C. Frank
Produced byTom Laughlin
as Mary Rose Solti
Written byTom Laughlin
(as Frank Christina)
Delores Taylor
(as Theresa Christina)
Starring Tom Laughlin
Delores Taylor
Music by Mundell Lowe, Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter
Cinematography Fred Koenekamp
John M. Stephens
Edited byLarry Heath
Marion Rothman
National Student Film Corporation
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date
  • May 1, 1971 (1971-05-01)
Running time
114 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$32.5 million (rentals) [1]

Billy Jack is a 1971 action/drama independent film, the second of four films centering on a character of the same name which began with the movie The Born Losers (1967), played by Tom Laughlin, who directed and co-wrote the script. Filming began in Prescott, Arizona, in the fall of 1969, but the movie was not completed until 1971. American International Pictures pulled out, halting filming. 20th Century-Fox came forward and filming eventually resumed but when that studio refused to distribute the film, Warner Bros. stepped forward.

An independent film, independent movie, indie film or indie movie, is a feature film or short film that is produced outside the major film studio system, in addition to being produced and distributed by independent entertainment companies. Independent films are sometimes distinguishable by their content and style and the way in which the filmmakers' personal artistic vision is realized. Usually, but not always, independent films are made with considerably lower budgets than major studio films.

<i>The Born Losers</i> 1967 film by Tom Laughlin

Born Losers is a 1967 American outlaw biker film. The film introduced Tom Laughlin as the half-Indian Green Beret Vietnam veteran Billy Jack. Since 1954 Laughlin had been trying to produce his Billy Jack script about discrimination toward American Indians. In the 1960s he decided to introduce the Billy Jack character in a quickly written script designed to capitalize on the then-popular trend in motorcycle gang movies. The story was based on a real incident from 1964 where members of the Hells Angels were arrested for raping two teenage girls in Monterey, California.

Tom Laughlin American actor and political activist

Thomas Robert Laughlin Jr., known as Tom Laughlin, was an American actor, director, screenwriter, author, educator, and activist.


Still, the film lacked distribution, so Laughlin booked it into theaters himself in 1971. [1] The film grossed $10 million in its initial run, but eventually added close to $50 million in its re-release, [2] with distribution supervised by Laughlin.


Billy Jack is a "half-breed" American Navajo, [3] a Green Beret Vietnam War veteran, and a hapkido master.


Half-breed is a term, now considered derogatory, used to describe anyone who is of mixed race; although, in the United States, it usually refers to people who are half Native American and half European/white.

Special Forces (United States Army) United States Army special operations service branch

The United States Army Special Forces, colloquially known as the Green Berets due to their distinctive service headgear, are a special operations force of the United States Army tasked with five primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, and counter-terrorism. The first two emphasize language, cultural, and training skills in working with foreign troops. Other duties include combat search and rescue (CSAR), counter-narcotics, counter-proliferation, hostage rescue, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian demining, information operations, peacekeeping, psychological operations, security assistance, and manhunts; other components of the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) or other U.S. government activities may also specialize in these secondary areas. Many of their operational techniques are classified, but some nonfiction works and doctrinal manuals are available.

Vietnam War 1955–1975 conflict in Vietnam

The Vietnam War, also known as the Second Indochina War, and in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America or simply the American War, was an undeclared war in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. It was the second of the Indochina Wars and was officially fought between North Vietnam and South Vietnam. North Vietnam was supported by the Soviet Union, China, and other communist allies; South Vietnam was supported by the United States, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand and other anti-communist allies. The war is considered a Cold War-era proxy war from some US perspectives. It lasted some 19 years with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords, and included the Laotian Civil War and the Cambodian Civil War, resulting in all three countries becoming communist states in 1975.

Jack defends the hippie-themed Freedom School (inspired by Prescott College) and students from townspeople who do not understand or like the counterculture students. The school is organized by its director Jean Roberts (Delores Taylor).

Hippie human subculture

A hippie is a member of the counterculture of the 1960s, originally a youth movement that began in the United States during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world. The word hippie came from hipster and used to describe beatniks who moved into New York City's Greenwich Village and San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. The term hippie first found popularity in San Francisco with Herb Caen, who was a journalist for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Prescott College is a private liberal arts college in Prescott, Arizona with the motto: "For the Liberal Arts, the Environment, and Social Justice". It is a non-sectarian, non-profit organization which has a student body of roughly 1200, and an average student to faculty ratio of 7:1 in the on-campus classrooms. The average class size is between 7-14 students.

Counterculture of the 1960s Anti-establishment cultural phenomenon

The counterculture of the 1960s was an anti-establishment cultural phenomenon that developed first in the United Kingdom (UK) and then the United States (US) before spreading throughout much of the Western world between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s, with London, New York City, and San Francisco being hotbeds of early countercultural activity. The aggregate movement gained momentum as the Civil Rights Movement continued to grow, and would later become revolutionary with the expansion of the US government's extensive military intervention in Vietnam. As the 1960s progressed, widespread social tensions also developed concerning other issues, and tended to flow along generational lines regarding human sexuality, women's rights, traditional modes of authority, experimentation with psychoactive drugs, and differing interpretations of the American Dream. Many key movements related to these issues were born or advanced within the counterculture of the 1960s.

A group of children of various races from the school go to town for ice cream and are refused service and then abused and humiliated by Bernard Posner (David Roya), the son of the county's corrupt political boss (Bert Freed), and his gang. This prompts a violent outburst by Billy. Later, Jean is raped by Bernard, who also murders a Native American student. Billy confronts Bernard, whom he catches in bed with a 13-year-old girl, and sustains a gunshot wound before killing him with a hand strike to the throat. After a climactic shootout with the police and pleading with Jean, Billy Jack surrenders to the authorities in exchange for a decade-long guarantee that the school will be allowed to continue to run with Jean as its head. As Billy is driven away in handcuffs, a large crowd of supporters raise their fists as a show of defiance and support.

Political boss person who controls a unit of a political party, although he/she may not hold political office

In politics, a boss is a person who controls a unit of a political party, although they may not necessarily hold political office. Numerous officeholders in that unit are subordinate to the single boss in party affairs. Each party in the same ward or city may have its own boss; that is, the Republican boss of Ward 7 controls Republican politics, while the Democratic boss controls the Democratic party there. Reformers sometimes allege that political bosses are likely guilty of corruption. Bosses may base their power on control of a large number of votes. When the party wins, they typically control appointments in their unit, and have a voice at the higher levels. They do not necessarily hold public office themselves; most historical bosses did not, at least during the times of their greatest influence.

Bert Freed American actor

Bert Freed was an American character actor, voice-over actor, and the first actor to portray Detective Columbo.

Raised fist symbol and gesture

The raised fist, or the clenched fist, is a symbol of solidarity and support. It is also used as a salute to express unity, strength, defiance, or resistance.


Delores Judith Taylor was an American film actress, writer, and producer, known for her roles in the Billy Jack films of the 1970s.

Kenneth Tobey American actor

Kenneth Jesse Tobey was an American stage, film, and television actor, who performed in hundreds of productions during a career that spanned more than half a century, including his role as the star of the 1957-1960 Desilu Productions TV series Whirlybirds.

Howard Hesseman American actor

Howard Hesseman is an American actor best known for playing DJ Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP in Cincinnati, Captain Pete Lassard in Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, Sam Royer on One Day at a Time and schoolteacher Charlie Moore on Head of the Class.

Box-office and critical reception

Billy Jack holds a "Fresh" rating of 60% at Rotten Tomatoes based on 15 reviews, with an average grade of 5.4 out of 10. [4]

In his Movie and Video Guide, film critic Leonard Maltin gave the film 1.5 stars out of 4, writing: "Seen today, its politics are highly questionable, and its 'message' of peace looks ridiculous, considering the amount of violence in the film." [5] Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4 and also saw the message of the film as self-contradictory, writing: "I'm also somewhat disturbed by the central theme of the movie. 'Billy Jack' seems to be saying the same thing as 'Born Losers,' that a gun is better than a constitution in the enforcement of justice." [6] Howard Thompson of The New York Times agreed, calling the film "well-aimed but misguided" as he wrote, "For a picture that preaches pacifism, 'Billy Jack' seems fascinated by its violence, of which it is full." His review added that "some of the non-professional delivery of lines in the script by Mr. Frank and Teresa Christina is incredibly awful." [7] Variety opined that "the action frequently drags" and at nearly two hours' running length, "The message is rammed down the spectators' throats and is sorely in need of considerable editing to tell a straightforward story." [8] Gene Siskel gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, calling it "a film that tries to say too many things in too many ways within an adequate story line, but it has such freshness, original humor and compassion that one is frequently moved to genuine emotion." [9] Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times also liked the film, praising its "searing tension that sustains it through careening unevenness to a smash finish. Crude and sensational yet urgent and pertinent, this provocative Warners release is in its unique, awkward way one of the year's important pictures." [10] Gary Arnold of The Washington Post panned the film as "horrendously self-righteous and devious," explaining, "Every social issue is dramatized in terms of absolute, apolitical good and evil. The good guys ... are next to angelic, while the bad guys are, according to the needs of the moment, utter buffoons or utter devils. Anyone with the slightest trace of skepticism or sophistication would tend to reject the movie out of hand and with good reason, since this kind of simplification is dramatically and socially deceitful." [11] David Wilson of The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote, "If in the end Billy Jack is as much a sell-out as any glossier version of commercialised iconoclasm (Billy Jack is persuaded to accept guarantees which a hundred years of Indian history have repudiated), there is enough innocent sincerity in the film to demonstrate that Tom Laughlin at least has the courage of his convictions, even if those convictions are scarcely thought out." [12]

Delores Taylor received a Golden Globe nomination as Most Promising Newcoming Actress. Tom Laughlin won the grand prize for the film at the 1971 Taormina International Film Festival in Italy.


The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


Billy Jack
Soundtrack album by
Genre Film score
Label Warner Bros.
WS 1926
Producer Mundell Lowe
Mundell Lowe chronology
Satan in High Heels
Billy Jack
California Guitar

The film score was composed, arranged and conducted by Mundell Lowe and the soundtrack album was originally released on the Warner Bros. label. [14]


The Allmusic review states "a strange and striking combination of styles that somehow is effective... a listenable disc whose flaws only add to the warmth". [15] The film's theme song, a re-recording of "One Tin Soldier (The Legend of Billy Jack)" by Jinx Dawson with session musicians providing the backing, and credited to the band Coven, became a Top 40 hit in 1971.

Professional ratings
Review scores
Allmusic Star full.svgStar full.svgStar full.svgStar half.svgStar empty.svg [15]

Track listing

All compositions by Mundell Lowe, except as indicated.

  1. "One Tin Soldier" (Dennis Lambert, Brian Potter) – 3:18
  2. "Hello Billy Jack" – 0:45
  3. "Old and the New" – 1:00
  4. "Johnnie" (Teresa Kelly) – 2:35
  5. "Look, Look to the Mountain" (Kelly) – 1:40
  6. "When Will Billy Love Me" (Lynn Baker) – 3:24
  7. "Freedom Over Me" (Gwen Smith) – 0:35
  8. "All Forked Tongue Talk Alike" – 2:54
  9. "Challenge" – 2:20
  10. "Rainbow Made of Children" (Baker) – 3:50
  11. "Most Beautiful Day" – 0:30
  12. "An Indian Dance" – 1:15
  13. "Ceremonial Dance" – 1:59
  14. "Flick of the Wrist" – 2:15
  15. "It's All She Left Me" – 1:56
  16. "You Shouldn't Do That" – 3:21
  17. "Ring Song" (Katy Moffatt) – 4:25
  18. "Thy Loving Hand" – 1:35
  19. "Say Goodbye 'Cause You're Leavin'" – 2:36
  20. "The Theme from Billy Jack" – 2:21
  21. "One Tin Soldier (End Title)" (Lambert, Potter) – 1:06



Marketed as an action film, the story focuses on the plight of Native Americans during the civil rights era. It attained a cult following among younger audiences due to its youth-oriented, anti-authority message and the then-novel martial arts fight scenes which predate the Bruce Lee/kung fu movie trend that followed. [16] The centerpiece of the film features Billy Jack, enraged over the mistreatment of his Native American friends, fighting racist thugs using hapkido techniques.

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  1. 1 2 Waxman, Sharon (June 20, 2005). "Billy Jack Is Ready to Fight the Good Fight Again". The New York Times . Retrieved 2011-01-02.
  2. "Revival of the fittest a Hollywood tradition", Leonard Klady, Variety , 11 November 1996, pg 75.
  3. ICTMN Staff (December 17, 2013). "'Billy Jack' Star Tom Laughlin Dead at 82". Indian Country Today Media Network . Retrieved August 13, 2016.
  4. "Billy Jack". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  5. Maltin, Leonard, ed. (1995). Leonard Maltin's 1996 Movie & Video Guide. Signet. p. 116. ISBN   0-451-18505-6.
  6. Ebert, Roger (August 2, 1971). "Billy Jack". . Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  7. Thompson, Howard (July 29, 1971). "A Misguided 'Billy Jack'". The New York Times : 42.
  8. "Billy Jack". Variety : 22. May 5, 1971.
  9. Siskel, Gene (July 29, 1971). "Billy Jack". Chicago Tribune . Section 2, p. 14.
  10. Thomas, Kevin (August 13, 1971). "Loner Theme in 'Billy Jack'". Los Angeles Times . Part IV, p. 10.
  11. Arnold, Gary (August 7, 1971). "Cowboys, Bigots, Kids and Indians". The Washington Post : B6.
  12. Wilson, David (September 1972). "Billy Jack". The Monthly Film Bulletin . 39 (464): 184.
  13. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes & Villains Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  14. Mundell Lowe discography accessed August 23, 2012
  15. 1 2 Viglione, J. Allmusic Review accessed August 23, 2012
  16. Stewart, Jocelyn Y. (January 14, 2007). "Bong Soo Han, 73; grand master of hapkido won film fans for martial arts". Los Angeles Times . Retrieved 2010-11-25.