Monstervision's Joe Bob Briggs Looks At

Billy Jack (1971)

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The Doctor needs help

The hippie kung-fu cult classic about a bigoted town that has to have some peace and love kicked into it by Native American enforcer Tom Laughlin

"Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In"
By Joe Bob Briggs
Drive-In Movie Critic of Grapevine, Texas

movie poster Women love it, men despise it. Tom Laughlin out on Geek Patrol, defendin wimp Indians and ugly women in Meskin dresses by kicking the New Mexico white trash into Arizona. The only reason it works is that Delores Taylor, Laughlin’s costar and wife, and the reason he has to go up the mountains and get eaten up by rattlesnakes and come back down and kickbox his way through six or seven bowling teams, is no threat. If Billy Jack will kick ass for that little whiny sniveling sprout-eating Communist, there’s hope for everybody. Kick in a few BMW fenders during the movie, just to let her know where you stand politically. Four stars. Another flick that’s good to get nookie by is:

Caged Heat (1974): One of the problems with takin her to see Private Duty Nurses or Fly Me or any of the nurse or stewardess or bimbos-in-cages flicks is she’s gonna think you just wanna see a bunch of jigglin duffel-bags being abused and degraded by jerks like yourself. Caged Heat is different. First, the title disguises the fact that this is a great bimbos-in-cages classic. Second, all the girls triumph over their abusers and bust out of jail, which makes it all right. And third, it’s full of jigglin feminist duffel-bags being abused and degraded by jerks like yourself. Jonathan Demme is the magician who made this one, featuring the ripaway bra queen of the Seventies, Barbara Steele.

©1990 Joe Bob Briggs. All Rights Reserved

For more of Joe Bob's pre-TNT reviews in Grapevine, Texas, go to his Drive-In Reviews Archive over yonder at www.Joe Bob

Billy Jack: One Tin Soldier Rides Away

In an excerpt from the [Amazing Story Behind the Legend of Billy Jack] upcoming book, Tom Laughlin recalls how Billy Jack was almost destroyed because of references to President Nixon:

During the final editing, Laughlin and Zanuck had two meetings. They were disastrous. Zanuck wanted to cut out all the scenes Laughlin felt gave Billy Jack its ambience and message. Zanuck wanted the "God is Black" improvisational scene cut. He wanted to cut the improvisational scene with marijuana, and the city council session and the robbery in the park. Laughlin felt there was room to quarrel over the changes, but the final demand was the deal breaker.

Zanuck, a principal player in Nixon's reelection campaign in California, also wanted to remove a disparaging remark about the president. In the scene, Carol -- played by Laughlin's daughter T.C. -- asks the town council for permission to read from a document she has brought.
"The streets in our country," she reads, "are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might, and our Republic is in danger -- yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order. Without law and order, our nation cannot survive."

"You wanna know who wrote it?" asks Kit, another student from the Freedom School. "Adolph Hitler wrote it in 1932, and everyone from Nixon's cabinet to your council is repeating it today."
Laughlin, Zanuck said, had gone too far. The quote must go. Laughlin refused. But Zanuck did agree no changes would be made until the results of the three screenings were in.
But before the picture was screened, before Laughlin had even completed the final edit, he received a message from a secretary who didn't identify herself. She told Tom fearfully studio had taken his negative from the laboratory vault.
Laughlin was alarmed. It was something Fox had no right to do. He owned the film. In effect, they were robbing him of his only source of income. But the studio went ahead and took it anyway. Laughlin no longer had access to his own picture.

Delores immediately got in the car and barreled down to Glen Glenn sound to take all the audio reels. Fox might have all the film, 350,000 feet of it -- half of it improvised with no script to match, but it was a silent movie. Thanks to Delores, the Laughlins had all the sound. Armed with the reels, they were prepared to do battle.
That weekend, Tom and Delores prayed. They took a long walk in the mountains and plotted. They agreed to stay true to Billy Jack's spirit.
Letting Fox make even one cut would open up a floodgate. Who knew what they would demand next? Besides, cut to the studio's wishes and Billy Jack turns into nothing more than a one-note action melodrama. And what was to stop them? A lawsuit? The giant studio had a stable of lawyers on retainer who could drag the case out in court for years.
Besides, caving in to Fox's demands would destroy Laughlin's quest for creative freedom. Filmmakers, Tom knew, don't have the freedom of a writer or a painter or poet who needed only a couple of hundred dollars for paper or canvass and oils. Like architects, film makers needed hundreds of thousands of dollars to create their visions. And there were only two ways to gain that freedom. One was to make a film with your own money, and Laughlin didn't have any. The other was to use other people's money. And to get other people to invest, filmmakers needed a track record, proof that they had a "nose" for audiences.
Laughlin knew that to let Fox release the studio's version of Billy Jack would not only compromise the mood and the message, it would lead to box office disaster. It would destroy the track record the Laughlins had built up with Billy Jack's first appearance in Born Losers, a film that remained one of the top grossing movies in American International Picture's history.
By the end of the walk the Laughlins had made a decision. What they would do was so radical, it would label Laughlin as crazy for the rest of his career.

The plan was to erase a reel of sound and send it to Fox on Monday. They would do this every week, reel by reel, until Fox returned the film. If Billy Jack had to be killed, they would do it themselves.
Laughlin also authorized his attorneys to file suit against Twentieth Century-Fox for stealing the film from the lab and violating the terms of the contract.
On Monday morning, Laughlin's attorney, Eddie Rubin, visited the Fox lot and advised the executives of the couple's plan. To the studio heads, it seemed a wild bluff -- until the first reel arrived, completely erased. Tom made sure it was a reel that had nothing much on it, but it did the job. The executives panicked. This lunatic, they figured, could erase their entire investment.
Before the second reel was sent, Rubin had worked out a deal. The Laughlins had three months to raise $700,000 and buy the picture back. Laughlin also needed to find another $25,000 to wrap up post production. The music still had to be laid, the opticals added, the rough cut tightened. Broke and with creditors hounding him for tens of thousands of dollars, Laughlin set out to look for an investor.
Two years after the filming of Billy Jack started and nearly two decades after conceiving it, Laughlin was back to square one, scrambling to keep the vision alive.

“As a child I did not know what being an Indian was...until your movie...after watching your movie I moved home to my reservation and began to learn about my people. Thank you for making such an impression on a young Chippewa Cree who needed the guidance.”
- Tracey Jilot

* RELEASE: April 1971 and 1973
* GROSS: $98 Million
* DISTRIB: Warner Bros.
* SCRIPT: Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor
* PRODUCER: Delores Taylor, DIRECTOR: Tom Laughlin
* CAST: Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, Clark Howat, Burt Freed, Victor Izay
* Made for $350k, Billy Jack became the largest grossing independent film in history.
* Contract disputes between Laughlin and various producers caused the film to change hands between three different film studios, and delaying its release for three years. In 1973, Laughlin filed a fifty-one million dollar lawsuit against Warner studios for "improperly publicizing" Billy Jack.
* This was actually the second "Billy Jack" movie, Joe Bob Briggs says the first was Born Losers, in which Billy Jack takes on a biker gang after Jane Russell's daughter is raped by one of 'em

Additional information on all the Billy Jack movies can be seen at the official website:

Continue on to sequel The Trial of Billy Jack

Back to Monstervision or Sci-fans

Billy Jack for President "I go berserk" (from 2003)
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