Kicking It—Billy Jack

Long before Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo was disillusioned by his time in Vietnam, there was Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack (1971). Disaffected by the white man’s ways, the half-Native American ex-Green Beret lives in sagebrush country, protects an alternative school (where bad protest folk songs and psychodrama role-playing are the prestige courses), gets bitten by rattlesnakes to achieve enlightenment, rescues wild horses and kicks ass whenever the Neanderthal townies (one of them is named Dinosaur) gather to heckle the local Indian kids.In one of the great cinematic examples of the “One at a Time, Guys” strategy for overpowering your enemy, a score or more of brutish opponents surround Billy Jack and then, instead of attacking en masse, wait to be individually brought low by Billy’s karate chops and flashing footwork (“Watch out for his feet,” warns one bad guy, but no one’s listening).Oh, and the aging hippie in the atrocious tie-dyed shirt and droopy mustache teaching kids improv is none other than Howard Hesseman, although he is hidden in the credits as Don Sturdy.

28 comments to Kicking It—Billy Jack

  • admin

    After discovering Howard Hesseman lurking around in “Billy Jack” under the screen name Don Sturdy, I was idly persuing the used-book shelf in a local antigue store and discovered the Don Sturdy books. Turns out that Sturdy was a boys’ adventure hero from the 1920s (attributed to author Victor Appleton, altho he was a pseudonym for a room full of underpaid and uncredited hacks, a la Nancy Drew and Tom Swift) who appears in such titles as “Don Stury in the Tombs of Gold” and “Don Sturdy Among the Gorillas.” I can only assume that Hesseman knew this when he picked the name.

  • Richard von Busack

    At the Cerrito Theater today, they were playing the ghastly theme song:
    “Go ahead and hate your neighbor
    Go ahead and cheat your friend…”
    Pauline Kael had a good point about this, that Dolores Taylor was one of the first realistic rape victims she’d seen in a movie. It was a SERIOUS rabble rouser in its day and aimed to have the audience ready to go out and wreak vengeance against the rednecks. I used to have the script around here someplace: “When I see what you’ve done to this girl who is so precious to us that we call her “God’s Little Gift of Sunshine”…I GO BERSERK!”
    There were two sequels–I believe Billy Jack Goes to Washington is finally available on DVD, but I haven’t sat down with it–it’s actually a sort of remake of Mr Smith Goes to Washington, and Frank Capra, Jr, is credited (or debited) with it. I was at the memorable sneak preview for The Trial of Billy Jack–magic! A kid with a hook for a hand playing Christmas carols on a guitar; later he gets shot by the National Guard in a Kent State-style massacre. I really need a rematch with this one during election year…

  • Anonymous

    My favorite line from the original Billy Jack, often quoted, is directed toward Taylor in the aftermath of the attack: “DAMN your pacifism!”

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