|Billy Jack: Ultimate Collection (1971)|
|DVD Release Date:||09/27/2005|
|Running Time:||556 minutes|
List Price: $39.98
Running Time: 556 minutes
Widescreen anamorphic format
All four Billy Jack films:
The Born Losers (1967)
Billy Jack (1971)
The Trial of Billy Jack (1974)
Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977)
Commentary Tracks by Tom Laughlin, Deloris Taylor and Frank Laughlin
Mini documentary: A Very Abridged History of the Making of Billy Jack
Original TV ads
Cut Your Own Fight
Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
English (Dolby Digital 5.1)
5-disc Keep Case
Film & Disc Review, Billy Jack: Ultimate Collection
Though Tom Laughlin got the idea for the film "Billy Jack" in the early 1950s, he was unable to bring his vision to the screen for nearly 15 years. In the mid 1960s, the drive-ins of America were ripe with Biker films. Laughlin's wife and creative partner Delores Taylor struck upon the idea of placing the Billy Jack character in a Biker film. The project got the green light from indie and B-horror movie producers American International Pictures and the Billy Jack Franchise was born.
Set in Northern California, "The Born Losers" sets Billy Jack against a gang of bikers raping and terrorizing the local teenage girls. Danny (Jeremy Slate) is the head of the gang The Born Losers. Billy Jack is introduced as an e-x Green Beret, half-blood Indian who lives in the woods and breaks horses. Danny and Billy have known each other since childhood. When Billy comes to the rescue of a boy being beaten by Danny's Gang, the childhood rivalry is reborn. The showdown comes when the gang rapes several local teens and a vacationing college girl (Elizabeth James).
The movie "Billy Jack" has had a greater impact on who I am as a person than any movie I have ever seen. In 1971, at the age of 12 I was dealing with the divorce of my parents, the temptation of drugs and life in a violent and spiritually bankrupt home. I saw a trailer for a movie called "Billy Jack." The karate fight appealed to my budding sense of machismo, so I drug my little stepbrother to a matinee. Seeds of a deeper devotion to my Native-American ancestry (1/8 Cherokee), political activism, racial equality and a desire to take up karate (I never did) were planted as Tom Laughlin's independent blockbuster flashed across the screen. My stepbrother and I practiced our newfound, cinematically enhanced Karate skills on trees, fences and mailboxes as we walked home, but inside, I was lost in thought. I've seen the movie over 50 times. I'd like to persuade you to at least see it once.
Set in Arizona, the story revolves around The Freedom School run by Jean Roberts (Delores Taylor, writer/director Laughlin's wife). Jean is a pacifist, whose beliefs are put to the test severely in this film. She is a sensual earth mother who has the gift to keep a level head amid the chaos, which comes her way. She is the mother figure to the kids and the spiritual center of the movie. Jean's school is a haven to kids, troubled or not, who have been rejected by their families or society in general. The only rules are no drugs and each person must create something, preferably something, which makes them proud of their heritage. Even though the school is located on an Indian reservation, it is open to kids of all races, creeds and colors. Needless to say, the school receives a lot of heat from some of the local patriots, most notably, old man Posner (Bert Freed). Posner is the big man in the county. His word is law, and he enforces his mandate with ruthless zeal. The only thing stopping Posner from having free reign in his quest for power is Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin). Billy is a half-breed, Green Beret Vietnam vet who returned to the reservation after the war and acts as the protector of the school and the reservation. Tension between the townfolks and the school comes to a head when Barbara (Julie Webb), the daughter of the town's deputy sheriff, Mike (Kenneth Toby) comes to the school for refuge after a severe beating by her father.
The viewer discovers the magic of the school through the eyes of Barbara, a lost young pregnant girl who compensates for the abuse she has endured with a smart mouth and a cynical outlook on love of any kind, be it platonic or spiritual. She finds herself the object of affection of an Indian youth named Martin (Stan Shaw). Martin teaches her that she can be loved for more than her ability to provide easy sex. Deputy Mike's desire to retrieve his daughter is the plot device, which stokes the fire of conflict between the close-minded townfolks and the enlightened youth of the school. What really makes this movie work is that Laughlin reveals that both sides of this conflict (with a few exceptions) are both closed and open-minded at the same time.
"Billy Jack" has a definite political and philosophical point of view, but it does not paint one side as always right and the other as always wrong. This point is illustrated perfectly in the best scene in the movie. In a last ditch effort to stop the juggernaut of violence between the town and the school, both parties agree to address their differences at a city council meeting. Both sides have a strong belief in the democratic way. In this scene, both sides are portrayed warts and all. They are both childish, they are both wise, they are both stubborn, they are both yearning to connect, but not sure how to do it. The movie works because of this scene and other similar ones; Laughlin does not condemn the "everyman" characters who hold political beliefs opposed to him. He nudges the viewer to examine their own beliefs by taking this tact. This is not to say that the movie has no villains. Both Posner and Deputy Mike are villains who have chosen the dark side through their own freewill.
If I have a complaint with the movie, it is the way it deals with the character Bernard Posner (David Roya). Bernard is the twentysomething year-old son of Mr. Posner. He does not have the spine or stomach to be the type of man that his father wants him to be (Evil). Bernard only wants to gain his father's respect, but he must lose his soul to do so. Bernard commits great evil in this movie. I was very disappointed that the viewpoint of Jean's character played less of a role in Billy's dealings with Bernard. I really believe the movie pushes Jean's point of view as the answer to life's difficulties, but the unstoppable force of Billy's personality overwhelms Jean's at times. This fault is understandable because, as in real life, good-intentioned people make mistakes. Billy makes mistakes and pays dearly for doing so. The fact that Billy isn't perfect, nor does the film claim so, is one of the movie's great strengths. There are no supermen or women. Only imperfect people living as best they can. The movie asks the viewer to examine their life and try to do better.
When debating folks on Internet message boards I've been known to say "Thank God we live in a country where they don't shoot you for voicing your opinion." Of course, there was a time when people were being killed for voicing their thoughts. The opening credits of "The Trial of Billy Jack" contain titles reminding viewers of the number of dead and wounded at several National Guard and police shooting at US college campuses including Kent State and Jackson State. The last title reads "Freedom School: 3 Dead, 39 Wounded." Fans of the 1971 film "Billy Jack" know that the Freedom School is run by Jean Roberts, the character played by Deloris Taylor.
At nearly 3-hours, "The Trial of Billy Jack" is over-long by nearly an hour. I anxiously anticipated the sequel to Laughlin's 1971 hit. I saw it on opening night and enjoyed the film. Upon a second viewing, I felt it missed the magic of the original and did not see it again for many years. This makes the fourth time I've seen the movie. I think my thoughts upon my second viewing back in 1974 are still valid. "The Trial of Billy Jack" could have been much better if an hour was trimmed from the running time. Laughlin takes on very important topics such as the My Lai Massacre and Kent State, but he loses track of the human element that made the youth of 1971 connect with his first film. There are too many characters, not doing enough. There is no Martin (Stan Rice) and Barbara (Julie Webb) type characters to empathize with. While "Billy Jack" contained great memorable villains, "Trial" doesn't.
The final film in the series never received a theatrical release. Director Laughlin claimed that a US Senator became outraged at a private screening and told him that the film would never be released. If that was the real reason the movie was never released, then Mr. Laughlin must have gotten too close to some nasty Nuclear secrets in this remake of Frank Capra's classic "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington."
I watched this movie expecting not to like it. After all, it was never released. So what if it had several name actors such as E.G. Marshall, Pat O'Brien and Sam Wanamaker in the cast. Having seen the movie, I can say I liked it much more than I thought I would. There are still problems though. Laughlin's script retains much of the naivetÃ© of Capra's Mr. Smith. Jimmy Stewart played a babe in the woods whose inner goodness helps him overcome the corrupt congressmen he faces in Washington. The problem is that anyone who has seen the previous "Billy Jack" films knows that Billy Jack is no babe in the woods. He fought in Vietnam, killed numerous people, witnessed bigotry, racism and violence by those in authority. If anything, Billy Jack should be jaded and cynical. On the flip side, it doesn't make sense that either political party would appoint a person like Billy jack to take over the remainder of a dead Senator's term. No way could a man of his staunch principles be controlled or be expected to turn a blind eye to corruption.
The first DVD I owned was the previous Billy Jack Collection, which my wife gave me for Christmas (along with a DVD player). I was disappointed that the movies were in Pan and Scan. Thank goodness they have finally been released in widescreen. The transfers were made from the original negatives. There are a number of artifacts, especially in "The Born Losers." The colors are rich and well saturated. There are a few delineation problems, most notably on the "Trial" DVD. Good flesh tones.
The sound on "Washington" is horrendous at times. In places, the soundtrack appears to have been recorded in a wind tunnel. The "2" rating I give the soundtrack of "Washington" brings down the higher ratings of the other three discs. Both "Billy Jack" and "The Born Losers" earned a "10" while "Trial" had a few problems and received a "7."
No Easter Eggs Found on Disc.
This could have really been the Ultimate Collection with better extras. All four films include two commentary tracks. One from the earlier boxed set and new one recorded for this release. This time Tom Laughlin and Deloris Taylor are joined by their son Frank. Fans of the series will enjoy the tracks. I learned a lot about the movies that I didn't know before.
Well folks! I finally figured out how to work the "Cut Your Own Fight" and "Book Excerpt" extras! They are both excellent. You must place the DVD in your computer. Right Click on My Computer. When that opens up, Right Click on the D-Drive icon. There is a "Book Except" file. Click on that and 30 pages of the "The Untold Story of the Legend of Billy Jack" will open up in Adobe Acrobat Reader. The except is a nice teaser for the full book which can be purchased at BillyJack.com.
I am so glad I figured out how to open the "Cut You Own Fight" extra. The file includes about 20 or so minutes of Quicktime files. You can download them to your computer to then edit your own fight sequence. The file includes all of the surviving raw footage used to cut the famous hapkido fight in "Billy Jack." I'm working on my version now. You can go to BillyJack.com for details about the "Cut Your Own Fight Contest." Mr. Laughlin told me that they are thinking about the grand-prize winner getting to come to the set of the up-coming fifth "Billy Jack" film and getting a walk-on part. That would be very cool.
There is a nice Making of documentary narrated by Frank Laughlin. The entire story for the making of "Billy Jack" would make an excellent feature length documentary. The DVD also includes a photo gallery and the 1973 re-release TV ads. For die hard fans there is a trivia quiz.
Fans of the series will want this one for the widescreen feature presentations. I am working on my interview with Tom Laughlin. Check back to the EI main page in the next week for so for the link.