The Trial of Billy Jack

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1974

Taylor-Laughlin/Warner Bros.

Directed by Tom Laughlin

Produced by Joe Cramer

Written by Frank Christina and Teresa Christina

There’s a couple of great fight scenes that are equal to the ice cream parlor and battle in the park scenes in the first “Billy Jack.” One of the fight scenes even has the Great Great Man Bong Soo Han backing up Billy Jack as he takes on a new Posner (the one from the first movie went crazy behind his son being killed so this is his brother giving Billy Jack grief in this one.) But you got to wait a long time for those fight scenes as THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK is a whopping three hours long, a rarity during the 1970s. Movies just weren’t that long as theaters preferred movies with a running time of 90 minutes or so because that meant they could get in as many showings as possible in a business day and sell more popcorn.

And THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK tries to take on a whole lot for one movie. We get statements on the My Lai massacre (in a flashback we see that Billy Jack was involved in a similar incident) Native American mysticism, militant homegrown terrorism as a form of political protest, the pros and cons of investigative reporting, child abuse, counter-culture lifestyles, illegal government surveillance on private citizens. On one hand, THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK can be applauded for even attempting to address so many social issues in the form of an action movie. But on the other hand it also tries to take on too much and as a result at the end of its running time the movie ends up being a mess that in its effort to say so much about so many issues that we’re not sure which cause we should be for.

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Thanks to Billy Jack’s deal at the end of “Billy Jack” The Freedom School has grown and flourished. In fact, some of the best scenes in this movie belong to Delores Taylor as Jean Roberts. She founded The Freedom School but its grown way past what she wanted it to be and it’s now out of her hands as her students are now in charge of the school and see her more as an impediment than an ally. There’s a terrific scene she has where she finally gets pissed off, throws a chair into the crowd and tells the students that goddamn it, she built this school and they’re going to listen to what she has to say.

A lot of the problems besieging the school comes from their hosting hearings on corporate abuse of the Native American tribal land The Freedom School is built on. Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) gets involved after he’s released from jail (he served time for killing Bernard Posner in the first movie) on behalf of the Native Americans once they find out that their land has been sold out from under them by their corrupt tribal chiefs to mining corporations.

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See? Told you it was a lotta plot. Throw into that Billy Jack’s undergoing an ancient Navajo ritual so that he can confront his violent side and an ending that blatantly references the Kent State shootings…and yeah, you can understand why this thing is three hours long.

If you read my review of “Billy Jack” then you know that I advised you watch that movie as it was a time capsule of issues confronting American culture at that time that “Billy Jack” addressed. It’s the same with THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK. Its political propaganda agenda is even more blatant than “Billy Jack” which at least tried to give us the beard of an action movie plot. THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK doesn’t even bother to do that. And I have to admit, the ending where we see the unarmed students of The Freedom School, including Jean brutally shot down by The National Guard is a horrifically disturbing scene that makes its point. As well as the action taken by some of the National Guardsmen and Navajo tribesmen following the shooting.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I recommend THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK. There’s a lot to like. I continue to love the relationship between Billy Jack and Jean Roberts. And since Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor were married at the time this was made I’m sure that had a lot to do with their chemistry. I appreciate and applaud Tom Laughlin’s respect for Native American traditions and culture and how he has it depicted by Native Americans. I like how we see that after her rape in “Billy Jack” Jean has taken up studying hapkido herself. Pacifist she may be but fool she ain’t. I like how we’ve seen that Carol (Teresa Kelly) has grown up into a capable and mature young woman and become Jean’s de facto second-in-command. Tom Laughlin gets another one of his great slow burn scenes where he actually asks permission from a 6 foot 9 inch bully to kick his ass.

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So should you see THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK? Okay, here’s the deal…it’s actually not necessary unless after seeing “Billy Jack” you’re really committed to seeing how the story of Billy Jack, Jean and The Freedom School plays out. I myself like it because as I said about “Billy Jack” it’s a fictional representation of real life events, concerns and issues that were indeed playing out in our country at the time. It’s not family friendly Friday or Saturday night viewing but it is worth seeing at least once.

 

2 hrs 50 minutes

Rated PG

2 thoughts on “The Trial of Billy Jack

    1. Can’t argue with you on that one….THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK does indeed get too preachy but I give it a pass on that score because I always appreciate a failed effort. It doesn’t succeed on a lot of levels but it tries it best on a lot more and I give it points on that. YMMV.

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