Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Billy Jack" Offers a Real Hero

Cleveland Press September 2, 1971

"Billy Jack" is a remarkable movie if only because no one film has ever contained so much that is good and so much that is awful.

It has the looks of something put together by a committee.

One thing it does have, however, is the presence of an honest-to-gosh superhero. For all of the picture's relevance and its attempts to convey contemporary ideas the Billy Jack of the title, a half-breed ex-Green Beret, is out of the same mold of the strong, silent types that figured in westerns for years.

That he lashes out against social injustices, bigots and law-breaking policemen in a fight for survival instead of run-of-the-range rustlers will make him a contemporary superhero and one clearly acceptable to today's moviegoers.

Tom Laughlin in the title role is silent, grim and very athletic. He has a screen presence that makes believable the awesomeness he is supposed to inspire every time he shows up -- which is often and generally at the right time.

It is a portrayal in controlled fury and sudden explosions and the karate fight, which is easily the best thing in the movie, is one of the most exciting brawls ever put on film.

The scene is New Mexico and Billy Jack maintains law and order on the Indian Reservation even if it means chasing away a sheriff's deputy and the town's leading citizen when they come to shoot wild mustangs.

There is a school for troubled children on the reservation which is not popular with the townsfolk. The school lets the kids wear their hair long, sing songs, improvise situations which they act out and otherwise engage in educational practices that seem strange and are therefore wrong.

The kids get a rough time when they come to town and the Indian youngsters especially are shamefully treated by the town bullies.

The school is run by a pacifist lady played by Delores Taylor who looks almost old enough to be Billy Jack's mother but apparently is his girlfriend, sort of.

According to trade reports Miss Taylor, operating under the pseudonym of T. C. Frank, directed the movie. She isn't much as an actress and overall the directing is kind of choppy.

The picture dwells too long on the school and its practices, dwelling to the point of being boring.

Every now and then the picture gets back to the action which includes mayhem, murder and rape. All the complications that develop seem to be afterthoughts. There is little that goes wrong that couldn't have gone right with the proper explanation from any of a number of people.

It's as though the early pages of the script were thrown away or totally ignored. Social injustices are piled on, less with a sense of realism than with a notion of stacking a deck.

As a movie "Billy Jack" is kind of exasperating since there is so much good and bad all mixed together.