The Trial of Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) 1974

Up until this point I had only seen the first Billy Jack movie (technically the second movie featuring the character but whatever). Billy Jack is probably what you would have gotten if you had a slightly nuttier Steven Seagal start directing films in the early 70’s. The movie had fun action with its titular hero kicking racists in the face and it also had it’s ‘so bad it’s funny’ moments. Director Tom Lauglin’s extreme political views are on parade and it is hard not to laugh at a person who is to the liberals, what Tea Partiers are to the conservatives. When we aren’t seeing Billy Jack kick ass, we get funny asides to the Freedom School, which is a group of hippies putting on terrible shows and singing horrible songs. It is a pleasant B movie and I can see it’s appeal with bad movie aficionados.

I really can’t see how anyone can enjoy The Trial of Billy Jack. The success of Billy Jack (the highest grossing independent film of the time) made Laughlin think people cared about his paranoid delusional fantasy (instead of Billy Jack kicking mass amounts of ass) and decided to make a three hour movie where Laughlin gets on his soap box and berates you non-stop through the entirety of the run time. I told this to Michael Bay and I’m going to tell it to Tom Laughlin; your movies do not need to be three hours long! This is the main problem with the movie. This is like, again, Steven Seagal making a three hour movie and it is him saying how evolution leads to Nazism, 9/11 was an inside job, and how people don’t have to pay their income taxes. It’s funny at first, but after two hours you wish he would take his tin foil hat and go home. In the case of Trial of Billy Jack, there are a lot of funny scenes in this movie. For example we get Billy Jack pimp slapping Jesus, we get the hippie lie detector (which oddly enough ISN’T a bong), and even more horrible singing including an ode to Billy Jack.

The problem is despite there being lots of unintentionally funny stuff, it doesn’t change the fact I am watching a three hour movie. Not even a scene of pimp slapping Jesus can make you forget the fact your ass is numb for sitting in your chair for so long. It also doesn’t help that there is not much action in this film. Can you guess when the first fight scene is in this movie about an ass kicking Green Beret fighting for hippies? An hour and fifty minutes! And overall there are probably two fight scenes in the whole movie.

Do I really need to go into the politics? It is some of the most inane, delusional, contradictory nonsense ever spewed out on screen. It’s bad when I’m a liberal and you are making me want to vote for Nixon.  Basically the evil “government” is responsible for all evils in the world short of throwing babies in a woodchipper (and that’s only because we don’t know about it yet due to the government keeping it hush hush). In explaining the contradictory tone of Laughlin, a perfect example is in the very title character. The main characters do nothing but preach pacifism and how fighting drags you down to a lower level. You are told that for the whole three hours but how is every problem resolved in this movie? By violence or the threat of violence. Now I personally don’t have a problem with someone defending him/herself so my objection isn’t with Billy Jack fighting. No my problem is with the hypocritical nature of Billy Jack kicking someone in the face and literally in the next breath berating a fellow hippie for “sinking to his level” by trying to punch him. It was something Laughlin could never reconcile when he wanted to make a movie about peace and love, and simultaneously make an action climax to appease his core audience. That is just one example of how Laughlin’s ideas make no sense in the context of this movie.

In it’s day, Trial of Billy Jack was a huge success but now is being rightly classified as one of the worst movies of all time. Even many of the positive reviews I read, are more saying it is a funny bad movie instead of saying Trial is a good movie. For me, this movie is far too long to say it is ‘so bad it’s funny’. The movie transcends hilariously bad and moves into the horribly dull. But my torture was not yet complete, because immediately after I put in the end of the trilogy; Billy Jack Goes to Washington.

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One Response to “The Trial of Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) 1974”

  1. Christopher Saunders Says:

    Excellent review of a monumentally terrible movie. I’ve sat through this thing twice (!) and it only got worse on a rewatch. I have never seen such an incoherent mess of a film; politics aside, had Tom Laughlin never heard of an editor or what? This would seriously get my vote for worst film of all time.

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