JD’s Biker Movie Reviews Vol. 6:
The Born Losers
By: Jim Dugger
This month’s flick is the acorn that would eventually grow into the tree that is the legendary cult-like Billy Jack movie series that starts with this unassuming biker flick. This film feels and looks like most of the epic 60s and 70s B- bikexplotation films of the day. This action film is the first in the Billy Jack series. Billy Jack mania swept the country in the 1970s. It introduces us to the half-Indian, Green Beret, Vietnam veteran who is quiet but can kick some ass when provoked. Played by Tom Laughlin, he had been trying to sell or produce his script “Billy Jack” about the abuse and discrimination against the American Indian and persecution of the common man since 1954.
In 1967 he decided to take the Billy Jack character and with a quickly written script by co-star Elizabeth James to capitalize on the motorcycle gang movie trend of the day. The story was based on the real-life 1964 incident where members of the Hells Angels M/C were arrested for the raping of 5 teen-age girls in Monteray,CA. There’s plenty of assumed brutal violence and sexual innuendo though for the most part it’s pretty tame. There is one ass shot towards the end. (Not really rewind material) There are plenty of our bands of miscreants riding their bikes around reeking havoc on a small town. This movie was made with a budget of 150k and it grossed 36,000,000. It was the highest money making independent film of its time.
Tom Laughlin plays our hero Billy Jack a half-Indian, Green Beret, Vietnam veteran. (If you squint your eyes together real hard, cock your head to the left and are actually looking at a picture of Cochise or Geronimo you can almost see the resemblance to an American Indian) Useless tidbit: He wrote many papers and studied physiology and in 1992, 2004 and2008 ran for president of the United States. Elizabeth James wrote this film and plays Billy Jacks love interest Vicky. Her only other acting credit is the 1974 classic “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”. (After watching her performance in this one there’s no doubt why she quit acting) Jeremy Slate is recognizable; he plays Danny the leader of the gang. He played in True Grit and The Son’s of Katie Elder with John Wayne and Girls, Girls, Girls and G I Blues with Elvis Presley as well as many, many TV roles. Many of the other actors you may or may not recognize but have had bit roles in many TV and movies through out their careers. The big dollar actor here is Jane Russell “Miss burn her bra herself”. She plays the drunken, floozy mother of one of the rape victims.
Our story starts with Billy Jack wandering through the mountains by himself. He heads into town for some supplies. Our biker gang “The Born to Lose M/C” rides into town. Danny’s bike gets bumped from behind. The kid in a VW gets smart mouthed with the gang and of course gets his ass kicked. Billy Jack steps in and saves the kid. He shoots one of the bikers in the arm and is arrested himself. (This is where the social injustice theme starts) Billy Jack’s fine and jail time are way higher than those of the bikers. This is where the movie slows way, way down and starts jumping around. We see Vicky riding her Triumph around in knee high boots and bikini. (Actually very hot for the 60s). She stays in this outfit for most of the movie, and we don’t see Billy Jack through most of the middle of the movie. The gang is causing trouble and racing their bikes. They spot Vicky and give chase, they only catch her by pulling that old Bugs Bunny trick by spinning the street sign around and she goes the wrong way.(my kind of woman Hot and Stupid) They take her back to the clubhouse to make her a mama. She witnesses the gang rape of 3 other girls. Vicky manages to escape. The movie jumps all over the place from gang trying to find Vicky, intimidating townspeople, cops trying to get people to testify against the gang .
At 55 mins in we finally see Billy Jack kick some ass.We get a kick and 2 judo chops to save Vicky. (OH BOY) The next 40 mins or so are the same slow moving stuff where we bounce back and forth between gang intimidating, cops still trying to get someone to testify against them and Billy Jack and Vicky hiding in the mountains. There is a scene where one of the teen age rape victims does a provocative strip tease to her stuffed animals.(pretty weird) The gang ransacks Billy’s trailer and steal his money.(Oh now they done it Billy Jack is pissed) Billy goes to their hang out and gives them 24 hours to give back the money. There is a lot of homoeroticism here, from gang members tongue kissing to them wanting to shower with each other.(guess they were trying to show the free love of the 60s) We are now back at gang intimidation, cops that won’t do anything and they kidnap Vicky. Billy Jack gets beat up and when know one will help he goes to save Vicky by himself. He finds her raped and naked on the floor.(here’s the gratuitous ass shot) He ends up shooting Danny between the eyes, as the gang flees the cops are there to arrest them. Billy Jack flees and is shot in the back by a cop, but still escapes. He is found later on the shore of a mountain lake and is helicopter out. THE END!
This was Tom Laughlin’s directorial debut and though not that bad of a job, it was cheesy and moved at a god awful slow pace. The direction, acting and plot are slow and widely uneven. The acting for the most part was bad and stiff but perfectly normal for this type of movie. Jane Russell’s acting however way was over the top. The editing was particularly chaotic. The music was done by soon to be California LT Governor Mike Curb and wasn’t bad and fit the 60s genre B movie. This was not that good of a movie but was watchable although boring. Laughlin trys to show the victimization and uphill battle of the little man. Morale of the story is you can try to be the nice guy and follow the law, but at some point you have to drop your pretences of civilization and deal with the barbarians on their own terms. Billy Jack movies are like chitlins, limburger cheese and Kim chee, if you like that stuff you don’t mind the smell. This one is a bit long and moves slowly so grab some beers and some no- doze sit back and enjoy the ride.
Till next month,