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Billy Jack was what happened when somebody decided to make, simultaneously, a hippie film with left-wing politics riding the post-Woodstock mood, a vigilante film featuring an ex-Green Beret martial arts expert, a silly cash-in on the New Age fascination with putative Native American "shamanism" and other pseudoscience, and improvisational street theater. Low-budget production values abound, including badly dubbed-in dialogue and a very choppily edited city council meeting where everyone in the scene appears to have been winging it. Much fun!
Some of the improvisational street theater, on the other hand, is quite good. One of the skits involving hip police on the patrol for "squares" appears directly ripped off from the Firesign Theatre.
For all its left-wing counter-culture politics, Billy Jack is probably partly responsible for all the right-wing vigilante movies which since followed, thanks to blatant Billy Jack rip-offs starring the likes of Sylvester Stallone and Steven Seagal. The continuum goes roughly like this: Billy Jack -> Walking Tall -> Death Wish -> First Blood -> Rambo: First Blood Part II -> On Deadly Ground ad nauseum.
And it has a very familiar ending, sort of like Ruby Ridge and Waco. You know, the SIEGE, where our lone anti-hero holes up in a compound and fends off law enforcement for a few days. Incidentally life imitated art only a couple years later when American Indian Movement gunmen took over Wounded Knee, South Dakota and held off federal agents before surrendering, a scenario that was nearly identical to that depicted in the movie.
Many of the film's martial arts scenes were choreographed and performed by 9th dan Hapkido karate master Han Bong-soo (who later appeared as himself in the sequel The Trial of Billy Jack).
- "I just go ber-SERK!"
- "Akchiba-the-snake-waits-for-you-up-on-sacred-mountain. It-is-not-easy. And-if-you-show-fear-you-will-die."
- "What it means, concerned father, is I got balled by so many guys that I don't know if the father's gonna be white, Indian, Mexican, or BLACK!"
- "Who told you to say that? Were you taught this in school?" (shouted response): "It's because her brain has been damaged by the heathen devil weed marijuana!"
- "When I count to three, you will drive your car into the lake."
- "What's your name?" "Up." "That's an odd name. What's your last name?" "Yours."
- "Okay, let's like say the world is like really fucked up, and it needs a new savior. And, like, she's gonna give birth to it."
- "Oh that's beautiful, a black Jesus."
- "I'll tell you what I'm gonna do then, just for the hell of it. I'm gonna take this right foot, and I'm gonna whop you on that side of your face, and you wanna know something? There's not a damn thing you're gonna be able to do about it."
- "The simple solution is to make the nonwhite kids...white!"
- "State your name." "O.K. Corralis." "Respect this council enough to give your proper name!" "My real name is O.K. Corralis, you got something against Mexicans?"
- "You take the gun and you put a bullet in it and you have that feeling of power that you plant in the back of your brain, and you mix it with your energy so that when you come out here, you come out a dynamo of robbery, a man who gets respect as well as money. I'm going to be robbing you in just a second so hold on."
- "What have I got here, three psychos?" "You're not even here yet." "Oh."
- "When policemen break the law, then there isn't any law. Just a fight for survival."
- "A great Indian holy man, Wovoka, is speaking through him." "You mean they had holy men, like saints?" "They sure did! And Wovoka was one of the greatest. Once even Christ appeared to him."
- "I just want you to know that I try. When Jean and the kids at the school tell me that I'm supposed to control my violent temper and be passive and nonviolent like they are, I try. I really try."
- "No, you'll kill her. And then I'll kill you. Just. Like. That."
The three hour long and totally paranoid The Trial of Billy Jack followed in 1974 and tried to tap into the outrage over child abuse, Watergate, and Kent State. The movie was just a mess and completely lacks quotable lines or coherence, but has some of the most ridiculous "Indian vision quest" nonsense ever put on film and is a must-see if you enjoy poking fun at wannabee shamans and New Agers. Watch our intrepid vision questing shaman confront cobra spirits, turn red, turn blue, punch Jesus in the face, and more.
There is even less reason to see the series's final film Billy Jack Goes To Washington (1977), an inept retread of Mr. Smith, nor the generic and apolitical 1966 outlaw-biker movie The Born Losers, the first in the series.
 Life imitates art
In a bizarre irony given that Billy Jack was filmed in Prescott, Arizona, in June 2010 there was a controversy over a mural at a Prescott school. It seems the local yokels didn't like the mural depicting Black and Hispanic children, so the principal agreed the childrens' faces would be repainted to make the nonwhite kids...white!
At least he didn't do it by pouring flour all over them.
Where's Billy Jack now that Prescott really needs him?