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  Billy Jack We Come In Peace - Shoot To Kill
Year: 1971
Director: Tom Laughlin
Stars: Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, Clark Howat, Victor Izay, Julie Webb, Debbie Schock, Teresa Kelly, Lynn Baker, Stan Rice, David Roya, John McClure, Susan Foster, Susan Sosa, Katy Moffat, Gwen Smith, Howard Hesseman, Kenneth Tobey, Bert Freed
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  3 (from 1 vote)
Review: Barbara (Julie Webb) has been captured after running away to Haight Ashbury and brought back home to her father Deputy Mike (Kenneth Tobey) in this Ariziona smalltown, but she is not only not pleased to be there, she has news for him he will not like. She is pregnant, and slept around so much with the hippies that she's not sure who the father is, nor what colour the baby will be - her father is furious and beats her up right there in his house. Meanwhile, wealthy businessman Stuart Posner (Bert Freed) is continuing to round up wild mustangs to make into dog food on the nearby reservation - can anybody stop him?

The clue's in the title, it's everybody's favourite hapkido expert, ex-Green Beret, self-described half-breed Indian force of nature Billy Jack who will step up and repel the evildoers. This was the follow-up to The Born Losers which also featured him as a hero, except here director/writer/star Tom Laughlin had issues on his mind, and as the United States of America was losing its way he saw himself as the man to act as a guide. According to him, he had had the idea for the movie seventeen years before it was actually brought to the screen, which either meant he was remarkably prescient or that script underwent quite some degree of rewriting, but whatever, Laughlin assuredly caught the mood of the nation.

This may have been a relatively economical independent movie, but thanks to a savvy advertising campaign and distribution it was the film to see among ver kids of the day, and many critics and commentators jumped on the bandwagon, giving Laughlin the kind of glowing reviews that he would have been well advised to enjoy while they lasted. The fact remained whatever noble philosophy he was keen to convey, it was a muddled one by the time it had reached the screen: was it pro- or anti-violence, for example? The message of the progressive school Barbara ends up taking refuge in is one of pacificism, but that's no good when the local nasties are victimising them (one Indian character is seemingly only present to get repeatedly beaten up), so they need a champion who will ride to their rescue (and he literally does).

This means it's fine to turn the other cheek and preach an anti-violence message as long as you have a bully boy to take care of any adversary who may be out to put you down, which smacks of hypocrisy to say the least. When the leader of the school, Jean Roberts (played by Laughlin's wife Delores Taylor), calls out Billy Jack's desire to go down in a blaze of glory as so much bullshit when hardly anyone else has that option, it's a powerful moment but chiefly because it's what you may have been pondering for the last two hours. Some films lasting that long can fly by in what seems like half the time, but for the most part this truly dragged; more provocative insight like Jean's observation would have helped, but it was too little too late by the point of the climactic siege.

Billy Jack has been using his martial arts to beat up the heavies, though in one scene where he's doing very well the tables are suddenly turned and he's soon inexplicably drooling fake blood. For the most part our hero is opining on the white man's repression of the non-whites, yet no matter what he says, Laughlin looks pretty white himself, offering his preachiness an absurd quality that the enormous doses of self-righteousness on display does little to soothe. The school, for example, is a breeding ground for sanctimonious (guitar-strumming) hippies, with drama classes continually returned to apparently because Laughlin had secured the services of professional troupe The Committee (with a very hairy Howard Hesseman) who were obsessed with marijuana judging by their terrible skits. Then again, the establishment are little better, easy to anger and intolerant to the point of venom-spitting aggro - and that's just the snake Billy Jack performs a sacred ceremony with. For the most part, this was excruciatingly boring, leaving you bemused it was ever taken so seriously. Music by Mundell Lowe.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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