Silver Streak

MPW-57609

1976

20th Century Fox

Directed by Arthur Hiller

Produced by Thomas L. Miller/Edward K. Milkis

Written by Colin Higgins

Music by Henry Mancini

For most people “The” Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder Movie is “Stir Crazy.” But lemme ask you this: outside of the “Dat’s right, we bad, we bad” scene, how much of the movie’s plot or story do you actually remember? And let’s not even bring “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” and “Another You” into this conversation. Richard Pryor doesn’t enter SILVER STREAK until we’re a good hour into the plot but it’s a wise move. Because he gives the movie a huge burst of energy and unpredictability that carries us along for the other hour. He comes in the movie at exactly the right time he’s needed. And for me, that makes SILVER STREAK “The” Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder Movie. Put any of their other collaborations on the TV and I’ll most likely doze off thirty minutes in. Put SILVER STREAK on and I’ll be on the edge of my seat from start to finish. SILVER STREAK is a movie I’ve seen maybe fifteen times since I first saw in the theater way back in 1976 and I saw it again today on Netflix and laughed just as hard and enjoyed it just as much as I did the first time I saw it.

Before you continue with this review I feel it only fair to warn you that this is the movie with the “shoe polish” scene where Richard Pryor disguises Gene Wilder in blackface in order to get him past FBI agents looking for him. In the context of the movie their actions make perfect sense. However I know the hypersensitive among you don’t give a poobah’s pizzle for context so maybe you should just go to another movie review, okay? But you’ll be cheating yourself out of the scene where Richard Pryor is attempting teach Gene Wilder how to “be black” is among one of the most hilarious in movie history.

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Book editor George Caldwell (Gene Wilder) boards a train called The Silver Streak in Los Angeles to travel to his sister’s wedding in Chicago. Yeah, he could have flown but he’s looking forward to just getting some work done and being bored. His Pullman Porter Ralston (Scatman Crothers) assures him that boredom is exactly what he’ll get. He meets quite a few of his fellow passengers in the club car, including vitamin salesman Bobby Sweet (Ned Beatty) and ends up having dinner with the insanely hot Hildegarde “Hilly” Burns (Jill Clayburgh).

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Their late night rendezvous is interrupted by what George thinks is a dead body falling off the roof of the train past the window of Hilly’s compartment he sees while they’re in her bed. It’s complicated even more by George’s insistence that the man is her boss, Professor Scheriner (Stefan Gierasch) The next day George goes to check on the professor and instead runs into two shady characters, Whiney (Ray Walston) and Reese (Richard Kiel) who throw George off the train. They both work for Roger Deveraux (Patrick McGoohan) an international art dealer whose reputation will be destroyed if Professor Scheriner’s book about Rembrandt is published. Professor Scheriner has his possessesion “The Rembrandt Letters” ancient documents that will authenticate the claims Scheriner has made in public that Deveraux is a fraud.

George manages to get back on The Silver Streak with the help of eccentric crop duster Rita Babtree (Lucille Benson) who flies George to the next stop in her biplane and to his astonishment George sees that Professor Scheriner is not only alive and well but is ace boon coons with Deveraux. Hilly assures him that everything is okay. Well, George is ready to chalk up the whole thing to an alcoholic dream until Bob Sweet reveals that he’s actually FBI Agent Stevens and they’ve been after Deveraux for a year ever since he engineered a plane crash in Germany that killed 100 people just to cover his ass. Then Sweet/Stevens is killed and George is once more forced to jump off the train but when he seeks helps to get back on again it’s with the assistance of professional thief Grover T. Muldoon (Richard Pryor) and here’s where my plot synopsis stops because I cannot believe that after all I’ve told you, you wouldn’t want to see this movie.

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I mean, c’mon. Just look at the cast: Gene Wilder. Richard Pryor. Both at the height of their popularity and creative powers. Jill Clayburgh has never been sexier than she is in this movie. The bad guy is fargin Patrick McGoohan and his henchmen are Ray Walston and Richard Kiel. Ned Beatty. Scatman Crothers. Valarie Curtin, Fred Willard, Lucille Benson, Len Birmen and Clifton James (in a role that just as well might be a cousin to J.W. Pepper from the James Bond movies) all have major and significant supporting roles.

SILVER STREAK is essentially a riff on the Alfred Hitchcock notion of an innocent man getting caught up in a situation way above his head but discovering that he’s got talents and gifts he never knew he had to help him. And Gene Wilder does a really good job of being Cary Grant. While watching this movie today I was struck by two things: I never before noticed how handsome Gene Wilder truly was and how well he wore his clothes. He’s at the center of SILVER STREAK and he makes the movie work by never elevating George Caldwell to to status of superhero. George is a ordinary guy but he rises to whatever challenge he has to meet with strengths he didn’t know he possessed until he had to use them.

As for Richard Pryor…what can I say about Richard Pryor in this movie other than in my list of Top Ten Favorite Richard Pryor Movies SILVER STREAK would be in the Top Five. Just for a scene that he and Gene Wilder have. They’ve stolen a fire-engine red Jaguar and are racing to Kansas City to save Jill Clayburgh from the bad guys. Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor simply talk about the situation they’re in and what they have to do to save her and beat the bad guy while that magnificent Henry Mancini music quietly plays behind their dialog. That scene right there to me is what the magic of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in their movie collaboration was. SILVER STREAK is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Stop reading this review and go watch it.

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114 Minutes

Rated PG

Foxy Brown

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1974

American International Pictures

Written and Directed by Jack Hill

Produced by Buzz Feitshans

Costumes for Pam Grier Created and Designed by Ruthie West

Music Composed, Conducted, Arranged and Produced by Willie Hutch

FOXY BROWN wasn’t the first Pam Grier movie I saw. That would be “The Arena” released that same year. It actually was a couple of years later that I saw FOXY BROWN. Every couple of years you could count on one of the grindhouses on Manhattan’s 42end St. hosting a Pam Grier Double or Triple Feature and that’s when I saw it. Right from the first time I saw it it became for me THE Pam Grier movie. At least until I saw “Jackie Brown” in 1997

But when people ask me which one of Pam Grier’s classic movies from the Blaxploitation Era they should watch first, I always say FOXY BROWN. It was made after “Coffy” which it shares a lot of similarities to and in fact, FOXY BROWN was intended at first to be the sequel to “Coffy” which was a tremendous hit for American International Pictures. But for me, there are scenes in FOXY BROWN which forever stamped Pam Grier as the first female action star and she pulled it off with not only her breathtaking beauty and unbelievably gorgeous body but true acting talent. This is why I think Pam Grier has had such lasting power in the film industry whereas other women, black and white working in the movies at the same period didn’t last. Right from the start Pam Grier had an earthiness, a believability to her performances, no matter the situation her characters were in.

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This is the movie that has the classic scene where Foxy Brown pulls a small automatic pistol right outta an afro wig big enough to make Angela Davis jealous and shoots two bad guys dead.  There’s something about the way Pam does it that makes you buy the scene with no doubt at all. And then there’s the scene where she gets into a brawl in a lesbian bar. It starts with a woman squaring off on Pam, claiming that she’s a karate expert with a black belt. Without batting an eye, Pam snatches up a bar stool and wallops the piss outta her. Pam stands over her downed opponent, throwing the stool over her shoulder, proclaiming; “I got my black belt in bar stool.” Again, the way she delivers the line and her body language more than sells the scene. You easily believe that Pam Grier knocks out lesbians with bar stools all the time.

Foxy Brown has got two men in her life that are both involved in drugs at opposite ends of the spectrum. Her brother Linc (Antonio Fargas) has gotten into deep trouble with a drug syndicate run by Steve Elias (Peter Brown) and Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder). Using a modeling agency as cover they run drugs and use prostitutes to keep local judges, police officials and other public servants off their backs with sexual favors. Michael Anderson (Terry Carter) is a DEA agent who has spent two years in deep cover trying to get the goods on Elias and Kathryn to no avail. Anderson is forced to have plastic surgery to change his appearance and with a new identity and face, he and Foxy make plans to go away and start a new life.

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But Linc figures out who Michael really is and in order to get himself off the hook, rats out Michael who is then killed by the syndicate. Linc is then himself killed by Elias and that sets Foxy off on her roaring rampage of revenge. Foxy infiltrates the drug syndicate by posing as a prostitute. But her true identity is soon found out and that’s when things really get cranked up in more ways than one.

You’ll hear some complain about FOXY BROWN as they don’t like the gratuitous nudity Pam Grier displays throughout the movie and that she’s raped at one point in the movie. They argue that those scenes as well as her posing as a prostitute contribute to the objectification of black women. Is it objectification? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Me, I take FOXY BROWN for what it is: an action adventure revenge yarn where it’s a black woman as the protagonist instead of a white man. And a very satisfying one at that. And it’s one of the true classics of the Blaxploitation Era. There’s a dozen movies that I think should be seen if you call yourself a student or fan of Blaxploitation and FOXY BROWN is definitely one of them.

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What I’ve always loved about her as with most of Pam Grier’s movies, she doesn’t wait for men to rescue her. She rescues herself, such as in the scene where she’s being held captive at a farm which is the drug manufacturing plant for the syndicate. She’s raped, drugged with heroin and still manages to turn the tables on her captors and blow up the farm. She does enlist the help of an all male neighborhood watchdog organization obviously inspired by The Black Panthers but that’s because they’ve got the guns and ammo needed to help her shut down the syndicate. And the scene where she asks the brothers for their help doesn’t rely on her sexiness or vamping the men into helping her. They quite wisely and intelligently ask her what her motivations are and she tells them. They talk as equals.

But in their supporting roles, the men are very good. You can’t ask for better than Antonio Fargas and Terry Carter. They build solid characters in a short amount of time and so we feel for Foxy when they’re killed. I also like how there’s different types of black men in this movie. We don’t just see pimps and pushers. Sid Haig also shows up near the end of the movie and it’s always a blast to see Sid Haig and Pam Grier together in a movie as they’re good friends in real life and it shows on screen. Their chemistry crackles that good.

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While Peter Brown is just your standard generic honky bad guy, I really like Kathryn Loder. She’s got this really strange expression in her eyes and her body language is such that you instantly get that Miss Kathryn may be a criminal genius but she’s got some bad wiring upstairs. Her performance is almost as much fun as Pam’s to watch. They make for well matched opponents.

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If you haven’t seen FOXY BROWN yet then you just oughta. Get yourself FOXY BROWN, “Coffy” (as for all intents and purposes they’re virtually the same character) “Jackie Brown” and make it a Pam Grier Night. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

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 Rated R

94 Minutes

Electra Glide In Blue

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United Artists/MGM

1973

Directed by James William Guercio

Produced by James William Guercio/Rupert Hitzig

Screenplay by Robert Boris

Story by Robert Boris/Rupert Hitzig

You ever see a movie that you watched more than once simply because you can’t figure out if you like it or not? That’s how I feel about ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE. I’ve seen it maybe four or five times over the years. Most recently on the MGM HD Movie Channel after about five years and I’m still as conflicted now as I was the previous times I’ve seen it. And I honestly don’t know why. I like the performances and the story. The cinematography by Conrad Hall is gorgeous. Most of the movie was filmed in Monument Valley where John Ford filmed most of his classic westerns. Director James William Guercio (who was also producer of the band Chicago) calls the movie a modern Western, which is fine by me ‘cause I like Westerns.

It’s one of those movies where a murder kick starts the plot but nobody actually seems very concerned about solving the murder. In the end, Robert Blake’s character figures out who the killer is not through any really brilliant or clever detective work on his part. There just simply aren’t any other suspects. And I suppose my dissatisfaction with the movie is with that ending. 1970s movies were big on nihilistic, downbeat endings that I suppose were meant to symbolize the chaotic futility of life and the meaninglessness of human existence. I dunno. I don’t get that deep. All I know is that I didn’t feel that the Robert Blake character deserved his fate. And maybe that is the point of the movie: that we don’t always get the fate we deserve or want.

Arizona motorcycle police officer John Wintergreen (Robert Blake) is anxious to get off his motorcycle and get transferred to Homicide. As he tells his more easy going partner Zipper (Billy “Green” Bush) being a detective means he gets to wear a suit and having a detective’s badge means that he works a job where he gets to think. Zipper is more than happy to goof off sitting in the shade, reading comic books and harassing the occasional hippie just minding his business driving his psychedelic VW minibus.

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Wintergreen’s big chance comes along when an old desert rat named Willie (the great Elisha Cook, Jr.) reports a suicide. Even though the coroner (Royal Dano) corroborates this, Wintergreen isn’t so sure. The dead man committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest with a shotgun and Wintergreen maintains that a true suicide would have blown his head off cleanly instead of lingering for hours in pain bleeding to death. Wintergreen is backed up by local legend Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan). Poole is the kind of Homicide detective Wintergreen fantasizes about being. Poole is a larger then life presence. Cool and confident, he always wears suits that look brand new, a ten gallon cowboy hat and smokes expensive cigars while seeming to effortlessly solve murders.

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He is overjoyed when Poole, impressed with Wintergreen’s thinking, has Wintergreen transferred to Homicide making him his partner on the case. Now, the case itself really isn’t that hard to work. The complications come from outside the case. Wintergreen and Poole discover that they’re sleeping with the same woman (Jeannine Riley) and Wintergreen has an unshakeable moral center. Earlier in the movie we’ve seen him give a speeding ticket to a Los Angeles detective who is outraged that Wintergreen won’t show him “professional courtesy.” This moral center works against him when dealing with the hippies he and Poole encounter during their investigation as Wintergreen sees no reason why they shouldn’t be treated just like everybody else while Poole treats them like shit because he has a badge and a gun and they don’t.

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Add to that the $5,000 the murder victim had in his shack that disappears and the murder case very quickly gets tangled up in issues that have nothing to do with the case at all. And John Wintergreen quickly learns that getting what you think you want most sometimes doesn’t make you happy at all.

You watch Robert Blake in this and “In Cold Blood” and you realize that he actually is a very gifted actor. He also enjoyed one of the longest careers in Hollywood. He was one of the “Little Rascals” and pretty much worked steadily in film and TV until the late 1990’s, most notably in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.” ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE is more of a character study than a straight-up murder mystery and Wintergreen is an interesting guy. Despite his height (“Did you know that me and Alan Ladd are the same height? Right down to the quarter inch.”) he’s quite the ladies man. There’s a terrific scene where Jeannine Riley as the deliciously slutty Jolene enrages Poole with her drunken bragging about Wintergreen’s sexual stamina.

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Mitchell Ryan turns in a terrifically solid performance as Poole who starts off being worshipped by Wintergreen and ends up being despised by him as the longer Wintergreen works with him the more he sees the man behind the curtain and he doesn’t like that man at all. Billy “Green” Bush is quirky and eccentric as the laid back Zipper who displays an unexpected mean streak when dealing with members of the counter culture.

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If you’ve never seen ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE, it’s well worth your time. It’s an episodic, meandering movie but well made with quirky, watchable performances. Like I said earlier, don’t into it looking for your standard murder mystery. It’s more concerned with examining a police officer whose moral code separates him not only from the counter culture but also from his fellow police officers. It’s a meditative movie that works its money maker off to be more than just a standard cop thriller and it’s an excellent showcase of Robert Blake’s talent as an actor. Enjoy.

114 Minutes

Rated PG

Sugar Hill

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1974

American International Pictures

Directed by Paul Maslansky

Produced by Elliot Schick

Written by Tim Kelly

Here’s the brilliant thing about SUGAR HILL. It’s not just a Blaxplotation movie. It’s a very good one, in fact. And it’s a good horror movie that also merges the revenge movie genre as well. But here’s where SUGAR HILL really takes the cake as it’s also a superhero origin story as well. SUGAR HILL takes four different genres and seamlessly blends them together and makes them work without a hitch or bump.

Diana Hill (Marki Bey) cautions her boyfriend to sell his club to a powerful gangster, Morgan, (Robert Quarry). When the boyfriend refuses, Morgan has him killed. In turn, Diana seeks the assistance of Voodoo Queen Mama Maitresse (Zara Cully). Mama Maitresse invokes Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley) The Lord of The Dead. Baron Samedi is tickled by the arrogance of Diana and agrees to help her, giving her power to raise up zombies to do her bidding. Diana uses the walking dead to gain her revenge on the Morgan and his crew.

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And that’s it. There’s not a whole lot of plot in this movie. Oh, there’s a tease of a subplot with a police detective named Valentine (Richard Lawson) investigating the mysterious murders of Morgan’s gangsters. He gets involved because it seems as if there’s a mysterious tall black man with striking eyes that just happens to be near whenever these guys gets killed. Now see, we know it’s Baron Samedi but Valentine doesn’t.

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Okay, so we got our Blaxploitation and our horror movie and our revenge movie elements. But where does the superhero element come in? Here it is:Whenever we see Diana Hill, she’s got straight processed hair and dressed in regular clothes and speaking in a nice, calm voice. But when she’s in her Sugar Hill, Queen of The Dead mode she’s sporting an Angela Davis ‘fro and wearing a white skintight jumpsuit showing off cleavage that Teresa Graves would be jealous off. And she speaks in a voice that would give Batman pause.

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And by the end of the movie, Baron Samedi passes on a gift to Sugar Hill that bestows upon her his power on Earth. She’s now the Queen of The Dead and can summon them to do her bidding. So there’s our superhero element.

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We’re not going to go into the acting of this movie as there really isn’t anybody to point to as a standout except for Richard Lawson and Don Pedro Colley. The two of them are always standouts in anything the do and they really shine in this one.

So should you see SUGAR HILL? Absolutely. When anybody asks me what Blaxploitation movies they should see, SUGAR HILL is always in the Top Ten. It’s a movie that embraces a lot of genres and it’s simply just a helluva fun movie to watch.

91 Minutes

Rated PG

Billy Jack Goes To Washington

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1977

Taylor-Laughlin

Directed by Tom Laughlin

Produced by Frank Capra, Jr.

Written by Tom Laughlin & Delores Taylor

See, it’s one thing when Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) goes into a two or three minute monologue about how he’s gonna kick ass and takes his time removing his socks and boots before doing so. Given the conventions of an action movie, we go along with it for the purposes of suspending our disbelief for the duration of the time we are willing inhabit this fictional universe. But when we have JEAN ROBERTS (Delores Taylor) also going into the ritual of removing her socks and boots before kicking ass…well, you done lost me.

And don’t get me wrong. We have seen in the previous movie; “The Trial of Billy Jack” that Jean has been studying hapkido under the tutelage of Bong Soo Han himself, renowned as the ‘Father of Hapkido.’ So I would expect that between that movie and this she has achieved a level of proficiency where she can certainly handle herself if attacked. But removing off her socks and boots while her opponents, all of them trained CIA killers who have knives in their hands assigned to kill her but patiently wait for her to get herself ready to beat their asses…nah.

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But then again, this isn’t the first improbable thing that BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON wants us to accept. For many years this was the red-headed stepchild of the “Billy Jack” franchise. It only had a very limited theatrical release and really has only enjoyed a wide viewing availability on DVD and via cable/satellite channels such as The Sony Movie Channel which is where I saw it. And for good reason. Whereas “Billy Jack” is a supremely good movie to watch and “The Trial of Billy Jack” is worth watching if you know what you’re getting into, BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON is worth forgetting.

Through a series of events that are far too complicated for me to relate here in this review as I try and hold them down to a thousand words or less, Billy Jack is appointed a United States Senator to fill out the term of a Senator that has died. Billy Jack quickly decides to use his new found power to propose a bill to fund a national youth camp. Unfortunately for him that land has already been earmarked by the D.C. power elite for a nuclear power plant. Billy Jack counts on the help of an old family friend, Senator Joseph Paine (E.G. Marshall) to achieve this goal but Paine is under the control of Mr. Bailey (Sam Wanamaker) who holds no political office but does hold the balls of Senators and Congressmen in his pocket.

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Billy Jack refuses to play political ball and decides to take to the Senate floor to get his message out. In a stirring filibuster in which we see that Tom Laughlin tries his best to invoke the spirit of Jimmy Stewart and grab an Academy Award attempts to save his youth camp and expose the evils of Big Corporation.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I fully understand that all of Tom Laughlin’s Billy Jack movies are his platform for his political views. And in the case of “Billy Jack” and even “The Trial of Billy Jack” I appreciate and understand what he did. Especially in the the case of “Billy Jack” which is a pretty damn good movie when taken on its own terms.  But this movie? MEH.

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My recommendation? Watch “Born Losers” “Billy Jack” and “The Trial of Billy Jack” and leave it at that. There’s an excellent reason why BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON was unseen for many years and it’s the best reason of all. It’s not a good movie. Even though it boasts A-List actors such as E.G. Marshall, Sam Wanamaker and Pat O’Brien it also give the spotlight to Lucie Arnaz. And in this movie she demonstrates that she has neither the looks nor talent of her parents and we can easily see why she never had a career to equal theirs.

But Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor are always watchable. They are these characters and that gives them a reality that’s worth watching. I did enjoy seeing Teresa Laughlin as Carol as I like seeing how that character has grown and developed from a folk-song singing kid in “Billy Jack” to being Jean’s unofficial second-in-command to the point that there are a couple of times in the movie where Billy Jack asks for her opinion instead of Jean’s.

But I can’t recommend BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON as entertainment unless you seen all the other “Billy Jack” movies and just want to complete the series. It’s too blatant an attempt to cram the political views of Laughlin and Taylor into their fiction and I can’t endorse the movie as entertainment.

155 Minutes

NR

 

The Trial of Billy Jack

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1974

Taylor-Laughlin/Warner Bros.

Directed by Tom Laughlin

Produced by Joe Cramer

Written by Frank Christina and Teresa Christina

There’s a couple of great fight scenes that are equal to the ice cream parlor and battle in the park scenes in the first “Billy Jack.” One of the fight scenes even has the Great Great Man Bong Soo Han backing up Billy Jack as he takes on a new Posner (the one from the first movie went crazy behind his son being killed so this is his brother giving Billy Jack grief in this one.) But you got to wait a long time for those fight scenes as THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK is a whopping three hours long, a rarity during the 1970s. Movies just weren’t that long as theaters preferred movies with a running time of 90 minutes or so because that meant they could get in as many showings as possible in a business day and sell more popcorn.

And THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK tries to take on a whole lot for one movie. We get statements on the My Lai massacre (in a flashback we see that Billy Jack was involved in a similar incident) Native American mysticism, militant homegrown terrorism as a form of political protest, the pros and cons of investigative reporting, child abuse, counter-culture lifestyles, illegal government surveillance on private citizens. On one hand, THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK can be applauded for even attempting to address so many social issues in the form of an action movie. But on the other hand it also tries to take on too much and as a result at the end of its running time the movie ends up being a mess that in its effort to say so much about so many issues that we’re not sure which cause we should be for.

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Thanks to Billy Jack’s deal at the end of “Billy Jack” The Freedom School has grown and flourished. In fact, some of the best scenes in this movie belong to Delores Taylor as Jean Roberts. She founded The Freedom School but its grown way past what she wanted it to be and it’s now out of her hands as her students are now in charge of the school and see her more as an impediment than an ally. There’s a terrific scene she has where she finally gets pissed off, throws a chair into the crowd and tells the students that goddamn it, she built this school and they’re going to listen to what she has to say.

A lot of the problems besieging the school comes from their hosting hearings on corporate abuse of the Native American tribal land The Freedom School is built on. Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin) gets involved after he’s released from jail (he served time for killing Bernard Posner in the first movie) on behalf of the Native Americans once they find out that their land has been sold out from under them by their corrupt tribal chiefs to mining corporations.

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See? Told you it was a lotta plot. Throw into that Billy Jack’s undergoing an ancient Navajo ritual so that he can confront his violent side and an ending that blatantly references the Kent State shootings…and yeah, you can understand why this thing is three hours long.

If you read my review of “Billy Jack” then you know that I advised you watch that movie as it was a time capsule of issues confronting American culture at that time that “Billy Jack” addressed. It’s the same with THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK. Its political propaganda agenda is even more blatant than “Billy Jack” which at least tried to give us the beard of an action movie plot. THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK doesn’t even bother to do that. And I have to admit, the ending where we see the unarmed students of The Freedom School, including Jean brutally shot down by The National Guard is a horrifically disturbing scene that makes its point. As well as the action taken by some of the National Guardsmen and Navajo tribesmen following the shooting.

Now, don’t get me wrong…I recommend THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK. There’s a lot to like. I continue to love the relationship between Billy Jack and Jean Roberts. And since Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor were married at the time this was made I’m sure that had a lot to do with their chemistry. I appreciate and applaud Tom Laughlin’s respect for Native American traditions and culture and how he has it depicted by Native Americans. I like how we see that after her rape in “Billy Jack” Jean has taken up studying hapkido herself. Pacifist she may be but fool she ain’t. I like how we’ve seen that Carol (Teresa Kelly) has grown up into a capable and mature young woman and become Jean’s de facto second-in-command. Tom Laughlin gets another one of his great slow burn scenes where he actually asks permission from a 6 foot 9 inch bully to kick his ass.

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So should you see THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK? Okay, here’s the deal…it’s actually not necessary unless after seeing “Billy Jack” you’re really committed to seeing how the story of Billy Jack, Jean and The Freedom School plays out. I myself like it because as I said about “Billy Jack” it’s a fictional representation of real life events, concerns and issues that were indeed playing out in our country at the time. It’s not family friendly Friday or Saturday night viewing but it is worth seeing at least once.

 

2 hrs 50 minutes

Rated PG

Billy Jack

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1971

National Student Film Corporation/Warner Bros.

Directed by T.C. Frank

Produced by Mary Rose Solti

Written by Frank Christina and Theresa Christina

Don’t get me wrong…I do understand why modern day movie fans who weren’t even a glimmer in the eyes of their parents back in 1971 have a hard time understanding why this movie was such a massive hit back then. I do understand why they call the movie “corny” and “cheesy” (and that is the absolute first and last time you’ll see that hated word used here). They don’t understand because they weren’t there

BILLY JACK was made during a time of extreme turbulence in American culture. We were in the middle of the civil rights movement, Native American rights movement, protests against the Vietnam War. The youth of our country embraced the counter-culture (“Hippie”) anti-government/anti-authority philosophy of the movie’s main characters. In addition, the movie has a strong theme of pacifism (embodied in the character of Jean Roberts) vs. the use of violence to defend one’s self and one’s beliefs (as embodied in the character of Billy Jack)  The bottom line is that if you weren’t there, I can understand why BILLY JACK wouldn’t resonate with you. But it’s a movie I highly recommend that you see. If you’ve been reading my reviews then you know that I always recommend movies made in earlier times as time capsules of what was going on in America at the time they were made. And BILLY JACK does indeed have a lot to say about what was going on in 1970s America.

Billy Jack (Tom Laughin) is the self-appointed protector of The Freedom School and the Navajo land it is built on. Billy Jack is more than qualified for the job, being a decorated Green Beret veteran of the Vietnam War and a master of the martial art of hapkido. Billy Jack protects the wild mustangs of the land against local rich fat cat Stuart Posner (Bert Freed) who hunts them and sells the meat to dog food companies and The Freedom School against the nearby townspeople who just don’t like them damn dirty hippies.

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A young runaway girl named Barbara (Julie Webb) returns home, pregnant and mean as barbed wire. Her father (Kenneth Tobey) beats her nearly to death after she taunts him that she has no idea if the father is black, white or Indian. Sheriff Cole (Clark Howat) pleads with Billy Jack to take the girl to The Freedom School, a progressively innovative school that doesn’t follow traditional methods of teaching. The school is run by Jean Roberts (Delores Taylor) who is a dedicated pacifist and is always trying to get Billy Jack to use non-violent methods to resolve his disputes with Posner. Billy Jack takes Barbara to the school and while Jean civilizes her, Billy Jack’s war against Posner and his son, Bernard (David Roya) escalates. It doesn’t help that the elder Posner uses Barbara being at The Freedom School for his advantage.

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Now, so far I’ve been going on about BILLY JACK’s cultural value. But it’s also a pretty damn good entertaining movie. The scene where Billy Jack beats up Bernard Posner and his boy in an ice cream parlor is a classic. And rightfully so because Tom Laughlin takes about three minutes to do a slow burn that is unmatched in film history. And there’s a scene after that where Billy Jack has to take on about a dozen opponents that is quite realistic. His enemies rush at him in a mob instead of attacking one at a time and so Billy Jack has to keep moving. He’s not a one-man army and is eventually overwhelmed. Billy Jack doesn’t beat every ass in sight and to me, this contributed to the character. And there are several discussions between Billy Jack and Jean where they argue about pacifism vs. violence that made me think and if you see this movie I highly suspect they’ll make you think as well.

And speaking of the character of Billy Jack, I read every once in a while about this movie being remade and it simply can’t. Tom Laughlin was Billy Jack and that is apparent in every minute he’s on camera. He and his wife Delores Taylor made the Billy Jack movies not for money but for spiritual and political beliefs that they felt very deeply and those beliefs come across in their performances. These were movies made at a specific time in American history and unless a remake is going to deal with current issues as fearlessly as BILLY JACK did about the issues back then, there’s no point in remaking it. We’d just end up with a generic action movie and don’t we have enough of those already?

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So should you see BILLY JACK? Absolutely. While the politics and philosophies espoused in the movie may seem to be questionable now, mind you that they were indeed politics and philosophies that were important and discussed in that day. The performances of Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor are honest to their characters and that’s all I can ask for. BILLY JACK is a movie that knows exactly what it wants to be and does it in exactly the best way it can and that’s good enough for me.

114 Minutes

Rated PG