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8/26/18 & 9/2/18 Episodes 116 & 117: The Trial of Billy Jack (1974)



Listen to the Let's Watch A Full-Length Movie on YouTube podcast and watch The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), embedded above, at the same time. Start with the podcast. Click here to launch the podcast in separate browser tab. Subsequent podcast covers second half of movie, note: sound quality is poor.

Only the 70s generation, a.k.a. Carl's and my babysitters, remember the once insanely popular Billy Jack movies, which were produced, written and starring husband and wife team Tom Laughlin and Dolores Taylor. Lauglin and Taylor also self-distributed their films, by releasing it in thousands of theaters at once and advertising it everywhere. The movies delve into the paradoxical existence of peaceful warrior Billy Jack (Laughlin), who thrives for peace by kicking ass. Billy Jack's both sides of the coin, baby, famously part-Native American, part-smug white guy; a Green Beret Vietnam veteran now running the Freedom School in Arizona; a pacifist who's also a master of Hapkido fighting. The sequel to Billy Jack (1971), The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) - actually the third film appearance for the character - is a confounding pop culture lead balloon still waiting to be rediscovered by bad movie fans and Steven Seagal haters alike (more on Seagal later).

How confounding? Well, the namesake trial happens at the start of the film, Billy gets sentenced for his actions from the last movie. Billy serves time, then returns back to the school. That's only the first 20 minutes of this two hour and fifty-three minute movie sequel (take that, Godfather, Part II). School has its own television studio as well as outdoor Hapkido training. Student journalists muck rake using their own invention, a lie detector. 

There's a shooting at the Freedom School, but, being forty years ago, the suspect wasn't a student or lone nut, but the National Guard. Other drama comes from corrupt sheriffs and actual town hall meetings from the Indian community. Apparently then 18-year-old son Frank Laughlin directed The Trial, and not his dad, and, if so, great aerial shots! Daughter Teresa also acts and plays the guitar.

Strange bird, this movie, but let me blunt: Steven Seagal ripped off Laughlin. Their movie personas are the same. Both are martial arts experts (aikido for Seagal), both only assault when provoked, so both act like sneering righteous pricks, promoting peace while waiting for the moment to swiftly assault their opponents. Both use their movies to promote social causes while providing punchy-punchy scenes for their fans. 

I heard the next sequel, Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977), is even better. Laughlin set up his own YouTube channel before passing away in 2013. Some videos have him discussing film are worth the watch. Delores Taylor just passed away earlier this year. RIP both.

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