Horror Film Review: Single White Female (dir by Barbet Schroeder)


Allie Jones (Bridget Fonda) is an always fashionable software designer who is living in New York City and who has just broken up with her cheating lover, Sam (Steven Weber).  She has pretty hair, a big apartment, a closet full of nice clothes, and a totally devoted gay best friend.

Hedra Carlson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is shy and socially awkward and in need of someone who will give her a cute nickname like “Hedy.”  She has pretty hair that’s just slightly less pretty than Allie’s, a job at a bookstore, a dead twin sister, a pair of really nice earrings, and a television that only seems to show old black-and-white movies.

Together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

No, actually, they don’t.  Instead, Hedy answers an ad that Allie placed about needing a new roommate.  Even though Allie was thinking of asking another homeless woman to move in with her, Hedy impresses Allie by fixing her sink.  Seriously, how can you turn down a potential roommate who knows how to do simple plumbing?  Allie invited Hedy to live with her and, at first, everything is great.  Hedy even brings home a dog that Allie quickly falls in love with.  However, then Sam shows back up and we quickly discover just how obsessed Hedy has become with her roommate.

Single White Female was originally released way back in 1992 and, even if you’re viewing it for the very first time, you’ll probably feel a sense of deja vu while watching the movie.  This is one of those films that has been so endlessly imitated and has been unofficially remade so many times that you probably already know everything that happens in the film, regardless of whether you’ve actually sat through it or not.  A few years ago, there was a film called The Roommate that basically was Single White Female, just with a college setting and a bit less of a subversive subtext.  As well, I’ve lost count of the number of Lifetime films that have basically ripped off Single White Female‘s plot.  Any time that a new friend proves herself to be excessively clingy, chances are that she’s going to get compared to Jennifer Jason Leigh in this film.

 

And yet, despite all of the imitations, Single White Female still holds up surprisingly well.  A lot of that is because Single White Female was directed by Barbert Schroeder.  Schroeder started his career as a disciple of the French New Wave and, much like Paul Verhoeven, his American films tend to be genre films with just enough of a subversive subtext to stick in your mind afterwards.

For example, Single White Female is often describes as being a film about “the roommate from Hell” but what always seems to be missed is that, especially during the film’s first half, Allie is often as bad of a roommate as Hedy.  For instance, when Allie comes home late after spending two days with Sam, Hedy is pissed off and waiting for her.  On the surface, the scene is the first indication that Hedy has become obsessed with Allie.  But, at the same time, Hedy actually is making a valid point.  After repeatedly telling Hedy that she wants nothing to do with Sam, Allie runs off and spends two days with him without bothering to call home once.  Though Hedy may have been a bit too quick to yell, she still had every right to be annoyed.

In fact, Allie really is a bit of self-centered character.  She impulsively invited Hedy to live with her and then, just as impulsively, she gets back together with Sam and decides that it’s time for Hedy to move out.  Of course, then Hedy tosses a dog out of a window and you pretty much lose whatever sympathy you may have had for her.

Still, you can’t help but feel that, just as Hedy wants to be Allie, there’s a part of Allie that would like to be Hedy.  Hedy does all the things that Allie’s scared to do.  When Allie is sexually harassed and nearly raped by a client, Hedy’s the one who actually gets revenge.  While Allie tries to get over and suppress her anger at Sam, Hedy’s the one who acts on that anger.  Just Hedy seems to need Allie’s life to be happy, Allie seems to need Hedy’s anger to survive.  In short, there’s a lot more going on underneath the surface of Single White Female than its reputation might lead you to presume.

Not surprisingly, the film is dominated by Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance.  When Hedy first appears, Leigh plays her as just being slightly off.  She has some obvious confidence issues but, at the same time, she comes across as being so innocent and naive that you can’t help but want to protect her.  You find yourself wondering how she could have possibly survived living in a city like New York.  It’s only as the film progresses that you start to discover that Hedy was never particularly naive and everything that she’s done and said has basically been about manipulating the people around her.  And yet, even after Hedy has started killing dogs and people, you can’t help but feel a strange empathy (though not necessarily sympathy) for her.  There’s an emptiness to Hedy, an emptiness that she attempts to fill by stealing the personalities of the people around her and Leigh does a great job of expressing the pain that would come from not having an identity of your own.  Plus, poor Hedy just seemed so happy with Allie said that she liked her earrings!  I mean, I just can’t imagine being that insecure but I get the feeling it would really suck.

(Fortunately, I’ve also never really had a truly bad roommate situation.  One advantage of having three older sisters is knowing that you’ll always have someone to stay with.)

Despite all of the imitations and rip-offs that have come out over the years, both Single White Female and Jennifer Jason Leigh’s performance hold up remarkably well.  I’d recommend watching it before inviting anyone to come live with you.  If nothing else, you’ll at least learn what stiletto heels are really for.

 

The Conquering Hero: Baby Blue Marine (1976, directed by John D. Hancock)


The year is 1943 and America is at war.  All young men are expected to join the Marines and fight for their country but the Corps is not willing to accept just anyone.  Marion (Jan-Michael Vincent) wants to continue a family tradition of service but, as his drill sergeant (Michael Conrad) puts it, Marion just is not pissed off enough to be a Marine.  Marion is kicked out basic training and told to go home.  He is given a blue uniform to wear on his jury so that anyone who sees him will know that he couldn’t cut it.

Ashamed of his failure and in no hurry to confront his family, Marion takes the long route home.   While having a drink in California, he meets a Marine (Richard Gere) who did not get kicked out of basic training.  Though not yet 30, this shell-shocked Marine already has a head of gray hair, which he says he got from the horrors of war.  The Marine is due to return to the fighting in Europe but, upon meeting Marion, he sees a way out. When Marion gets drunk, the Marine knocks him out, switches uniforms with him, and goes AWOL.

When Marion comes to, he discovers that everyone that he meets now judges him by his new uniform.  Strangers buy him drinks.  Other servicemen try to pick fights with him.  When he stops off in a small Colorado town, a local waitress (Glynnis O’Connor) falls in love with him and nearly everyone that he meets assumes that he must be a hero.  Marion doesn’t exactly lie about his past.  Instead, he simply allows people to believe whatever they want to believe about him.  It seems like an idyllic situation until three prisoners from a nearby Japanese internment camp escape and the towns people expect Marion to help capture them.

Loosely plotted and sentimental, Baby Blue Marine is a dramatic version of Preston Sturges’s Hail The Conquering Hero.  Though the film has a gentle anti-war message, it’s actually more about nostalgia for a simpler and more innocent time.  If the film had been made at height of the Vietnam War, it might have been more angrier and more cynical.  But, instead, this is one of the many post-Watergate films that wistfully looked back upon the past.  When Marion settles into the town, he finds what appears to be a perfect and friendly home.  Only the nearby internment camp and the town’s hysteria over the escape prisoners serve as reminders that things are never as ideal as they seem.  Jan-Michael Vincent gives one of his best performances as the well-meaning Marion and actors like Richard Gere, Bert Remsen, Katherine Helmond, Dana Elcar, Michael Conrad, Bruno Kirby, and Art Lund all make strong impressions in small roles.

One of the few films to be produced by television mogul Aaron Spelling, Baby Blue Marine is not easy to find but worth the search.

Horror Film Review: The Vampire (dir by Paul Landres)


Headaches are a bitch!

And if you didn’t already know that, you will know it after watching the 1957 film, The Vampire.

Like many films of this kind, The Vampire starts with death.

Actually, I take that back.  Technically, it’s true but it’s also little bit too melodramatic.  And, to be honest, The Vampire starts with a 14 year-old boy, who is very much alive, riding his bicycle down the street of Anytown USA.  He has a box with him, one that has air holes.  On the back of his bike, a cardboard sign reads: “Bobs Pet Zoo!  If Its Alive We Got It!”  Apparently, the kid is smart enough to run his own zoo but not smart enough to know when to use an apostrophe.

Anyway, the kid comes up to a creepy old house, one that looks somewhat out of place in the otherwise pristine suburban neighborhood.  Originally, I thought that maybe Pennywise lived in the house but then I reminded myself that The Vampire was made decades before It.  Instead, the house belongs to Dr. Campbell, a scientist who is doing experiments with blood and who needs a never-ending supply of animal test subjects.  (Boooooo!  Animal testing!  Hiss!)  Apparently, the kid keeps Dr. Campbell supplied with animals.  When the kid enters the house, Dr. Campbell is nowhere to be seen.  It’s not until the kid enters the laboratory that he discovers Campbell, dead and slumped over his desk.

As news spreads of Campbell’s death, his friend, Dr. Paul Beecher (John Beal), searches through Campbell’s belongings and he comes across a mysterious bottle of pills, which he promptly takes home with him.  Dr. Beecher is kindly doctor, the type that we all wish we could deal with whenever we had to go in for a check up.  However, he suffers from terrible migraines.  That night, when he’s literally blinded with a headache, he asks his daughter to get him his pills.  She retrieves a bottle of pills but guess what?  They’re the wrong pills!  They’re not headache pills!  Instead, they’re Dr. Campbell’s vampirism pills!

The pills cause Beecher to blaxk out.  Whenever he comes to, he never has any memory of what he may or may not have done while he was out.  However, strange things are happening to his friends and his patients.  One of his longtime patients dies of fright when he comes by her house.  On her neck, he finds two puncture wounds…

So, it’s not a spoiler for me to tell you that Dr. Beecher has been transformed into a vampire.  And I know what you’re thinking.  Why doesn’t he just stop taking the pills?  The simplest answer is that the pills are addictive.  The more complex answer is that he doesn’t want to.  The pills have brought out his dark side and, now that it’s free, it’s not planning on going anywhere.

In a strange way, The Vampire reminded me of Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life.  In Bigger Than Life, James Mason plays a gentle and good-hearted professor who, after taking steroids, turns into a monster who dreams of creating a master race.  Bigger Than Life was unsettling for the exact same reason that The Vampire is unsettling.  Both suggest that the pills didn’t turn their user into a monster.  Instead, the pills just allowed his true self to come out.

The Vampire was a low-budget film, a B-movie as many would probably call it.  The musical score is overly melodramatic and so are some of the actors.  But I would say that The Vampire is actually a bit of a subversive masterpiece.  This 1957 film suggests that behind the pristine facade of suburbia, there lurked monsters.  Even an outwardly successful and respected man like Dr. Beecher can turn into something totally different behind closed doors, this film is saying.  That’s a message that it as relevant today as it was when this film was first released.  In its own way, The Vampire is a brilliant and important movie.

Horror Film Review: Strange Invaders (dir by Michael Laughlin)


In 1983, two years after the release of Strange Behavior, director Michael Laughlin and Bill Condon teamed up for another “strange” film.  Like their previous collaboration, this film was a combination of horror, science fiction, and satire.

The title of their latest collaboration?

Strange Invaders.

Strange Invaders opens in the 1950s, in a small, all-American town in Illinois.  Innocent children play in the street.  Clean-cut men stop off at the local diner and talk to the waitress (Fiona Lewis, the scientist from Strange Behavior).  Two teenagers (played by the stars of Strange Behavior, Dan Shor and Dey Young) sit in a car and listen to forbidden rock’n’roll music.  A lengthy title crawl informs us that, in the 1950s, Americans were happy and they were only worried about three things: communists, Elvis, and UFOs.  On schedule, a gigantic UFO suddenly appears over the town.

Twenty-five years later, mild-mannered Prof. Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat) teaches at a university and wonders just what exactly is going on with his ex-wife, Margaret (Diana Scarwid).  In order to attend her mother’s funeral, Margaret returned to the small Illinois town where she grew up.  When she doesn’t return, Charles decides to go to the town himself.  However, once he arrives, he discovers that the town appears to still be stuck in the 50s.  The townspeople are all polite but strangely unemotional and secretive.  Charles immediately suspects that something strange is happening.  When the towns people suddenly start shooting laser beams from their eyes, Charles realizes that they must be aliens!

Fleeing from the town, Charles checks all the newspapers for any reports of an alien invasion.  The only story he finds is in a cheap tabloid, The National Informer.  The author of the story, Betty Walker (Nancy Allen), claims that she just made the story up but Charles is convinced that she may have accidentally told the truth.  At first, Betty dismisses Charles as being crazy.  But then she’s visited by an Avon lady who looks just like the waitress from the small town and who can shoot laser beams.

Teaming up, Charles and Betty investigate the aliens and try to figure out just what exactly they’re doing on Earth.  It’s an investigation that leads them to not only a shadowy government operative (Louise Fletcher) but also a man (Michael Lerner) who claims that, years ago, he helplessly watched as his family was destroyed by aliens.

Like Strange Behavior, Strange Invaders is a … well, a strange film.  I have to admit that I prefer Behavior to Invaders.  The satire in Strange Invaders is a bit too heavy-handed and Paul Le Mat is not as strong a lead as Michael Murphy was in the first film.  I was a lot more impressed with Nancy Allen’s performance, if just because I related to both her skepticism and her sudden excitement to discover that her fake news might actually be real news.  I also liked Micheal Lerner, so much so that I almost wish that he and Le Mat had switched roles.  Finally, I have to say that Diana Scarwid’s performance was so bizarre that I’m not sure if she was brilliant or if she was terrible.  For her character, that worked well.

Strange Invaders gets better as it goes along.  At the start of the film, there are some parts that drag but the finale is genuinely exciting and clever.  If the film starts as a parody of 1950s alien invasion films, it ends as a satire of Spielbergian positivity.  It’s an uneven film but, ultimately, worth the time to watch.

 

The Legend of BILLY JACK Continues! (National Student film Co 1971, re-released by Warner Brothers 1973)


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When last we saw Billy Jack, he was dismantling a brood of outlaw bikers in BORN LOSERS . This time around, he’s taking on a whole town’s worth of rednecks as Tom Laughlin’s half-breed ex-Green Beret returns in BILLY JACK, the wildly popular film that combines action with social commentary, and helped kick off the martial arts craze of the 70’s.

BILLY JACK almost never saw the light of day, as Laughlin’s financing was shut off by American-International Pictures. 20th Century-Fox then picked it up, but didn’t think it deserved to be released, so Laughlin went the indie route, under the banner of National Student Film Co. in 1971. Poor distribution and poor reviews caused the film to tank, but the good folks at Warner Brothers saw something in it, and gave it a national release two years later. Young audiences of the day flocked to it in droves, cheering as Billy Jack…

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Creature Double Feature 2: IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA and 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (Columbia, 1955 & 1957)


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Let’s return to those thrilling days of yore before CGI and enter the wonder-filled world of Special Effects legend Ray Harryhausen! I’ve covered some of Harryhausen’s fantastic work before (ONE MILLION YEARS BC EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS THE VALLEY OF GWANGI ), and most of you regular readers know of my affection for his stop-motion wizardry. So without further ado, let’s dive right into IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA.

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An atomic submarine picks up a mysterious large object on its sonar. The sub’s hit hard, and radiation is detected in the surrounding area. The damaged sub is taken to Pearl Harbor for repairs, and a substance found on it is determined to be from a “living creature” by eminent scientist Dr. John Carter (Donald Curtis) and beautiful marine biologist Prof. Leslie Joyce (Faith Domergue ). Sub Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Tobey ) and Leslie immediately butt heads…

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Devil in Disguise: ANGEL FACE (RKO 1952)


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I saved ANGEL FACE for last in this week’s look at RKO/Robert Mitchum films because it’s been  hailed as a near-classic by many film noir fans. It’s certainly different from HIS KIND OF WOMAN and MACAO; much darker in tone, and features an unsympathetic performance by Mitchum. It’s more in the noir tradition of bleak films like DETOUR and BORN TO KILL. But better than the other two? That depends on your point of view. Let’s take a look:

An ambulance screams its way to the Tremayne home in ritzy Beverly Hills. The wealthy Mrs. Catherine Tremayne has been subjected to a gas leak of unknown origin. One of the ambulance drivers, Frank Jessup, comes across beautiful Diane playing the piano. She bursts into hysterics, and Frank smacks her, receiving one in return.  After she calms down, Frank and his partner Bill head home. Frank has a date with his girl Mary…

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Embracing the Melodrama Part II #46: Walking Tall (dir by Phil Karlson)


Walking_Tall_(1973_film)About 50 minutes into the 1973 film Walking Tall (not to be confused with the 2005 version that starred Dwayne Johnson), there’s a scene in which newly elected sheriff Buford Pusser (Joe Don Baker) gives a speech to his deputies.  As the deputies stand at attention and as Pusser announces that he’s not going to tolerate any of his men taking bribes from the Dixie Mafia, the observant viewer will notice something out-of-place about the scene.

Hovering directly above Baker’s head is a big, black, almost phallic boom mic.  It stays up there throughout the entire scene, a sudden and unexpected reminder that — though the film opens with a message that we’re about to see the true story of “an American hero” and though it was filmed on location in rural Tennessee — Walking Tall is ultimately a movie.

And yet, somehow, that phallic boom mic feels oddly appropriate.  First off, Walking Tall is an almost deliberately messy film.  That boom mic tells us that Walking Tall was not a slick studio production.  Instead, much like Phil Karlson’s previous The Phenix City Story, it was a low-budget and violent film that was filmed on location in the south, miles away from the corrupting influence of mainstream, yankee-dominated Hollywood.  Secondly, the phallic implications of the boom mic erases any doubt that Walking Tall is a film about men doing manly things, like shooting each other and beating people up.  Buford does have a wife (Elizabeth Hartman) who begs him to avoid violence and set a good example of his children.  However, she eventually gets shot in the back of the head, which frees Buford up to kill.

As I said earlier, Walking Tall opens with a message telling us that we’re about to watch a true story.  Buford Pusser is a former football player and professional wrestler who, after retiring, returns to his hometown in Tennessee.  He quickly discovers that his town is controlled by criminals and moonshiners.  When he goes to a local bar called The Lucky Spot, he is unlucky enough to discover that the bar’s patrons cheat at cards.  Buford is nearly beaten to death and dumped on the side of the road.  As Buford begs for help, several motorists slow down to stare at him before then driving on.

Obviously, if anyone’s going to change this town, it’s going to have to be Buford Pusser.

Once he recovers from his beating, Buford makes himself a wooden club and then goes back to the Lucky Spot.  After beating everyone up with his club, Buford takes back the money that he lost while playing cards and $50.00 to cover his medical bills.  When Buford is put on trial for armed robbery, he takes the stand, rips off his shirt, and shows the jury his scars.  Buford is acquitted.

Over his wife’s objections, Buford decides to run for sheriff.  The old sheriff, not appreciating the competition, attempts to assassinate Buford but, instead, ends up dying himself.  Buford is charged with murder.  Buford is acquitted.  Buford is elected sheriff.  Buford sets out to clean up his little section of Tennessee.  Violence follows…

On the one hand, it’s easy to be snarky about a film like Walking Tall.  This is one of those films that operates on a strictly black-and-white world view.  Anyone who supports Buford is good.  Anyone who opposes Buford is totally evil.  Buford is a redneck saint.  It’s a film fueled by testosterone and it’s not at all subtle…

But dangit, I liked Walking Tall.  It’s a bit like a right-wing version of Billy Jack, in that it’s so sincere that you can forgive the film’s technical faults and frequent lapses in logic.  Walking Tall was filmed on location in Tennessee and director Phil Karlson makes good use of the rural locations.  And, most importantly, Joe Don Baker was the perfect actor to play Buford Pusser.  As played by Baker, Pusser is something of renaissance redneck.  He’s a smart family man who knows how to kick ass and how to make his own weapons.  What more could you ask for out of a small town sheriff?

In real life, Buford Pusser died in a mysterious car accident shortly after the release of Walking Tall.  Cinematically, the character of Buford Pusser went on to star in two more films.

Shattered Politics #30: The Candidate (dir by Michael Ritchie)


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“What do we do now?” — Democratic senate candidate Bill McKay (Robert Redford) in The Candidate (1972)

When I reviewed Advise & Consent, I mentioned that if anyone could prevent billionaire Tom Steyer from winning the Democratic nomination to run in the 2016 California U.S. Senate election, it would be Betty White.  Well, earlier today, Tom Steyer announced that he would NOT be a candidate.  You can guess what that means.  Betty White has obviously already started to set up her campaign organization in California and, realizing that there was no way that he could possibly beat her, Tom Steyer obviously decided to step aside.

So, congratulations to Betty White!  (I would probably never vote for her but I don’t live in California so it doesn’t matter.)  As future U.S. Senator Betty White prepares for the next phase of her career, it would probably be a good idea for her to watch a few movies about what it takes to win political office in the United States.

For example: 1972’s The Candidate.

The Candidate would especially be a good pick for the nascent Betty White senate campaign because the film is actually about a senate election in California!  California’s  U.S. Sen. Crocker Jarmon (Don Porter) is a Republican who everyone assumes cannot be defeated for reelection.  Democratic strategist Marvin Lucas (a heavily bearded Peter Boyle) is tasked with finding a sacrificial candidate.

The one that Marvin comes up with is Bill McKay (Robert Redford, before his face got all leathery), a 34 year-old lawyer who also happens to be the estranged son of former Governor John J. McKay (Melvyn Douglas, whose wife Helen ran for one of California’s senate seats in 1950).  As opposed to his pragmatic and ruthless father, Bill is idealistic and the only reason that he agrees to run for the Senate is because Marvin promises him that he’ll be able to say whatever he wants.  Marvin assures Bill that Jarmon cannot be beaten but if Bill runs a credible campaign, he’ll be able to run for another office in the future.

However, Jarmon turns out to be a weaker candidate than everyone assumed.  As the charismatic Bill starts to close the gap between himself and Jarmon, he also starts to lose control of his campaign.  He soon finds himself moderating his positions and worrying more about alienating potential voters than stating his true opinions.  (In one of the film’s best scenes, Bill scornfully mutters his standard and generic campaign speech to himself, obviously disgusted with the vapid words that he has to utter in order to be elected.)  The film ends on a properly downbeat note, one that reminds you that the film was made in the 70s but also remains just as relevant and thought-provoking in 2015.

Written by a former political speech writer and directed, in a semi-documentary style, by Michael Ritchie, The Candidate is an excellent film that answer the question as to why all political campaigns and politicians seem to be the same.  The Candidate is full of small details that give the film an air of authenticity even when a familiar face like Robert Redford is on screen.

Whenever I watch The Candidate, I find myself wondering what happened to Bill McKay after the film’s iconic final scene.  Did he ever regain his idealism or did he continue on the path to just becoming another politician.  As much as we’d all like to think that the former is true, it’s actually probably the latter.

That just seems to be the way that things go.

Hopefully, Betty White will learn from Bill McKay’s example.

Shattered Politics #29: Billy Jack (dir by Tom Laughlin)


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“Go ahead and hate your neighbor; go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven; you can justify it in the end.
There won’t be any trumpets blowin’ come the judgment day
On the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away”

— From One Tin Soldier, the theme song of Billy Jack (1971)

Yesterday, we took a look at The Born Losers, the first film to ever feature the character of future U.S. Senator Billy Jack.  The Born Losers ended with former Green Beret-turned-gun-toting-pacifist Billy Jack (played, of course, by Tom Laughlin) saving the girl, killing the bad guy, and getting shot in the back by the police.  As Born Losers ended, we were left to wonder whether Billy would survive his wounds or would he just be another victim of the establishment.

Well, audiences had to wait five years to find out.

When Laughlin returned to the role in 1971’s Billy Jack, it was revealed that not only had Billy Jack lived but he was now residing in a cave with his wise Native American grandfather.  Billy still had little use for civilization but he would occasionally emerge from his cave.  Sometimes, it was to protect wild mustangs from being hunted the evil Old Man Posner (Bert Freed) and his sociopathic son Bernard (David Roya).  Other times, it was to protect the Freedom School and, even more importantly, the Freedom School’s founder, Jean (played by Laughlin’s wife, Delores Taylor).

The local townspeople viewed the Freedom School with suspicion and whenever the students went into town, they would be harassed by Bernard and his friends.  Fortunately, the students could always count on Billy to show up, say a few angry words, and then lose control. Billy may have been a liberal but he was no pacifist.  Jean, however, fully embraced nonviolence and she always made it clear that she wasn’t comfortable with Billy providing her kids with a violent example.

Finally, both Jean and Billy’s convictions were put to the test.  First off, the bigoted townspeople tried to close the school.  Then, Jean was raped by Bernard.  And finally, Billy found himself barricaded in an old mission, surrounded by police and national guardsmen.  Even as Jean pleaded with Billy to lay down his weapons and to peacefully surrender, Billy made it clear that he was willing to die for his beliefs.

And, as the film ended, you would never guess that Billy Jack would eventually become a member of the U.S. Senate.  But, in just a few years, that’s exactly what would happen in Billy Jack Goes To Washington!

Now, of course, Billy Jack is ultimately a product of its time and that’s both a blessing and a curse.  To be honest, if anything could transform me from being the socially liberal, economically conservative girl that you all know and love into a card-carrying right-wing extremist, it would be having to spend any time with the students at the Freedom School.  They are all so smugly convinced of their own moral superiority that the townspeople almost start to look good by default.  Whether they’re attending improv class or disrupting a meeting at town hall, the majority of the students come across like a bunch of rich kids from the suburbs, playing hippy and slumming by hanging out with poor minorities.  As you watch them, it’s difficult not to suspect that most of them are going to get bored with rebelling after a year or two and eventually end up growing up to be just like their parents.

Fortunately, the film is saved by the pure sincerity of Laughlin and Taylor.  For all the attention that the film gets for the scenes of Billy Jack beating people up, the most compelling scenes are the ones where Jean and Billy Jack debate nonviolence.  There’s an honesty and a passion to these scenes, one that proves that Laughlin and Taylor, as opposed to so many other self-styled counterculture filmmakers, were actually serious about their beliefs.  Billy Jack is an essential film, not only as a time capsule of the era in which it was made but also as one of the few films to actually make a legitimate attempt to explore what it truly means to embrace nonviolence.

Billy Jack is also a historically important film.  When American Independent Pictures withdrew from the production, Laughlin took Billy Jack to 20th Century Fox.  When 20th Century Fox looked at the completed film and did not know how to market it, Laughlin distributed the film himself, without the support of a major studio.  And, despite what all of the naysayers may have predicted, Billy Jack was a huge hit.

And every indie filmmaker since owes a huge debt of gratitude to Tom Laughlin.