on April 2, 2000
This final movie in the Excellent Billy Jack Saga, shows thecorrupt dealings that go on in our nation's capital. Billy Jack haslearned his lesson about violence not solving anything, and attacks with political power instead, (though there is one excellent fight scene that is purely self defense and not vengeful). This Billy Jack movie truly stabs at the heart of the problem of our country and calls out for action on the part of us all. Billy Jack shows us the shadow side of Washington and gives us an idea of what a few truly dedicated and concerned citizens could accomplish. My only regret is that this is the last installment of the series to date. Thankfully Tom Laughlin still carries on Billy Jack's cause. This movie is therefore a must see!
on May 13, 2000
Until this movie was recently released on home video, I knew very little about this movie, since there was no general release to the public. In many ways, this is the best and most ambitious BILLY JACK film. With almost crystal-ball-like accuracy, Tom Laughlin shows us the seedy side of Washington; the way both political parties are bought off by the special interest groups and power brokers. In the light of the last twenty years of political history, this is an amazing feat. Mr. Laughlin has more insight on the conscience of the human condition and how the shadow side of our personality must be dealt with than most professors that have a string of letters following their names. This is a must see!
on January 3, 2001
Not many people were interested in seeing an overly talky film about politics on the heels of the non-ending Watergate coverage. Few were interested in the rather naive and over-earnestness this extremely flawed re-worked, re-make of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington offered.
I was a big fan of Billy Jack in `72 and I must admit that I also enjoyed Trial of Billy Jack in 1974. I had not seen Trial since 1974 until recently. It's a pretty awful film.
Now I've seen this film. There is some "dangerous" material in the film that probably did upset people in political power who saw the film. It does show how some corrupt politicians work. It wasn't a great revelation to anyone in 1977 however that our political system was loaded with corruption. We had just been through an over-dose of Watergate. The film can be over-analyzed today and you can see some prophetic things in the film if you want to. Let's not go there.
The film plays like an over-produced t.v. movie. There are some impressive location shots in Washington D.C. and around the Grand Canyon. There was a very expensive and detailed sets built to replicate the U.S. Senate accurately. There were some real actors in the film. People like E.G. Marshall and Sam Wanamaker . It was one of the last films Pat O'brien was in, and it was the first one for Lucie Arnaz.
Frank Capra Jr. was one of the producers of the film which borrows quite a bit from the classic Frank Capra film. Mr Smith Goes to Washington.
If you expect the film to have some action or even a couple of good martial arts fights you will be very disappointed. There is a brief, poorly choreographed fight scene that occurs in about the middle of the film. Future bad action director Hal Needham was stunt coordinator. And Dolores Taylor who always turned the other cheek rather than fight, actually is part of the fighting in this one. Sometimes pacifists get angry and kick ass too I guess.
The film is more interested in its message and in showing us how the mechanics of political corruption work and how one man might change the system and fight corruption. The structure is close to the Mr. Smith film.
E.G. Marshall does put in a watch-able performance and Tom Laughlin who would only be considered a decent actor if you put him next to someone like Chuck Norris is better than you would think. He's still a stiff, soft spoken guy, but there's a natural quality to his performance through most of the film. He's not trying too hard to act (which is good because he can't). But through most of this film you don't get the feeling he's looking for his camera marks or too conscious of where the camera is.
A Senator suddenly dies and the top secret document he has is stoeln by a mid-level lobbyist. Senator Joseph Paine played by E.G. Marshall, calls Governor Hymie (I'm sorry Dick Gautier plays the Governor and when I see him I think of him as Hymie the robot from Get Smart) to go over possible replacements for the Senator. At the meeting is Bailey (Sam Wanamaker), a rich power broker who's got Senator Paine and others in the palm of his hand. He doesn't agree with Govenor Hopper's choice of Billy Jack for Senator. Hopper likes the demographics Billy Jack appeals to and since he's been pardoned of his felony conviction he's in. He won't be too difficult to control for the few months he's in office it's decided.
Ah but of course Billy Jack isn't easy to control at all. He puts through what everyone believes to be an innocuous bill for a National Children's School. Unfortunately it's proposed location happens to the be same place as the nuclear power plant all the heavies have been maneuvering to put through.
Senator Paine who was one partners with one of Billy Jack's relatives must save his political career and destroy Billy Jack and ignore that he was once once a champion of lost causes. Eventually the deck is stacked so heavily against Billy Jack it looks as if he can't possibly win or even save face. Ah but then it's time for the famous filibuster scene. Laughlin does better than you think in the scene that will of course remind you of the classic one with Jimmy Stewart. Some of the same lines are used as a matter of fact. Laughlin isn't just ripping off the film though, he is using the movie to deliver a message about how the people really do have the power to change a corrupt system. It's an optimistic message. The film does offer a couple of good scenes. Most of them however play like scenes from an episode of an old version of West Wing. The film is sometimes very dull with scenes allowed to go on for several minutes too long. Establishing shots are also stretched a bit too long. There are several scenes that fade to black... which adds to the t.v. movie feel of the film-- you almost expect there to be a commercial.
If you have any affection for Billy Jack, the film is worth seeing and is not the total disaster you might have been led to believe. It's corny, cliche'd and rather predictable, but there are a few scenes that have enough edge to them as to be borderline daring for their day.
There may be some truth to what Laughlin says about the film not being distributed because of political pressure. I don't think there was much interest in distributing a somewhat controversial film after the country had been through Watergate. It was a minor reason however to not push the film too hard. If distributors thought they could make money, they would make money and distribute just about any film. The main reasons the film wasn't distributed was because it wasn't a very good film, it was critically savaged at press screenings, it came after Watergate, the recently released film Master and The Gunfighter starring Laughlin was a box-office disaster and it had been over three years since Trial of Billy Jack which had been only a modest success. Laughlin was not well liked in Hollywood and he had certainly lost a lot of his Billy Jack fan base.
Billy Jack was a film much like a one hit wonder. It appealed briefly to a wide demographic for a variety of reasons that had little to do with quality. The success of Billy Jack went to Laughlin's head and he burned a lot of bridges talking about how he was single handedly responsible for its success and he knew how to make important films that spoke to the people. He claimed he had important things to say and he was going to be not just a big powerful movie -maker and star, but a force that would make changes in politics.
Wait a minute said people who saw Billy Jack. We liked the film because it was cool, not because Tom Laughlin was beating the system and proving he knew what the public wanted by its success.
For five minutes he scared some people, but when the public took a closer look at Laughlin they decided they didn't like him. He wasn't a good actor, writer or director and he was just another egotistical guy who thought he could have a ministry based on making movies, rather than being a t.v. evangelist. He wore out his welcome and he refused to accept the public responded to his film for a variety of reasons, not just because of Tom Laughlin or an optimistic message.
Laughlin still very much believes in himself and his message. The message is one that involves personal responsibility and morality. If you listen to him part of you will scream out, who the hell does this guy think he is and part of you might agree with what he says. But Laughlin isn't John Lennon and he still tries to convince you that doors have been slammed shut on him because he wants to tell people the truth about conspiracies and corruption. Because of his limited talent, he has an every man kind of appeal. But he's an ends justify the means kind of guy, and he believes he alone has figured out the way some things are. That type of thing changes from being interesting to being annoying, unrealistic and then just plain tired. I'm glad the world has people like Tom Laughlin in it, but I wouldn't want him to run things anymore than I would want another Nixon or Gingrich to. And Laughlin's idealism is fused with his huge ego.
What no one can ever take away from Tom Laughlin, is that he did accomplish something pretty amazing. He forced himself onto the American screen and for a brief period of time was embraced by a very fickle public. When it was time for him to fade away he didn't want to give up his fame and celebrity. He over-stayed his welcome and I hate to say embarrassed himself, but that's what he did. When a shaggy underdog gets some success and is perceived as a pompous ass, it's time to lay low. He didn't. He misread the market, over-estimated his own talent and abused the bit of public goodwill he had won over. I don't know that he's even yet realized exactly what has happened. Perhaps he still believes that he crashed and burned because a secret society of power brokers wanted to silence him.
Then again maybe he knows this very well and realized if he continued to play his role, he wouldn't completely fade away into obscurity.
Chris Jarmick, Author (The Glass Cocoon with Serena F. Holder Avai
on April 29, 2000
Billy Jack fans will love this movie, critics will hate it.... but who cares what critics think. The thing I find the most interesting about this movie is how it seems to be quasi- Nostradomus like in predicting future corruption in our capital. The murder of a Washington insider seems to reflect the Vince Foster mystery. The big business influence on legistalors and their irresponsible behaviors reflect the many scandals we've witnessed through the 70's and 80's. You have to hand it to Mr. Laughlin for his ability to look into the future with the scenes that constitute this movie. In the book that was written about the making of the Billy Jack series, it talks about how some legislators were shaken by this movie.... and how some even threatened to kill the project so it would not get to theaters. Billy Jack fans need to get this in their collection. Also-- visit the Billy Jack Website.... it's worth a look.
on November 27, 2008
Oh poor BILLY JACK what ever happened to you??
Made mostly and very costly in Washington, DC locations it was never shown on the movie circuits or the public screens, apparently for political sensitivity reasons. It is now available on DVD decades after it was created. The cast included the daughter of Walter Kronkeit and Lucy Arnaz and was produced and starred, Tom Laughlin and his wife, Delores Taylor. The story concerned itself with corruption in the Washington political inner circles which made this a film-non-grata and it died a financial death. Now it is an archival classic and should be treated as such by students of the cinema. "The little film that never was..."
ADDITION: Tom Laughlin, actor, director, screen writer died December 12, 2013. May he rest in peace.
on May 11, 2015
Billy Jack Goes to Washington, 1977 film
It begins with a view of Washington DC. People complained about nuclear power and weapons. Did campaign contributions affect a Congressional Committee? Reporters question Senator Foley. He has a health crisis! The Senator’s aide finds a “Classified - Top Secret” report in his briefcase. An ambulance speeds along the streets. [An argument for an age limit for Senators?] “Senator Foley Died.” Dan has it, it is his ticket upwards. Senator Joe Payne is concerned with slipping a bill through Congress. Men in power talk about Foley’s replacement. Can he follow orders but appear independent? It would only be for two months. Billy Jack is the candidate. Dan can leak the report or return it for a White House appointment and $40,000 a year. [This figure dates this movie.] Billy Jack’s uncle was a small newspaper editor who opposed to strip mining - until he was shot in the back.
Senator Payne wants an aide to guide Senator Billy Jack. She has a price. Senator Payne explains how he can both favor and oppose a bill. If Billy Jack wants a children’s camp he can write a bill to get it though Congress. All work is done through Committees. [This educates the viewers.] A Conference settles differences. There are trade-offs. “When do we start?” Will the 400 acres at Willets Creek conflict with other plans? Senator Jack introduces his bill to establish a youth camp for the disadvantaged youth of America. [A reformatory disguised by its name?] There is a scheme to distract Billy Jack. There is talk about a National Initiative to allow people to pass laws. This will affect Congress. Dan turns over that report in a dark lonely place and gets advice. Too late? Murder effects changes in Washington. Saunders tells Billy Jack about things. Senator Payne’s aide makes a telephone call. Who is Mr. Bailey and what does he do? Senator Payne gets his orders (he is reluctant). Mr. Bennett talks to Billy Jack about being “cooperative” and taking advice. Billy doesn’t agree.
Carol went shopping alone at night. She is threatened by strange men. [No right to keep and bear arms there.] Will help arrive in time? Yes. [A family that fights together stays together.] Any big corporation that controls newspapers, radio, television, and big businesses in a state controls its Senators. [Most people tend to believe whatever they see.] Senator Payne explains how it works: compromises and cooperation. People like Bailey are ruthless. The next day Senator Payne attacks Billy Jack with a claim that Jack bought the land at Willets Creek and will profit from his bill! There is a deed, a witness, and a telegram. Is the signature a forgery? Some experts say “yes”, others say “no”. [What do you think?] Senator Payne tells his story. [A good actor?] Expulsion is his recommendation. Billy Jack just walks out from this frame-up. [Wouldn’t this land be worth more for a nuclear power plant than a children’s camp?] Billy Jack is advised to use a filibuster.
Senator Jack considers the words of Jefferson and Lincoln. The next day he shows up wearing a suit and asks to speak. He will not yield the floor as long as he can stand and speak. “Guilty as framed.” Senator Jack tells about Bailey’s power in his state. Senator Payne attacks Billy Jack as a blackmailer who attacks that deficiency bill. [We see examples of political posturing.] The reporters will carry Billy Jack’s speech. Bailey wants to smash Billy Jack by running commercials! Payne asks his colleagues for support. [Note how the media is controlled.] Senator Jack talks about Three Mile Island and other accidents. Senator Jack’s comments are censored in his home state, only attacks upon him are publicized. He says only a National Initiative can correct the power of Big Corporations. What are the people in his state saying? Pages bring in bags of letters and telegrams against Billy Jack. These letters suggest another lost cause. Is this another phony letters campaign? [Similar to announcements of polling results?] Billy Jack won’t quit, he will continue to fight for the Common Man. Until he collapses on the Senate floor! A Senator calls for the expulsion of Billy Jack, the audience yells “NO”. The clerk reads the Resolution and calls the roll. But Senator Payne arises and says Billy Jack told the truth. The audience cheers. And so this story has a happy ending. [But is it realistic?]
This is based on the 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” but was updated for modern times. I think this is the better version. Is the need for a National Initiative even greater than seventy-five years ago? People could decide whether to get involved in a war in Southeast Asia, or the Middle East. Could they still be fooled by the Corporate Media? They are today.
on February 15, 2007
This was fourth and last of the Billy Jack Era. Tom Laughlin resumes his role as Billy Jack and Delores Taylor resumes her role as Jean Roberts. While sitting in prison from the third film a Senator suddenly dies which leaves an open spot in the Senate. After the Senator death it's revealed that he was conducting an investigation into the nuclear power industry, the remaining senator and the state governor must decide on a person who will play along with their shady deals and not cause any problems. So they decide to get Billy out of prison and give him the vacant sit. They figure by giving Billy the seat he won't give them enough trouble because he won't no anything. Billy is pardoned, released and nominated, after which he begins his duties. He soon notices that things aren't right, and starts trying to find out just what are going on. Even though it was the last of the 4 films it wasn't the best. I will give this film 7 weasel stars an also will say the second and the third films were the best.
on March 15, 2005
Billy Jack Goes To Washington is a curious little film. Originally made in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal and the downfall of Richard M. Nixon, the film is both a nearly word-for-word remake of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and the fourth (and, to date, final) cinematic exploit of Billy Jack. The alter ego of actor Tom Laughlin, Billy Jack was a character who could have only come out of a combination of the confused idealism of the late `60s and the self-righteous cynicism of the 1970s. Half-white man and half-Native American, Billy Jack is a graduate of West Point, a veteran of the Viet Nam War, and America's greatest pacifist. In between vision quests and speechifying, Billy Jack helps his wife Jean (blank-faced Delores Taylor) run the Freedom School; a collective a young people who are dedicated to exposing establishment corruption. And, of course, Billy Jack is a black belt who can handle himself in a fight. In his previous adventures, Billy Jack proved himself to be one of the more violent pacifists in history. In short, Billy Jack is Ralph Nader by way of Little Big Man by way of Clint Eastwood. And, in his final film, he becomes a member of the U.S. Senate. Following Watergate, the idea of remaking Mr. Smith certainly wasn't a crazy one. However, the idea of turning it into a Billy Jack movie was.
As the film opens, Billy Jack is appointed to the seat of a recently deceased Senator - this despite having been convicted of a murder or two in the name of peace in his previous movies. However, the state's clownish Governor (a nice comic turn by Dan Gauthier) figures that Sen. Jack will be able to do little damage in the two months left in the term and, as well, appointing Billy Jack will help him with the youth vote. After going on the prerequisite vision quest, Billy Jack accepts the appointment and goes to Washington and it is here that it becomes glaringly obvious that there's a lot of difference between Jimmy Stewart and Tom Laughlin. Since the script follows, almost word-for-word, the original film, Billy Jack is suddenly revealed to be an amazingly naïve man who is shocked to discover that even his hero - E.G. Marshall as Sen. Payne - has been corrupted. This from a character who has spent three previous films uncovering all forms of corruption and savagely fighting back with his bare feet. Fortunately for him, Billy Jack has a cynical aide named Saunders to help him survive Washington. Unfortunately for us, Saunders is played by Lucie Arnaz, in her film debut. While Jean Arthur, in the original film, offers a truly corrosive cynicism, Arnaz simply seems to be pouting. When she rails against the way Washington works, Arnaz might as well be complaining about the local PTA. As well, whereas the original film featured sparks of romance between Stewart and Arthur, Billy Jack's love for Jean has already been established in three other films. As a result, Arnaz more or less vanishes halfway through the film and Jean is left with little to do but stand around looking confused; a victim of the fact that Mr. Smith didn't have a wife and, as a screenwriter, Laughlin was apparently too lazy to bother to do much more than copy the original script verbatim.
Though made in the late `70s, Billy Jack Goes To Washington didn't see the light of day until Laughlin and Taylor released it on DVD some 20 years later. On the DVD's commentary track, Laughlin explains that Billy Jack Goes To Washington was suppressed by the obviously terrified establishment. While this is a possibility, it's also possible that the film sat on the shelf because it's an amazingly dull, almost painfully bad film. Laughlin had an undeniable screen presence but he was never much of an actor. He looked good in action scenes and it was these scenes that gave the previous Billy Jack films whatever spark they had. However, in Billy Jack Goes To Washington, Sen. Jack engages in only one fight. And it's one of the few scenes in the film that actually shows any life; that produces any reaction beyond inertia. For the rest of the time, Billy Jack talks. And talks. And talks... The majority of the other actors are bland - not really bad as much as just interchangeable. Even Marshall, playing a role that seems tailor-made for him, fails to capture the audience's attention.
That said, Billy Jack Goes To Washington does have it's occasional strengths. As villainous political boss Bailey, Sam Wanamaker is such an avuncular presence that it's hard to take any joy to seeing him defeated. Indeed, you find yourself wishing that the continually dour and self-righteous Sen. Jack would just leave the man alone. As in the previous Billy Jack films, there is an improvised scene of Billy Jack "rapping" with a bunch of younger activists (in this case, nuclear freeze proponents) and these unscripted scenes have an endearingly awkward authenticity to them that magnify just how artificial the rest of the film is. Whatever his deficiencies as an actor and screenwriter, Tom Laughlin was not a half-bad director. Though it's obvious he has no idea how to keep his story moving forward (indeed, he resorts to a seemingly endless lecture delivered by a folksy off-screen narrator at the beginning of the film), Laughlin does have a strong visual sense and some of the early scenes of Billy Jack meditating amongst the cliffs and vistas of the American west are almost breathtakingly beautiful. However, in the end, Billy Jack Goes To Washington works best as a relic; one final record of the conflicted mindset behind the New Left of the `60s and `70s. If the first films in the series revealed what made the New Left so attractive, the self-righteous and unintentionally smug Billy Jack Goes To Washington reveals why it eventually failed.
on March 30, 2010
Billy Jack Goes to Washington isn't a classic movie like Billy Jack, or a masterpiece like Trial of Billy Jack, but I do recommend fans of the series watch this film. You gotta give props to Tom Laughlin and family for making a movie that tackled the serious issue of corrupt government officials and the regulation of the nuclear power industry.
Granted, the Billy Jack character is a bit off track. In this movie he's too naive in the ways of Washington, which makes no sense because in the previous films he is portrayed as being hip to how power corrupts and how absolute power corrupts absolutely. In the previous films Billy Jack has no illusions about 'the man' being a positive force for society. Part of this continuity problem stems from the script being based upon the old Jimmy Stewart-Frank Capra original, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
The Laughlins' hearts were in the right place. They poured a ton of their own cash into making this film. They risked their financial security to make a movie with a message. Unfortunately by the time Billy Jack Goes to Washington came out, audiences no longer cared about - or were exhausted by - serious political issues. Watergate was already old news. The Vietnam War had come to a close. Ford pardoned Nixon. Woodward and Bernstein had became world famous journalists.
Audiences wanted to be entertained. They wanted to dance the disco with Travolta, jump around with lightsabers like Luke Skywalker, and truck around the country in an 18 wheeler with only a chimp as companion.
Billy Jack was a victim of the times. The times had changed. Billy Jack was a bit too slow to change. Perhaps if Billy Jack ditched the denim and donned a white polyester suit, slicked back his hair, hung out with a cool chimp, and boogied the night away in some disco with a funky-fied version of 'One Tin Soldier' blaring in the background, Billy Jack would have caught on with the younger generation...alas, twas not to be.
Thankfully a beautifully restored version of this movie is now on the DVD.
on February 10, 2006
Billy Jack Goes To Washington (1977). Running Time: One hour, 54 mins.
Tom Laughlin returns as "Billy Jack" in this fourth and last movie.
Also returning: Delores Taylor, Teresa Kelly, Kathy Cronkite, Dennis O'Flaherty, Julie Webb, Sara Lane, William Wellman Jr, Victor Izay.
After talking with reporters after cancelling a hearing on nuclear safety, Senator Joe Foley (Kent Smith) collapses to the floor. He is having a heart attack. As Saunders McArthur (Lucie Arnaz), Foly's Aide, and her husband, Dan McArthur (John Lawlor), watch the EMT's roll the Senator out on a gurney, Saunders leaves to go call Foley's wife. Someone asks if Dan is Foley's Aide and Dan responds his wife is. He accepts Foley's attache case for his wife. Someone bumps into him and the case falls open onto the floor. Dan sees a file labeled Top Secret-Classified-Eyes Only . Dan hides it under his jacket. Now with Senator Foley dead, Governor Hubert Hopper (Dick Gautier) tries to make some harmony between Bailey (Sam Wanamaker) and Senator Joseph Pine (E.G. Marshall). The next day, Bailey is upset with Hopper for appointing Billy Jack. Bailey thinks Billy Jack is a "half-breed Indian nut". Hopper just gave Billy Jack a pardon for being a convict. Bailey says Jack's term will only last for 2 months. He doesn't think Billy Jack will actually run for re-election. Appointing Billy Jack could help the image for Bailey.
Also in the cast: Peter Donat, Ira Angustain, Stanley Brock, George Wallace, Pat O'Brien, Larry Carroll, Suzanne Somers, Carmen Zapata, Sarah Purcell.
Shown in squeezy widescreen.
If you have insomnia, this movie will help put you to sleep.
Tom Laughlin actually tried to run for President in 1992, 2004 and 2008.
Audio Commentary with Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor.
Info: Film Production, DVD Production, Billy Jack Website.
The Born Losers (1967).
Billy Jack (1971).
The Trial of Billy Jack (1974).
Billy jack Goes To Washington (1977).
The Return of Billy Jack was not completed.