Monday, December 16, 2013

One Tin Soldier Rides Away

Tom Laughlin, aka Billy Jack

Billy Jack arose with feet flying at a time when America needed him most.  We were mired in the Vietnam war -- piped into living rooms nightly around dinner time with unappetizing "body counts," while newspapers were filled with stories of unrest on our college campuses -- then, along came a hero.

A kick ass one at that.

Tom Laughlin was an anti-establishment renegade both on screen and off.  He wrote, directed, produced and starred in Billy Jack, the story of an ex-Green Beret, half-Native American, a Vietnam vet who took on powerful monied interests to protect the innocent.

The film was made in 1969 when the anti-war movement had grown to an overpowering force, only a year after the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Consequently it took another two years before the film made it to theaters as Laughlin won a suit against Warner Bros. who became nervous with its anti-establishment theme and wanted to shelve the movie.   So Laughlin distributed the film himself.  

The movie about a loner doing the right thing ends up being distributed by a loner.

In addition to championing the underdog and demonstrating the true power of resolve, Billy Jack also stimulated an interest in martial arts schools, helping waves of kids increase confidence and discipline in pursuit of those masterful kicks.

The film also set the stage only a few years later for the greatest martial arts movie star of all time to enter the scene, Bruce Lee.

Over the years rumors would be pop up about a new Billy Jack sequel but nothing ever seemed to come of it.   Nor will it, ever.  On December 12, at age 82, Tom Laughlin passed away. 

So stand and raise a right fist, to remember the man who refused to compromise.


Anonymous said...

"Watch his feet, man, watch his feet."

Everything seemed simpler in those days. Right and wrong were a lot clearer. Although just about everyone disagreed about what was right and what was wrong.

Rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

Billy Bad Ass… beautiful fighting scenes. How good was he Larry, was he in your class? Richard Marsh

Larry Kelley said...

The really fancy kicks were performed by stunt double and fight scene choreographer (Korean Hop Ki Do expert) Bong Soo Han, but Laughlin was pretty darn good in his own right.

Anonymous said...

Richard, think before you question. Larry was about 15 in 1969. I really don't remember him even having learned karate by then.