Friday, April 1, 2011

Born Losers (1967)

Born Losers 

Written by Elizabeth James
Directed by Tom Laughlin

Billy Jack...Tom Laughlin
Danny...Jeremy Slate
Vicky...Elizabeth James

"He had just returned from the war, one of those Green Beret rangers.  A trained killer, people were to say later.  Before the war, he had hunted down and broken wild horses in these mountains.  Some say the reason he was so good at these things, and the reason he lived alone in this forest, was that he had some Indian blood in him.  Others said he simply didn't like people.  All I knew was his name:  Billy Jack."

The coastal town of Big Rock, California is being terrorized by the Born Losers Motor Cycle Club, and only one man has the audacity to stand up to them:  an ex-military loner by the name of Billy Jack.  But when, following their confrontation, the police show up and Billy finds that he gets a stiffer sentence than the bikers (for "taking the law into his own hands), he realizes that he has to be a bit more careful in his dealings with these low-rent thugs.

Over Easter weekend, when the town is overrun with youngsters and tourists, the Born Losers go on a raping and pillaging spree.  If the district attorney can't convince any of the victims to testify, then the gang will be free to continue their crimes unperturbed.  One of the girls, a cute little rich girl named Vicky, stumbles into Billy Jack's life, and he vows to protect her where the law can not.

Billy Jack is a hell of a great character:  cool, calm, and quiet.  He is an unflinching badass with a strong moral compass and an aptitude for violence, although all that he wants in life is to be left to his own devices.  It's just too bad that the world won't let him.

Billy Jack's nemesis and anti-image is Danny, the leader of the Born Losers.  Where Billy is cool, Danny runs hot.  Where Billy is calm, Danny is excitable.  And where Billy is quiet, Danny always has something foul to add to the conversation.  Danny's moral compass is undeniably broken, and all that he wants in life is to be surrounded by his beer-swilling cronies, living the life of an outlaw.

While this is a biker movie, this is far from your typical biker movie.  It's not quite exploitation, and it's not quite action, but it definitely contains aspects of both.  The protagonists here (at least Billy and Vicky) are complex characters that you can easily sympathize with, not just paper cutouts that exist to be abused.  That's because this movie was a labor of love, and not just a quickly made cash-grab.  Scripted by Elizabeth James (who plays Vicky), and directed by Tom Laughlin (who plays Billy Jack), the duo add an extra layer to the proceedings with social commentary, your usual 1960s distrust of authority, and--for unknown reasons--less-than-subtle homoerotic undertones.

Born losers spawned three sequels (Billy Jack, The Trial of Billy Jack, and Billy Jack Goes to Washington), and although the franchise grew more preachy and more saccharine with each entry, the Billy Jack character remains pretty much solid throughout.

Highly recommended, hipsters.

Rated PG
113 Minutes
United States

"When I come back to earth as a horse, then I'll let you inspect me.  Maybe."

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