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  Born Losers, The Stand Up And Fight
Year: 1967
Director: Tom Laughlin
Stars: Tom Laughlin, Elizabeth James, Jeremy Slate, William Wellman Jr, Jack Starrett, Paul Bruce, Robert Cleaves, Paul Prokop, Robert Tessier, Jeff Cooper, Stuart Lancaster, Anne Bellamy, Gordon Hoban, Susan Foster, Janice Miller, Julie Cahn, Jane Russell
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: The place is Big Rock, a small town in California, and there is a biker gang who have taken up residence there, spending their time roaming the streets. One day, the young driver of a car bumps into the bike of their leader, Danny (Jeremy Slate), and he dismounts to see the damage. There is none, and he tells the driver that he's lucky and is prepared to forget it, but then he starts winding Danny up in front of his gang and he feels he has no choice but to lead an attack on him. They beat him up and the driver manages to get to a diner which has a telephone to call the police, but nobody wants to help him - nobody except Billy Jack (Tom Laughlin)...

First things first, how stupid was the driver of the car to be mouthing off to the bikers? Did he want to be beaten up, or is it simply part of the strange tone of Elizabeth James' script for The Born Losers? Whatever, the film occupies a small place in film history as the production that brought the one time phenomenon Billy Jack to the screen. The sequel to this was a big moneymaker in the seventies, especially for an independent film, but that would not have existed if this low budget action movie with a message had not been made beforehand.

Surprisingly, Billy doesn't appear all that much for the first hour, kept offscreen by the antics of the gang who cause mayhem around the town and in a development that would influence action movies for decades to come, the police simply cannot do anything to control the criminals. In fact, our hero is somewhere between the law and the outlaws, not siding with either but ploughing his own furrow as an avenger and dispenser of justice the courts are reluctant to provide. We see him at the start having to pay a far higher fine than the gang members do for helping out the driver, to mark out that The Man is not to be relied upon.

Although he doesn't look it, Billy is supposed to be half-native American, so we can add a stand against racism to the subjects this film tackles - he's a Vietnam War veteran as well, but that doesn't really come up. He is also here to protect the womenfolk, because those bikers like nothing better than "initiating" young women into their fold by forcing them into sex. Their latest target is another biker, student Vicky Barrington (screenwriter James), who is returning home by the scenic route on her motorcycle after being let down by her father's non-arrival at the airport - another example of how parents, and by extension authority figures in general, are no help.

Vicky is cornered by the gang and goes along with them to play for time to get an chance to escape, but they end up foxing her and she is raped (offscreen). Next thing we see are Vicky and three other girls on the news who have been attacked, but are getting cold feet about testifying against their assailants. The police, naturally, are now powerless and not even the presence of Jane Russell as one of the girls' mothers can help the situation - but what about Vicky's new friend Billy Jack? The whole message of this film, unusual in a supposedly anti-establishment movie of the time, is that the only way to defeat violence is with more violence, which you would have thought would appeal more to the criminals than the heroes working for peace. That's not the film's main problem though, as what really tries the patience is the way every scene is dragged out your attention's snapping point, and although Slate gives an interesting reading of the villain, there's something disconcertingly blank about Billy Jack. Music by Mike Curb.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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