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  Billy Jack Goes to Washington Talking When Nobody's Listening
Year: 1977
Director: Tom Laughlin
Stars: Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor, E.G. Marshall, Teresa Kelly, Sam Wanamaker, Richard Gautier, Michael Irving, J. Diana Lewis, Peter Donat, Kent Smith, Kathy Cronkite, Dennis O'Flaherty, Pat O'Brien, Victor Izay, Lucie Arnaz, Carla Borelli, Sara Lane
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  2 (from 1 vote)
Review: In the United States, the powerful lobby for nuclear energy is gaining ground and don't care who they trample in their drive to have their business interests served, even if that includes destroying the democracy that made America great. One particular plan for a power station is to see a location once owned by the Indians bulldozed to make way for it, but that plan is top secret since it would cause a public outrage if they were aware of what was being done. However, a senator (Kent Smith) who was going to see to it that there was no impediment to the scheme collapses at Congress and a replacement must be found to take his position for the remaining couple of months before elections...

How about everybody's favourite violent pacifist human rights advocate Billy Jack, once again played by Tom Laughlin in what would be his final outing as the character? Or at least the final outing to be completed, as his belated sequel in the nineteen-eighties, The Return of Billy Jack, was scuppered halfway through filming when the budget ran out. He kept saying his counterculture hero would return nonetheless, and even ran for President in the nineties, but his time had passed and he became as synonymous with seventies fads as pet rocks or Evel Knievel, though perhaps less respected. According to Laughlin, ever the rebel this was down to The Man suppressing his message in this fourth instalment.

Although for the majority who saw Billy Jack Goes to Washington the reasons were rather more apparent: this just wasn't a very good film. With Laughlin tailoring the original script of the Frank Capra classic Mr Smith Goes to Washington to his own needs, it's difficult to imagine anyone would prefer to see him act out the scenes best known as James Stewart's showcase from around thirty years before, and the attraction of the Billy Jack movies, that we would see him visit righteous justice on the conservative establishment, was less down to his hapkido skills and more down to him talking an awful lot. Therefore we were denied the chance to witness the hero supplying boots to the heads of congressmen.

Indeed, there was one single action sequence in the entire movie, which sees Billy Jack and his screen partner, offscreen wife Delores Taylor beat up a bunch of black guys who have been hired, get this, to make the African American community look bad by raping women. Quite why these goons agreed to this subterfuge went unexplained, but it was just one example of how misguided the enterprise played out, one among many, no matter what your opinion of nuclear power was. This was Laughlin's real bugbear, which was apparent in every other scene, but the manner in which it smugly went about telling us that the politicians were corrupted by bribes was less a revelation and more a tedious lecture from a self-righteous activist. Couple that to the inevitable conspiracy theories Laughlin was developing, both against himself and against his pet causes, and you had a hectoring experience.

This state of mind was put across in such scenes as a political aide who was on Billy Jack's side being murdered by the establishment to keep him quiet, the sort of thing that went on all the time by this account, though not supported by any facts. By the point of the most famous sequence in the original, Mr Smith's filibuster, the director-writer-producer-star was plainly not simply believing his own hype but was absolutely devoted to it, and he was going for the Academy Award; it could be that if he had worn his trademark hat and double denim on the floor of Congress that the fans would have been more interested, but Billy Jack was simply adorned in plain suit and tie as his voice grew hoarse over the hours he took centre stage. Or at least it was hoarse until he had to sum up how the authorities were bad and he was good, when he became positively stentorian as the public gallery cheered him on in a slice of pure cheese. With a weird cast that included Pat O'Brien and Lucie Arnaz, all Laughlin's protests that he was being suppressed were unconvincing when it was obvious that he had simply committed the worst sin of the movies: he got boring, and that's why nobody was interested anymore. Music by Elmer Bernstein (!).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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