Friday, July 23, 2010

Born Losers - Trailer (1967)

Born Losers is a 1967 film and the first of the Billy Jack movies. The film introduced Tom Laughlin as the half-Indian Green Beret Vietnam veteran Billy Jack. Since 1954 Laughlin had been trying to produce his Billy Jack script about discrimination toward American Indians. In 1967 he decided to introduce the Billy Jack character in a quickly written script designed to capitalize on the then-popular trend in motorcycle gang movies. The story was based on a real incident from 1964 where members of the Hells Angels were arrested for raping two teenage girls in Monterey, California.

The movie was filmed on location in California at Seal Beach, Big Sur, and other coastal areas. According to Laughlin's DVD audio commentary, filming was completed in just 3 weeks on an operating budget of $160,000. To cut costs, a stunt scene of a biker crashing into a pond was taken from American International's 1966 comedy The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini. The movie was not released until 1969.

Despite its formulaic premise, it hit a note with audiences, and resulted in Laughlin being able to raise the funds to make its successful sequel, Billy Jack. In 1974, after the sequel proved financially successful, American International Pictures re-released The Born Losers with the taglines "The film that introduced Billy Jack" and "Back By Popular Demand: "Born Losers" The Original Screen Appearance of Tom Laughlin as Billy Jack". This re-release helped cement The Born Losers' honor of being the highest grossing American International release until 1979 when The Amityville Horror was released.

Although the screenplay has all the trappings of a typical motorcycle-gang exploitation film, director-writer-star Tom Laughlin added a layer of social criticism and a skeptical, anti-authority tone to the story. (A formula he would expand upon in his next film, Billy Jack.) Here, bad parenting results in teenage girls cavorting with bikers and getting brutally assaulted. The police are ineffective in dealing with career criminals and protecting the innocent—and the local citizens lack the courage to take action themselves. It is up to the lone hero in the form of Billy Jack to stand up to the gang and restore some sense of order. Billy Jack is introduced as an enigmatic, half-Indian Vietnam War veteran who shuns society, taking refuge in the peaceful solitude of the mountains. His troubles begin when he descends from this unspoiled setting, driving into a small beach town (i.e., re-enters society). A minor traffic accident in which a motorist hits a motorcyclist results in a savage beating by members of the Born Losers Motorcycle Club. The horrified bystanders (including Laughlin's wife, Delores Taylor, and their two children in cameo roles) are too afraid to help or be involved in any way. Billy Jack jumps into the fray and rescues the man by himself. At this point the police arrive and arrest Billy for using a rifle to stop the fight. (The irony here is that, unknown to Billy, the motorist is the one who starts the fight by inexplicably insulting one of the bikers.)

The police throw Billy in jail and fine him heavily for discharging a rifle in public. He is treated with suspicion and hostility by the police. Meanwhile, the marauding bikers terrorize the town, rape four teenage girls, and threaten anyone slated to testify against them. One of the girls, played by Susan Foster, later recants, saying she willingly gave herself to the biker gang. (Foster would go on to play a larger supporting role in Billy Jack.) Co-scriptwriter Elizabeth James plays Vicky Barrington, a bikini-clad damsel-in-distress who is twice abducted and abused by the gang. The second time, she and Billy are kidnapped together. After Billy is brutally beaten, Vicky agrees to become the gang's sexually compliant "biker mama" if they release Billy. At the police station, Billy is unable to get help from the police or the local residents and must return to the gang's lair to rescue Vicky by himself. Billy, armed with a rifle, captures the gang, shoots the leader (Jeremy Slate) between the eyes, and forces some of the others to take Vicky, who's been badly beaten herself, to the hospital. As the police finally arrive, Billy abruptly rides off on one of the gang's motorcycles. The anti-authority sentiment continues up to the end when a police deputy accidentally shoots Billy in the back, mistaking him for a fleeing gang member. He is later found, nearly dead, lying by the shore of a lake. It is notable that this element of near-martydom is used again in Billy Jack where he receives a serious gunshot wound (in the original script, Billy was killed by a police sniper). Also in both films Billy is overpowered by a gang of thugs and receives a severe and sadistic beating.


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