Billy Jack is an ex-Nam hero who hides away on an Arizona reservation and saves horses from being turned into dog food (He's "Just a person who protects children and living things"). In love with the idealistic head of a 'Freedom School', he defends the resident hippies, wanderers and losers from the local town of bigots and fights to preserve his historical heritage.
Like a lot of other relics from the 1970's, Billy Jack first became a cult phenomenon, then the object of a lot of ridicule, then once again regained popularity when 70's retro became fashionable. In retrospect it is easy to see why this film was the success it was; released during the tail end of the Woodstock generation "counter-culture", Billy Jack reflects those values quite well. Billy Jack (played by Tom Laughlin) is an ex-Green Beret who renounces the war and retreats to an Indian reservation to defend a "freedom school" from the local bigots.
Billy's skill at martial arts is put to use here in several memorable, and truly humorous, scenes featuring such lines as "I just go ber-SEEERK!" and "When I count to three, you will drive your car into the lake."
This film has been much-copied over the years; Steven Seagal's "On Deadly Ground" is an obvious example. The "ex-Green Beret turns anti-establishment" theme has been driven into the ground over the years from George Hayduke in Edward Abbey's novel _The Monkey Wrench Gang_ to the real-life example of James "Bo" Gritz, but to my knowledge that theme originated in Billy Jack. Likewise, depictions of Native American rituals such as the vision quest have been overused, sometimes in laughable context, but in 1971 they were something fresh that added to the film's appeal. Overall the influence of this film has been underrated.
The low-budget production values (such as the badly over-dubbed dialogue that can be found throughout the film) do not detract from the film but lend more of a genuine feel to it, putting it into the same category as films like Easy Rider - a truly grassroots depiction of alienated youth vs. the establishment.
Seeing this film back in '71 when it first came out did very much to change my attitudes and commentaries. Only in the old days would a movie like this create such a great change in a persons psyche. I'm very glad I discovered this film when I did and even though the production and acting qualities are pretty 'low' this movie definitely is a 'must see' for everyone. Enjoy