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The Born Losers(1967)

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The Born Losers (1967)

Having stumped without success to sell their screenplay Billy Jack, Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor dropped their half-breed hero into the middle of a quickly-written script tailored for the exploitation market. With the success of Roger Corman's The Wild Angels (1966), biker flicks were all the rage and more than a few bright lights of the nascent New Hollywood toiled in the requisite leathers and dirty denim. The Born Losers came early in the cycle, in the boom year of 1967, alongside Hells Angels on Wheels with Jack Nicholson and Devil's Angels with John Cassavetes. Its unexpected success that summer wrought The Glory Stompers (1968) with Dennis Hopper, The Cycle Savages (1969) with Bruce Dern, The Rebel Rousers (1970) with Dern and Nicholson, and Angel Unchained (1970) with Don Stroud, to name but a few titles in this surprisingly expansive subgenre.

Its box office success cuts The Born Losers little slack from cult movie aficionados, churlish over the film's association with the mega-successful Billy Jack (1971) and its preachy sequels, The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) and Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977). To this day, kung fu fans remain chuffed that Tom Laughlin was doubled for all displays of hapkido by karate master Bong Soo Han. On the performance front, Laughlin has also taken his share of lumps for his stoic acting style. However studied in Steve McQueen cool, Laughlin pulls it off and is an engaging and understated leading man particularly in The Born Losers, which isn't as weighed down, as were the subsequent Billy Jack films, with the burden of Importance.

Based on a pair of high profile 1964 news items - the slaying of New York bar manager Kitty Genovese and the Hells Angels alleged intimidation of teenaged rape victims in Monterey The Born Losers was distributed by American International Pictures and wound up being their biggest moneymaker until The Amityville Horror (1979) a decade later. Despite its basis in fact, the film quotes from the granddaddy of all biker films, The Wild One (1953) before branching out to straddle the rape/revenge/vigilante drama typified by Walking Tall (1973) and Death Wish (1974). With minor alterations, The Born Losers could easily have been rewritten as a standard western, with Billy Jack recast as the archetypal Outsider who must defend Civilization from the caprices of Disorder. Back in the day, its seemingly reactionary civic mindedness was no doubt good for business.

The Born Losers has aged better than a number of the subgenre's "classics." A central concern with the value of family haunts the script, which opens not with the Born Losers riding into a strange town to wreak havoc but returning to the hometown of leader Danny Carmody (Jeremy Slate), with whom Billy has some past history of unnamed grievances. Although he is the villain of the piece, Danny is nicely shaded as a charismatic group leader, surprisingly slow to retaliate against a teen driver whose VW bug bumps his bike until the idiot unwisely lips off. Later, Danny saves his kid brother from a beating by their brutish father and is also shown to keep a wife and son in a conventional (and seemingly happy) suburban home. However sociopathic, the Losers represent the film's only functional family while Billy Jack and sardonic heroine Vicky Barrington (Elizabeth James, spending half the film in an Ursula Andress white bikini) are depicted as alienated, disenfranchised, going it alone and suffering for it. However heroically etched, Billy has given up on life and it takes the Born Losers to draw him out.

Producer: Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor
Director: Tom Laughlin (as T. C. Frank)
Writer: Elizabeth James (as E. James Lloyd)
Music: Mike Curb
Cinematography: Gregory Sandor
Assistant Director: Jonathan Hayes, Delores Taylor
Editing: John Winfield
Cast: Tom Laughlin (Billy Jack), Elizabeth James (Vicky Barrington), Jeremy Slate (Danny Carmody), Jane Russell (Mr. Shorn), William Wellman, Jr. (Child), Jack Starrett (Deputy Fred), Stuart Lancaster (Sheriff), Paul Bruce (District Attorney), Robert Cleaves (Mr. Crawford), Robert Tessier (Cueball), Jeff Cooper (Gangrene), Paul Prokop (Speechless), Gordon Hoban (Jerry Carmody), Janice Miller (Jodell Shorn), Julie Cahn (LuAnn Crawford), Susan Foster (Linda Prang), Anne Bellamy (Mrs. Prang), Edwin Cook (Crabs).
C-113m.

by Richard Harland Smith

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The Born Losers (1967)

While they struggled to sell their script for Billy Jack, Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor ran a Montessori school in Santa Monica.

Independently financed by Laughlin and Taylor for $150,000, The Born Losers ran out of money mid-production and was rescued by Samuel Arkoff and American International Pictures, who put up $300,000 to finish the film.

The fictitious town of Big Rock was actually the California coastal community of Seal Beach.

The San Fernando motorcycle club The Devil's Disciples filled out the ranks of the film's make-believe gang.

Extra motorcycles were loaned out by Sears, which Laughlin hid behind the Harleys.

Laughlin's wife, producer Delores Taylor, and their children appear as witnesses to the street assault at the beginning of the film.

The sorority house exteriors in The Born Losers were shot on the UCLA campus, while interiors were filmed in Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor's rented Pacific Palisades home.

The Born Losers' beach house was actually located in Venice, California, and was once owned by Rudolph Valentino.

Cinematographer Haskell Wexler happened upon the production and advised Director of Photography Gregory Sandor about shooting the airport scene.

The white sunglasses Slate wears in The Born Losers belonged to his wife Tammy.

Although Jane Russell was contracted to work for one day only, Laughlin was forced to shut down production for ten days when he suffered a burst appendix.

In order to get the proper emotion out of Russell for one scene, Laughlin called for a meal break just before shooting it, hoping the delay would drive the actress into a rage. The ploy worked and Russell thanked Laughlin, calling him a "clever son of a bitch."

Gregory Sandor went on to shoot footage for Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Brian De Palma's Sisters (1973).

Cast as Gangrene, Jeff Cooper later starred in Circle of Iron (1978), in a role written for the late Bruce Lee.

Composer Mike Curb later served as California's Lieutenant Governor from 1978-1982.

Jack Starrett directed such drive-in classics as The Losers (1970), Slaughter (1972), Cleopatra Jones (1973) and Race with the Devil (1975).

The Born Losers grossed $36 million and became the highest-grossing independent feature ever made.

The success of Billy Jack prompted Samuel Arkoff and AIP partner James Nicholson to reissue The Born Losers under the tag line "The Original Billy Jack is back!" Tom Laughlin sued.

In 1976, Saturday Night Live guest star Paul Simon spoofed Billy Jack as "Billy Paul...but not the Billy Paul that recorded Me and Mrs. Jones."

Sources:

Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor audio commentary, The Born Losers DVD.

Tom Laughlin radio interview by Doug Basham, May 11, 2005

Jeremy Slate interview by Nelson Basden, Psychotronic Video No. 36, 2002

Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants by Sam Arkoff with Richard Trubo

Jonathan Haze interview Psychotronic Video No. 27, 1998

Gary Kent interview by Robert Plante, Psychotronic Video No. 31, 1999

Billy Jack, Delores Taylor, Tom Laughlin: The Official Website, www.billyjack.com

by Richard Harland Smith

back to top
The Born Losers (1967)

Thomas Robert Laughlin was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 10, 1931. Relocated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Laughlin lived near and attended Washington High School with future actor Gene Wilder.

Laughlin's early film appearances include roles in Vincente Minnelli's Tea and Sympathy (1956), Robert Altman's The Delinquents (1957) and Joshua Logan's South Pacific (1958).

In Hollywood, Laughlin was a neighbor of O.J. Simpson for many years and often told the NFL star turned actor that his drinking and drug use would get him into trouble.

In 1992, Laughlin ran unsuccessfully for President of the United States.

On his website, Tom Laughlin claims credit for inventing "the mega-multiple, blitzkrieg advertising method of distributing and marketing motion pictures."

Producer Delores Taylor is part Swedish and part Lakota Sioux.

As a Navy gunner during World War II, an 18-year-old Jeremy Slate saw action at Normandy Beach.

Jeremy Slate's film debut was as an extra in the Grand Central Station scene of Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959).

Slate also appeared as bikers in The Mini-Skirt Mob (1968), Hells Belles (1970) and Hells Angels '69 (1969).

Although her performance in The Born Losers won her attention from Alfred Hitchcock, Elizabeth James made only one other film appearance.

Jane Russell was born Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell on June 21, 1921, and studied acting with The Wolf Man (1941) star Maria Ouspenskaya before being discovered by director-producer Howard Hughes.

Russell's infamous 38 inch bust earned her the nickname "The Two and Only Jane Russell."

Character actor Stuart Lancaster was the grandson of one of the founders of Ringling Brothers Circus.

Lancaster is most famous to B-movie fans for playing the crippled paterfamilias of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).

William Wellman, Jr., is the son of legendary film director William Wellman.

William Wellman, Jr. and Tom Laughlin both had small parts in William Wellman's WWI film Lafayette Escadrille (1958) alongside rising star Clint Eastwood.

Assistant director Jonathan Hayes had been the star of Roger Corman's The Little Shop of Horrors (1960).

Hired for two days work as a special effects coordinator, Gary Kent was later the hero of Al Adamson's Satan's Sadists (1969).

Paul Prokop and Bob Tessier both went on to appear in Stephanie Rothman's The Velvet Vampire (1971).

Robert Cleaves later appeared in the ABC-TV movie Death Scream (1975), which was based on the murder of Kitty Genovese.

In 2000, Cleaves, age 71, was sentenced to 16-years-to-life in prison for second-degree murder stemming from a road rage incident.

Sources:

Tom Laughlin Q&A, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Scarlet Newsletter, October 6, 1995

Jeremy Slate interview by Nelson Basden, Psychotronic Video No. 36, 2002

The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz

Internet Movie Database

by Richard Harland Smith

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The Born Losers (1967)

"... a sickening little motorcycle melodrama from American International Pictures that is also a trailing catchall of most motorcycle film clichs to date... The whole business is laboriously detailed in E. James Lloyd's screenplay, even as it piously pleads for personal courage. But it is difficult to have empathy for the victimized youngsters after seeing them half-naked in beach-wear, coyly edging up to the cyclists... A battered-looking Jane Russell makes a brief, growly appearance as one of the parents. Jeremy Slate, William Wellman, Jr. and Paul Prokop are aptly repulsive as members of the unwashed on wheels. But it is the affectionate nickname of Jeff Cooper, one of the gang, that pegs the movie. His buddies call him Gangrene."
Bosley Crowther, The New York Times

"Featuring teenage girls being raped and tormented by rampaging sadistic motorcyclists... this exploitation picture-a mixture of vigilantism, paranoia, liberalism and feminist consciousness-must be the most amateurish bad movie that ever wound up on Variety's list of the highest grossing films of all time."
Pauline Kael, The New Yorker

"Billy Jack battles outlaw motorcyclists terrorizing small-town California girls... Jane Russell's daughter is attacked while doing a sultry striptease for a stuffed dog (really). Local cops help Billy by throwing him in jail and shooting him in the back."
Michael Weldon, The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film

"What seemed at the time just another biker film gained new interest in the 70s as the introduction of Billy Jack; he helps free young James from the clutches of Slate's gang. Good action scenes but Laughlin's use of violence as an indictment of violence is already present."
Leonard Maltin Movie Guide

"The first film appearance of the heroic half-breed Indian, Billy Jack. What can you say about a film that has a scene where Jane Russell threatens to cut her daughter's tongue out before she will allow her to testify against the local motorcycle gang that raped her? This definitely lives up to its Golden Turkey reputation, a hilariously bad film that is essential!"
Subterranean Cinema

"The funniest part of it is that even though the film tries to speak out against senseless violence, it sure does wallow in it..."
Steve Puchalski, Slimetime

"Unprepossessing meet-violence-with-vengeance movie in which Hells Angels terrorize a California town, rape teenagers, and receive their comeuppance from a taciturn half-breed Vietnam veteran. Of interest only to cult buffs as the home movie which launched Laughlin's money-spinning Billy Jack series. Laughlin subsequently cut much of the copious violence, but could do nothing to improve the rock-bottom acting and production values.
Time Out

"The plot of Born Losers is basically the plot of Billy Jack, but with bikers instead of rednecks. Aside from that it contains all the intolerable preachiness, smugness and embarrassing incompetence that would inform Laughlin's future projects... dialogue is regularly flubbed and even Boomy the Boom Mike makes an appearance in this sub-par biker-revenge pic."
The Invisible Blog of Alan Smithee

"The Born Losers distinguishes itself by its ambitious approach to this subgenre. The story gets a bit unwieldy at almost two hours (fare like this usually works best at around 90 minutes) and the dialogue can get a bit ripe, but the expansive storytelling allows for some unusually ambitious plotting. More interestingly, director/co-writer/star Tom Laughlin uses his premise to explore the ineffectiveness of law at dealing with career criminals, how the justice system fails to protect the public in criminal proceedings, and how ineffectual parenting breeds the very problems society would like to avoid. Keep in mind that all these points are dealt out with a very heavy hand and couched in all manner of exploitable violence and raciness, but it's unique and interesting that the time is taken to make such points. The Born Losers is also pretty entertaining on a B-movie level."
Donald Guarisco, All Movie Guide

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

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The Born Losers (1967)

Vicky (narration): "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 said 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."

Child: "He's eyeing the sheep, Danny. Maybe he wants a little... candy."

Judge: "If we allowed citizens to take the law into their own hands, our streets would be become jungles. Armed jungles. I hereby sentence Mr. Jack to one hundred and twenty days in the county jail or the payment of the fine of one thousand dollars plus costs."

Lawyer: "Well, that fine about busts you, doesn't it?"
Billy Jack: "Tell me... what did they give the guys on the motorcycles?"
Lawyer: "Guilty of assault. Thirty days or a hundred and fifty dollar fine. Go help someone again sometime."

Cueball: "Hey, Kimosabe. Didn't they teach you how to read in squaw school?"

Deputy Fred: "I'll tell you what, faggot. You come down to the jail to visit me sometime. Alone. We'll lock ourselves in a cell together and see who comes out with a key."

Danny: "Get off the bike, chick. Let's take a look at you."
Vicky: "When I come back to earth as a horse, then I'll let you inspect me. Maybe."

Vicky: "Well... does that complete my initiation?"
Child: "Not if you wanna be a Mama. Do you wanna be a Mama?"
Vicky: "Oh I'm sure. What's a Mama?"
Crabs: "Oh, you wanna be a Mama. Any time a loser gets lonesome or needs a little, he just goes to a Mama and she takes care of him. Any time at all."
Vicky: "Oh how Christian."
Gangrene: "I'm gonna like having you as a Mama."
Vicky: "And just how is a Mama initiated?"
Danny: "By getting it from everybody."
Vicky: "Neat-o. All at once or just one at a time?"

Vicky: "Look fellas, this is very funny. What do you do for an encore?"
Gangrene: "We help you take off your clothes, baby."

Vicky: "You guys must be out of your gourds. You're really serious."
Danny: "You bet we are."
Vicky: "Is this the only way you can get a woman?"
Danny: "It's a way."
Gangrene: "It's a damn good way."

Mrs. Shorn: "What'll the waitresses think?"

Mrs. Shorn: "You can lock me up for twenty years, but my baby is getting out of here. Look at her."
DA: "I am looking at her. And I have the power to take her into protective custody. I could hold her until she could testify."
Mrs. Shorn: "And I could cut her tongue out so she couldn't. Now get out. Get out. Get out. Get out. Get out. Get out. Get out. Get out."

Gangrene: "Wow, Daddy, they found the heat's sled. The wires were cut, the gas tank was full of sugar and the tires were slashed. Man, what class. You're outta sight, man. Plant one on me... no man, a big one!"

Billy Jack: "Smile. Come on, you're cute when you smile. Smile. Really."

Deputy Fred: "Get this hunk o'bile outta here."

Astrologer: "Nice kids. Stars are against them, though."

Crabs: "Hey, man... hey. Hey, how 'bout we all jump in the shower together, okay?"

Billy Jack: "I'm an Injun, remember. And we're sneaky. We know how to strike silently. In the dark. In the night. Any time, any place. Maybe you've heard that before, though, huh? It'll be kind of interesting to see how you like being hunted for a while."

Danny: "How 'bout it, chick. You wanna ride with us?"
Vicky: "That's about as intelligent as asking me if I want the bubonic plague."
Danny: "You don't seem to understand, honey. See, I- I'm offering you the choice between this messed up Injun and..."
Vicky: "Yeah, I know. And this group of live, crawling maggots. Some choice."

Vicky: "You know, I feel like those stars up there are inside of me, just glowing softly. I've always felt that I had a light bulb like thing inside me and all my seeds were in it. If I let the wrong person in, the little light bulb would be jabbed and broken and all of me would pour out and be gone forever."

Billy Jack: "Whatever they've done to your women... you deserve."

Danny: "I'm gonna gut your bowels out..."

Compiled by Richard Harland Smith

back to top
teaser The Born Losers (1967)

Having stumped without success to sell their screenplay Billy Jack, Tom Laughlin and Delores Taylor dropped their half-breed hero into the middle of a quickly-written script tailored for the exploitation market. With the success of Roger Corman's The Wild Angels (1966), biker flicks were all the rage and more than a few bright lights of the nascent New Hollywood toiled in the requisite leathers and dirty denim. The Born Losers came early in the cycle, in the boom year of 1967, alongside Hells Angels on Wheels with Jack Nicholson and Devil's Angels with John Cassavetes. Its unexpected success that summer wrought The Glory Stompers (1968) with Dennis Hopper, The Cycle Savages (1969) with Bruce Dern, The Rebel Rousers (1970) with Dern and Nicholson, and Angel Unchained (1970) with Don Stroud, to name but a few titles in this surprisingly expansive subgenre.

Based on a pair of high profile 1964 news items - the slaying of New York bar manager Kitty Genovese and the Hells Angels alleged intimidation of teenaged rape victims in Monterey The Born Losers was distributed by American International Pictures and wound up being their biggest moneymaker until The Amityville Horror (1979) a decade later. Despite its basis in fact, the film quotes from the granddaddy of all biker films, The Wild One (1953) before branching out to straddle the rape/revenge/vigilante drama typified by Walking Tall (1973) and Death Wish (1974). With minor alterations, The Born Losers could easily have been rewritten as a standard western, with Billy Jack recast as the archetypal Outsider who must defend Civilization from the caprices of Disorder. Back in the day, its seemingly reactionary civic mindedness was no doubt good for business.

Independently financed by Laughlin and Taylor for $150,000, The Born Losers ran out of money mid-production and was rescued by Samuel Arkoff and American International Pictures, who put up $300,000 to finish the film.The San Fernando motorcycle club The Devil's Disciples filled out the ranks of the film's make-believe gang and extra motorcycles were loaned out by Sears, which Laughlin hid behind the Harleys.

Although Jane Russell was contracted to work for one day only, Laughlin was forced to shut down production for ten days when he suffered a burst appendix. In order to get the proper emotion out of Russell for one scene, Laughlin called for a meal break just before shooting it, hoping the delay would drive the actress into a rage. The ploy worked and Russell thanked Laughlin, calling him a "clever son of a bitch."

Its box office success cuts The Born Losers little slack from cult movie aficionados, churlish over the film's association with the mega-successful Billy Jack (1971) and its preachy sequels, The Trial of Billy Jack (1974) and Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977). To this day, kung fu fans remain chuffed that Tom Laughlin was doubled for all displays of hapkido by karate master Bong Soo Han. On the performance front, Laughlin has also taken his share of lumps for his stoic acting style. However studied in Steve McQueen cool, Laughlin pulls it off and is an engaging and understated leading man particularly in The Born Losers, which isn't as weighed down, as were the subsequent Billy Jack films, with the burden of Importance.

The Born Losers has aged better than a number of the subgenre's "classics." A central concern with the value of family haunts the script, which opens not with the Born Losers riding into a strange town to wreak havoc but returning to the hometown of leader Danny Carmody (Jeremy Slate), with whom Billy has some past history of unnamed grievances. Although he is the villain of the piece, Danny is nicely shaded as a charismatic group leader, surprisingly slow to retaliate against a teen driver whose VW bug bumps his bike until the idiot unwisely lips off. Later, Danny saves his kid brother from a beating by their brutish father and is also shown to keep a wife and son in a conventional (and seemingly happy) suburban home. However sociopathic, the Losers represent the film's only functional family while Billy Jack and sardonic heroine Vicky Barrington (Elizabeth James, spending half the film in an Ursula Andress white bikini) are depicted as alienated, disenfranchised, going it alone and suffering for it. However heroically etched, Billy has given up on life and it takes the Born Losers to draw him out.

Producer: Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor
Director: Tom Laughlin (as T. C. Frank)
Writer: Elizabeth James (as E. James Lloyd)
Music: Mike Curb
Cinematography: Gregory Sandor
Assistant Director: Jonathan Hayes, Delores Taylor
Editing: John Winfield
Cast: Tom Laughlin (Billy Jack), Elizabeth James (Vicky Barrington), Jeremy Slate (Danny Carmody), Jane Russell (Mr. Shorn), William Wellman, Jr. (Child), Jack Starrett (Deputy Fred), Stuart Lancaster (Sheriff), Paul Bruce (District Attorney), Robert Cleaves (Mr. Crawford), Robert Tessier (Cueball), Jeff Cooper (Gangrene), Paul Prokop (Speechless), Gordon Hoban (Jerry Carmody), Janice Miller (Jodell Shorn), Julie Cahn (LuAnn Crawford), Susan Foster (Linda Prang), Anne Bellamy (Mrs. Prang), Edwin Cook (Crabs).
C-113m.

by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:

Tom Laughlin, Delores Taylor audio commentary, The Born Losers DVD.

Tom Laughlin radio interview by Doug Basham, May 11, 2005

Jeremy Slate interview by Nelson Basden, Psychotronic Video No. 36, 2002

Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants by Sam Arkoff with Richard Trubo

Jonathan Haze interview Psychotronic Video No. 27, 1998

Gary Kent interview by Robert Plante, Psychotronic Video No. 31, 1999

Billy Jack, Delores Taylor, Tom Laughlin: The Official Website, www.billyjack.com

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