Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Memoriam: Tom Laughlin (1931-2013)

Tom Laughlin was not the superstar that Peter O'Toole was, nor the award winner like Joan Fontaine. He was a scrappy independent film-maker who, in 1971 made a little movie called Billy Jack. As the writer, director and star he sought to portray the Native American hero as a brave, modern character. He was not Native American but had deep respect for the heritage and sadness at the conditions he had seen in South Dakota.

The movie was a fairly typical good guys (Billy Jack and the "hippie" school) versus bad guys (townspeople, police) and had a much-too violent message considering it was supposed to be promoting peace. It was, however, ground-breaking in its independent success and the differing portrayal of Native Americans. Looking back from 40 years later it is even more simplistic than we saw it then; but that is true of many a movie that seeks to only address the issues of its day in a narrow-focused way.

One piece of the movie that garnered a lot of attention was it's "theme" song, One Tin Soldier. The overt message of peacefulness was contrasted with the bloodiness of the day. The chorus:

Go ahead and hate your neighbor; go ahead and cheat a friend.
Do it in the name of heaven; you can justify it in the end.
There won't be any trumpets blowin' come the judgment day
On the bloody morning after, one tin soldier rides away

Tom Laughlin died last week at age 82.

Here's a video of scenes from the movie with the theme song.

It does capture the spirit of the times. But, oh, how those times have changed.

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