The little acorn that would grow into the legendary Billy Jack film series of the '70s begins with this fairly unassuming biker picture. Indeed, The Born Losers looks and feels like many a cycle epic of the late '60s: there's tough talk, brutal violence (both fights and sexual assaults), hairy guys speeding around on motorcycles, and a small town forced to make its stand against a horde of invading reprobates. However, 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. Despite some slack pacing here and there, Laughlin knows how to build tension and stage action with skill. He also gets good performances from a colorful cast. Jeremy Slate makes a nicely underplayed villain, Jane Russell steals a few scenes as an overwrought mother, and familiar B-movie faces like Stuart Lancaster and Jack Starrett lend solid support. Best of all, Tom Laughlin makes a cool, charismatic hero and his performance here makes it easy to understand the long-lived popularity of his Billy Jack character. In short, The Born Losers might be a little too creaky and contrived for modern viewers, but it's worth a look to B-movie aficionados (especially those with a yen for biker movies).
One of the first recognizable "vigilante" films in American cinema, The Born Losers tells the story of Billy Jack (writer-director Tom Laughlin), a half-breed ex-Green Beret and Vietnam veteran who makes it his business to rescue a cute mod girl from a crew of vicious bikers. Much to his chagrin, however, he finds his lethal training gets him in as much trouble with the racist cops as with the bikers, and he soon becomes embroiled in a violent struggle against all parties involved. There is blood-letting and bone-breaking to burn in The Born Losers, not to mention lots of preaching on the part of Laughlin. However, it still tops the more famous sequel, Billy Jack, and it qualifies writer-director-star Laughlin for the status of true auteur.