Saturday September 28, 2019
Billy Jack, Dirty Harry and the Lafayette Escadrille
I like this screenshot from the movie “Lafayette Escadrille,” which was the last movie Wild Bill Wellman directed. A few future stars in it.
“Lafayette Escadrille” is a 1958 melodrama set in France during World War I, starring Tab Hunter (center). According to Wellman's son, Wild Bill wanted the kid on the right for the lead; Warners said no. Tab Hunter was a draw, Clint Whatshisface most definitely wasn't (he hadn't even begun “Rawhide” yet), and that was that. Warners also demanded changes to the end. Hunter's character dying in battle? Nope. He lives, and reunites with his prostitute/girlfriend, and they live happily ever after. That's Hollywood.
The other guy in the screenshot is Tom Laughlin, who made a huge splash as the half-Indian Billy Jack in a series of films in the early 1970s. He was a violent cinematic hero of the left (he didn't want to fight, but...) as Eastwood's Dirty Harry was the violent cinematic hero of the right (“I'm all broken up about that man‘s rights”).
I still haven’t seen the movie, by the way; I took the screenshot from a good documentary about Wellman's life and career. All three men are talking heads in it.
I still think you can make a good movie about the Lafayette Escadrille—the foreign legion of American pilots, including Wellman, who joined WWI before the U.S. did. You can write an essay on its emblem alone: Chief Sitting Bull with a pre-Nazi swastika in its headdress. A lot to unpack there.