Despondent, Scotty cracks under the strain of his teenage angst and goes on a three-state killing spree. No, I’m just kidding about this—but he does hook up with a crew of young lawbreakers more than up to that particular task at his local drive-in. Bill “Cholly” Charters (Peter Miller) and his gang step in to keep Scotty from taking a right pummeling from some other rough boys (even though Cholly’s pal Eddy [Richard Bakalyan] is responsible for the event that snowballed into the fracas), and a grateful Scotty allows Cholly to help him out with a bit of dating subterfuge: Cholly will masquerade as Jan’s new boyfriend, and pick her up at her home to take her to the movies. Once they’re out of sight from her folks’ house, Scotty will take the baton from Cholly and continue the date portion of the evening.
Before he became the critically-acclaimed director of such films as MASH (1970), McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), and Nashville (1975), Robert Altman held the megaphone on a low-budget teensploitation flick known as The Delinquents (1957), filmed in Altman’s hometown of Kansas City, MO (depending on the source, the budget ranged from $45,000 to $63,000). Motion picture exhibitor Elmer Rhoden, Jr., president of the Commonwealth Theaters chain, wanted to reap some of that sweet, sweet drive-in cash and hired Bob (who had been making industrial films and docs locally for The Calvin Company) to tackle the project; Altman scouted locations, cast the film, and cranked out the screenplay (inspired by j.d. movie successes like The Wild One, Blackboard Jungle, and Rebel Without a Cause) in about a week.
The Born Losers and cemented by 1971’s Billy Jack (Tom plays the same character in both movies), a film that has an inexplicable cult following. (Laughlin’s Billy Jack is a man dedicated to teaching peace and non-violence by beating the stuffing out of anyone who looks at him cross-eyed.) Billy Jack was such a monster box office hit that it led to a slate of follow-ups: The Trial of Billy Jack (1974), Billy Jack Goes to Washington (1977), The Return of Billy Jack (1986), and Billy Jack at Waikiki (1990). (Um…I think this last title may be incorrect; I may have it confused with a “Ma and Pa Kettle” vehicle.) In later years, Altman might have regretted selecting Laughlin for his movie; the two repeatedly clashed during the making of Delinquents, with Bob memorably describing the star as “an unbelievable pain in the ass.”