Thanks to credible characterizations and solid acting, Jackson County Jail is a cut above the usual drive-in sludge from the Roger Corman assembly line. Whereas myriad similar films from Corman’s ’70s companies use the women-in-prison angle as an excuse for cartoonish titillation, Jackson County Jail is played totally straight, emphasizing the horror of abuse and the tragedy of lives squandered on criminality. Calling Jackson County Jail a real movie might be stretching things, since the picture is a sensationalistic compendium of violent vignettes, but it’s a drive-in flick that a thinking viewer can watch without feeling totally ashamed afterward. Among other things, the movie features Tommy Lee Jones in one of his first big roles, and he elevates every scene in which he appears.
Continuing his practice of providing juicy starring roles to onetime leading ladies whose careers had lost momentum, Corman cast delicate beauty Yvette Mimieux to strong effect in Jackson County Jail. Playing a confident professional woman whose sheltered life experience mostly comprises time spent in Los Angeles and New York, Mimieux seems appropriately out of place once her character falls into a web of crooked redneck cops and noble hillbilly thieves. Specifically, Dinah (Mimieux) leaves LA after discovering that her longtime boyfriend is unfaithful. Somewhere in the boonies, Dinah foolishly picks up two hitchhikers, who steal her car and possessions—including her ID—at gunpoint. Next, a local sheriff (Severn Darden) places her in jail for vagrancy. When the sheriff leaves the police station for the evening, night deputy Lyle (William Molloy) rapes Dinah, but during the assault she shoves him against cell bars, delivering a fatal head injury. Then Coley Blake (Jones), the career criminal in the next cell, grabs the inert Lyle’s keys and leads Dinah in a jailbreak. During the ensuing getaway and manhunt, Dinah becomes friends with Coley, learning his cynical perspective on life.
Written by Donald Stewart, who later worked on fine films including Missing (1982) and the first three Jack Ryan adventures, Jackson County Jail is humane and intelligent, even if the story occasionally lapses into trite car chases and gunfights. The movie also benefits from stalwart turns by supporting players Robert Carradine, Howard Hesseman, Nan Martin, Betty Thomas, and Mary Woronov. And on some level, the horrors of this movie’s vivid rape scene provide balance for the innumerable Corman productions in which sexual assault is irresponsibly presented as erotica.
Jackson County Jail: FUNKY