Directed By: Michael Miller
Starring: Yvette Mimieux, Tommy Lee Jones, Lisa Copeland
Tag line: "The cops are there to protect her... but who will protect her from the cops?"
Trivia: This film was selected by Quentin Tarantino for his first Quentin Tarantino Film Fest in Austin, Texas in 1996
Normally, when I sit down to watch a Roger Corman film, I anticipate a fun movie, with a whole lot of exploitation goodness and maybe even a small slice of cheese on the side. This was not the case with Jackson County Jail, a tough, unflinching motion picture that hits you square in the jaw with some pretty nasty stuff.
Hoping to leave California behind her, ad executive Dinah Hunter (Yvette Mimieux) accepts a job in New York City. Her plan to drive cross-country takes a dangerous turn, however, when she picks up a couple of hitch-hikers (Robert Carradine and Nancy Noble) who hold her at gunpoint, then steal her car. Things go from bad to worse for Dinah when a misunderstanding leads to her being thrown in the Jackson County jail, where she’s raped by a policeman. After losing control and murdering her attacker, Dinah joins forces with Coley Blake (Tommy Lee Jones), a criminal in the cell next to hers, to try and escape this nightmare situation.
The term “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” takes on a whole new meaning in Jackson County Jail. At the beginning of the film, Dinah, played wonderfully by Mimieux, is a confident professional who quits her job when her boss insults her, then walks out on her husband (Howard Hesseman) after coming home to find him with another woman. In these scenes, it’s quite clear Mimieux’s Dinah is not a lady to be trifled with, and is more than capable of standing on her own two feet. But as events on the open road start to spiral out of control, this self-assurance, so prevalent early on, is systematically stripped away, finally abandoning Dinah the moment she’s raped by a police officer. Rape scenes are always difficult to watch, yet this one is particularly devastating because it reveals not only the physical damage associated with such an attack, but the mental anguish as well, which is strong enough to make this calm, logical woman beat a man to death with a foot stool. So shattered is her psyche that Dinah turns to a convicted felon for help, an eventuality she’d have never believed possible just 24 hours earlier. As effective as Mimieux is at the start of the movie, the second half of Jackson County Jail belongs to Tommy Lee Jones, demonstrating, even at this stage of his career, how good he is at playing a bad-ass. Their characters, thrown together by circumstance, make a formidable team, and I was rooting for them every step of the way.
Jackson County Jail might be a far cry from the fun-filled entertainment Roger Corman turns out on a regular basis, but it's also one of his finest achievements. Hard-nosed and gritty, Jackson County Jail is Corman with an edge.