Friday, July 13, 2012

#697. Jackson County Jail (1976)

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

Some of my favorite Roger Corman films are those where the legendary producer has a little fun, movies packed tight with plenty of exploitative goodness and a bit of cheese on the side. Rock 'n' Roll High School and Death Race 2000 leap immediately to mind.

This was not the case, however, with his 1976 film Jackson County Jail. It is a tough, unflinching motion picture that punches you in the gut with some pretty nasty stuff.

Tired of  California, ad executive Dinah Hunter (Yvette Mimieux) accepts a job in New York City. Her intention to drive cross-country takes a dangerous turn 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 lands her in the Jackson County jailhouse, where she is raped by a policeman. In a fit of rage, Dinah murders her assailant, then joins forces with Coley Blake (Tommy Lee Jones), the criminal in the cell next to hers. With his help, Dinah hopes to escape this nightmarish situation before the law catches up with her.

The phrase “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” takes on a whole new meaning in Jackson County Jail. As the film opens, Dinah, played wonderfully by Mimieux, is a confident professional who quits her job when her boss insults her. She then walks out on her husband (Howard Hesseman) after catching him with another woman. In these scenes, it is obvious that Mimieux’s Dinah is not to be trifled with, and is more than capable of standing on her own two feet.

But as events on the open road spiral out of control, this self-assurance, so prevalent early on, is stripped away bit by bit until the moment she is raped, at which point her confidence abandons her altogether. Rape scenes are always difficult to watch, yet this one is particularly devastating because it focuses not only on the physical damage of such an attack, but the mental anguish as well, which is strong enough to turn a calm, logical woman into an out-of-control killer. So shattered is her psyche that Dinah turns to a convicted felon for help, a situation she would have never dreamed possible just 24 hours ago. We are glad she did what she did, but lament the fact that the life she built for herself will never be the same again.

Mimieux is effective at the start of the movie, bringing a likability to Dinah that makes what happens to her all the more difficult to stomach. That said, the second half of Jackson County Jail belongs to Tommy Lee Jones, who demonstrates, even at this early stage of his career, how good he is at playing a bad-ass (he would take that persona even further a year later, in the superb Rolling Thunder). Their characters, thrown together by terrible circumstances, made a formidable team, and I was rooting for them every step of the way.

Jackson County Jail might be a far cry from some of the fun-filled entertainment Roger Corman turned out on a regular basis in the '70s and '80s, but it's also one of his finest achievements. Hard-nosed and gritty, Jackson County Jail is Corman with an edge.


gogilesgo said...

This really looks very intriguing. I recently watched Rolling thunder for the first time and while I was left a little bit cold by that, Tommy Lee really stood out.

From the trailer he looks pretty damn good in this.

Jake Moore AKA: @RiverCityOtter said...

I still have never seen "Jackson County Jail" I always think of French actress Yvette Mimieux in her role "The Time Machine" ! Must place this on my never ending to watch list! Very early film role for Tommy Lee Jones here even more reason! Thanks for reminding me of another lost gem Dave!