One of Roger Corman's more outspokenly acclaimed features of the 1970s (relatively speaking, of course), Jackson County Jail bucks the b-movie conventions by forsaking simple car chases and explosions for a surprisingly insightful little tale of rape and escape.
Dinah Hunter (Yvette Mimieux) is driving cross-country to settle (back) down in New York, leaving behind a fractured career and a demolished marriage. After kindly (but unwisely) offering assistance to a pair of seemingly sweet teenagers, Dinah ends up stuck on the side of the highway with no car, no money, and no identification.
After a local sleazebag accuses Dinah of assaulting him (read between the lines), she ends up in the Jackson County lock-up. The seemingly good-hearted sheriff promises a speedy exit process for the following morning ... but an overnight jailer decides he wants a taste of Dinah's goods, and she promptly beats him to death with a wooden stool after the attack.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), Dinah was incarcerated right next to a take-charge bastard like Cole Blake (Tommy Lee Jones), and together the pair set out to evade the cops, find a hiding place, and plan their next move.
Sounds like it could be the set-up for a Smokey and the Bandit-style chase & crash-fest, but most comedies don't come off too well when their central sequence includes graphic rape and vengeful murder, so it's good that director Michael Miller and screenwriter Donald Stewart maintain a sincere approach.
Ms. Mimieux, a fine 60s actress probably best known as "Weena" in George Pal's The Time Machine, delivers an unexpectedly excellent performance. Ditto co-star Tommy Lee Jones in one of his very earliest performances. Combined, the pair of actors prove that even a flick with a seriously low budget can feel like a professional enterprise; talent has a way of doing things like that.
Jackson County Jail is an unexpectedly gritty and enjoyably downbeat story, and I suspect it's that lack of pandering that allowed the film to be one of Corman's most critically acclaimed. Then again, when you're churning out low-end monster flicks and brain-dead jiggle pics, any sort of sincere and dramatic enterprise will be superior by comparison.
(Interesting trivia note: So successful was Jackson County Jail that it inspired a made-for-TV version (1978's Outside Chance) and a 1997 remake called Macon County Jail, with Ally Sheedy and David Carradine in the leading roles.)
Video: Disney seems intent on releasing all of Roger Corman's movies in a plain old yucky full frame transfer ... even the not-awful ones!
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo.
Extras: There's a short-yet-entertaining interview segment with Roger Corman and Leonard Maltin, several cast & crew bios, and a handful of trailers for Jackson County Jail, The Suicide Club, Fire on the Amazon, and Piranha.
I was expecting some sort of lowbrow chase 'em down flick, but once that nasty rape scene ended, I realized there was something a little deeper going on here. Finely aged dramatic cheese, Jackson County Jail is worth seeing just for the lead performances, but also for an enjoyably gritty tale that's capped off with a pretty unexpected finalé.