Review: JACKSON COUNTY JAIL (1976)

A grimy road movie laced with blatant insinuations, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL has the distinction of featuring a very young Tommy Lee Jones in one of his earliest roles. It’s directed by Michael Miller with a screenplay by Donald E. Stewart. On its face, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL is unadulterated exploitation and all the better for it. It cuts a wide ribbon and makes big ugly points along the way and there’s not a damn thing delicate about it.

Yvette Mimieux stars as Dinah, an advertising executive in Los Angeles. She’s shamed by her misogynistic boss and finds her husband cheating on her (again). She drives to New York for a fresh start. This takes her through several rustic areas, whereupon she’s robbed by a pair of drugged-out ramblers (Howard Hesseman and Marciee Drake) and runs into further trouble when she tries to get help. She’s thrown in the slammer, where she’s raped by a guard. She subsequently escapes and goes on the lam with fellow prisoner Coley (Jones).

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JACKSON COUNTY JAIL stacks its intentions immediately, piling up big city liberal tropes and setting Dinah as an icon of contemporary feminism. She stands up to her slimy boss, who tells her that he knows what women want to be told. She leaves her philandering husband and there is mention of an abortion. She even experiences a moment of camaraderie with a woman in a diner who just so happens to be heading in the opposite direction. Every man that crosses her path is aptly subject to distrust.

The film is also cynical about the pastoral communities that dot Dinah’s path. Lines are drawn in the sand. The accosting barkeep is a good ol’ boy who gave soda-pop to the church, while her rapist touches on mortification of the flesh after he commits his nauseating act. He begs forgiveness, yet nothing halts his sin. This is a hard critique of American religion and the unwashed masses. It’s only slightly impaired by the fact that everything is so blatant. Even Jones’ character describes the country and its residents as a “rip-off,” which is a point made more unadulterated by JACKSON COUNTY JAIL’s blaring final shot.

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