Jackson County Jail

Jackson County Jail

We all, from time to time, make poor decisions and sometimes find ourselves occupying that cliché of being in the wrong place at the wrong time but hopefully none of us have had an experience quite as bad as Yvette Mimieux in Jackson County Jail. Leaving her high end Hollywood job early one day after falling out with a client she returns home to discover her husband enjoying poolside fun with a topless nymphette half his age. Throwing him out she telephones a friend in New York and before the day is out she has packed a suitcase and is in her car, driving cross country to new East Coast employment. But her decision to drive rather than fly is exposed a foolhardy as she is soon robbed by hitch-hikers and dumped on the side of the road. Moreover when she does stumble across proto-civilization she is arrested on vagrancy charges and jailed for the night.

Incredibly her story gets worse from there, because during the evening she is left at the mercy of the the night shift guard, a creepy homunculus of a man who generates disgust at a molecular level. After his fumbling advances are turned down he secretes himself into her cell and rapes her, then is in turn clubbed to death by a distraught Mimieux. The criminal in the cell next to her – a young Tommy Lee Jones – grabs the keys from the now dead guard, scoops her up and takes to the road in a stolen truck. Thus, in a matter of hours the heroine has gone from secure, bourgeois career woman to killer on the run.

Jackson County Jail

She remains in a state of shock for some time (and boy, does Mimieux do some great acting with just her eyes here) and on the journey is taken under Jones’ wing, slowly getting over the horrific ordeal while the two fugitives start to form a bond. Thankfully the script steers clear of what would have been an unconvincing love story: the relationship remains platonic, with respect generated and earned equally from both sides, and the film is all the stronger for it.

It would of course be preposterous to try and defend an exploitation movie against charges of exploitation but the director and writer handle the subject matter very well and the central, transformative sexual assault is not played for cheap thrills and at no point is the audience encouraged to leer at the protagonist’s misery. Unlike so many other movies of the genre the film makers use more than just this assault to generate the fury and angst that runs through the script, with for instance Mimieux’s first encounter with the law being almost equally disturbing. Falling on the mercy of a passing trooper she makes the mistake of blaspheming in front of him and is told in a furious tone to “keep that tramp mouth of yours shut”, before being manhandled (literally by the scruff of the neck) into a patrol car. It’s a terrifying moment.

This is a nihilistic film from the very opening scene and well reflected the national introspection the United states was going through in its bicentennial year, but it lacks neither heart nor soul and demonstrates that excellent central performances and a thoughtful script can distinguish even the most base subject matter.

Jackson County Jail – directed by Michael Miller (1976)

In Short
A successful and confident executive faces a day and night of adverse, at times horrifying events that shakes her entire life apart.
Trailer (with appropriate ’70s damage) here